Each evening (because of course the Spanish run in the evening), he meets up with Paco, the other Paco, Bernardo and Javi. There are others….a woman known as “Rubia” and another gentleman called “El Marino.” Together, they run along the calles and playas of our city, their feet slapping against the pavement in a primal, poetic syncopation.
Thwarting the stereotype of the sleepy, slack-eyed Spaniard, the members of Paul’s group are a hard-core group of maniacs. They run, at an impressive pace, for hours at a time, pausing only to sip water or bend bars using the power of their minds.
Paul’s run marathons for years now, and is no slouch himself. However, the level of competition here has been humbling. A time that would be third or fourth in his age group back home lags in the teens here.
In America, when you pass somebody, or he or she passes you, one may say, “Good job,” or something equally encouraging and sportsmanlike. In Spain, they pass you and call back, “Vamos, Vamos!” It translates, more or less, to Catch up to me-if you have it in you.
They do not mince words. After Paul’s first race, the club write-up stated: “Paul can do better than he did today. He has it within him.”
“Does that bother you?” I asked him. “Because it would leave me weeping in the corner.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “They’re right.”
He read those words, and then he showed up for the next run. And the next. Over time, they recognized his spirit, and his willingness to learn. He had it within him.
He now wears the uniform of the running club (because if the Spanish love anything, it’s matching athletic apparel). He texts his running friends, and hears a hearty “PAAAUUUUUULLLLL” from his companeros as we walk the streets.
Last weekend, we traveled to Ronda, and he ran a 28 mile race up and down the foothills of a nearby town. He competed with two members of his club. Afterwards, our families ate together, and Paul and his friend crafted a friendship with cerveza, aching muscles, and shared lunacy.
And in the club write up? They described valor and pena and fuerza. All good things. If that floats your boat.
But for me, it’s the mere fact that he’s there. Almost every night. One footstep after another, echoing in the streets, as they run together, and the sky slowly dissolves from rose to black.