Monday, January 09, 2012

My Stalker

First, this is a post that may upset some people. Or more specifically, one person. For that, I'm sorry. But I just have to talk about the situation. You're a nice guy and I love to talk about running. But sometimes you just cross the line into the zone of freakishly abnormal social behavior.

Second, while this specific person may not like what I'm going to say, I'm going to be polite enough to not say his name. Some of you may know who I'm talking about and I would appreciate it if you respect his privacy the same way in the comments.

Third, in this post I will call him my stalker because that what it feels like to me. I no way do I think he's really a stalker. If I felt that way, I would have filed a report with the police and his employer and made it abundantly clear to him that I will protect myself and my family by any means necessary. That being said, he has freaked me out a few times with his plethora of knowledge. But always in a benign way.

Okay. With all the warnings, apologies, and whatnot out of the way, let's get into this.

Strange things started to happen about a year and a half to two years ago. I am a frequent shopper at our local running store, let's call it Sweet Feet, and I've come to know many of the employees there. Not personally mind you, I'm very much a socially awkward penguin so I only know their faces, not their names. There was Curly Hair, The Black Guy, Pierced Girl, and a few others that I'd see on my many visits there. I would frequent Sweet Feet for shoes, socks, clothes, and to just feel at home among other runners and the gear we wear.

I had recently finished my first 50k ultramarathon when I went in for some item or another and ran into a new employee, Chunk. I made the mistake many people do when they see a hefty person in a running store and assume they're there to restart their life by getting into shape. Well, after a bit of small talk with Chunk, it turns out he used to train for ultramarathons. I was instantly interested in learning more from somebody that was not only a big guy like me but also had the same interest in running insanely long distances.

I don't remember how many visits it took before I actually started talking to Chunk but I knew his face well enough to recognize him when we first exchanged words. By the time our first conversation was over, I already felt bad for stereotyping him into the "fat guy" category. Yes, sure, I'm positive he'd qualify for the arbitrarily discriminating running category of Clydesdale, but I can qualify too. I hate that label and refuse to use it. I'm big. He's big. Who cares if we can both run?

Anyway, we talked a few times before he made his first creepy comment. And oddly enough, it didn't feel creepy at all. In fact, it made me feel like a hero. Like a freaking super hero. He knew my time from my first 50k. He even knew there were photos and knew that I was in a lot of them. How awesome is that? I mean, this guy knew more and cared more about my first big race than my wife. I was on cloud nine!

Over the next few months, we'd talk shop whenever I went into Sweet Feet. He would be working most days I was there and I didn't really have many issues with him. He was just another cool runner that liked to talk about running. Perfect. Then things got a bit weird. My wife started to take up running so we went to Sweet Feet to try on some shoes for her. We knew they would take the time to get you fitted into the right shoe and we had rarely experienced bad customer service.

Until Chunk came to help. Now, there are always three sides to every story. Your side, their side, and what really happened. In this case, there were four sides. My side, my wife's, Chunk's, and what really happened. From my side of things, Chunk was a bit rude to my wife by ignoring her needs as a customer. I work in the customer service field so I know what you should and should not do. Chunk did some stuff he shouldn't have. Namely, ignore my wife. Granted, he doesn't have the experience I do with my wife, but trust me, don't ignore a woman when she's shopping for shoes. It's like putting a pillow over her face when you're having sex with her.

So Chunk ignored my wife. Not good. But, to make matters worse for my wife, he talked to me. That was fine with me, I love talking about running. I love when people pay attention to me. It's just that every time I tried to steer the conversation back to my wife who was sitting in the chair trying on shoes, Chunk would steer things back to me. Awkward, a bit rude, and not quite the super-hero worship feeling I had from previous encounters.

Fast forward a few months and we start to get close to my second ultramarathon, the next running of the same 50k from the previous year. I had planned for the race much better this time around and knew more about the race course and what to expect. Again, I'd see Chunk in the store and we'd talk running. But now we started talking about this race. I told him I was doing and it was no secret with my friends and family. At some point he decided he was running it too so our conversations began to go into more strategy and planning. Again, I love to talk about running so everything was cool.

Over the course of these months leading up to the race, I had made more friends through a certain social networking site. Through these friendships, I had come to discover that a particular friend, Honey Bunny, also had encounters with Chunk. Those encounters were a bit creepy for her so we did the only thing we could think of, we talked about him behind his back. I never claimed to be a good person so I'm not proud of that but when somebody knows a bit more about you than is socially acceptable, you get a bit weirded out.

As race-day approached, I had no thoughts of Chunk's inappropriate behavior. I was focused solely on the race and finishing. And I did. I shaved a solid hour off my time and felt awesome for doing it. Chunk, well, he didn't fair so well. He pulled a DNF. My wife was at a few of the aid stations to help out and to cheer for me and she said he didn't look so good. I really hated to feel happy that he DNFed but a little part of me was glad to see him taken down a notch. You see, over time, his tone had taken on a bit of a tone that made you feel inferior to him. I'm sure it wasn't intentional but I have self-worth issues without help and he just made it feel like he dug my hole a little deeper. So knowing that I was able to crawl out of my hole and he wasn't able to crawl out of his gave me a little satisfaction. Add to that the fact that he didn't talk to me much at Sweet Feet after the race helped ease the sense of unease that I had about how much he knew about me.

Until a few weeks ago. When he said something about my running the ICY 8 hour race. Now, granted, I had not made it a secret or anything. I had posted it here and mentioned it elsewhere but I didn't make a big deal about it and don't think I mentioned it to anyone at Sweet Feet. But he knew I was running the race. Yeah. Awkward. I began to wonder not only how he knew but also why he knew. Seriously. I'm not that important of a runner. In fact, I'm kind of a shitty runner in the grand scheme of things. But yet he knew. I went from thinking things had chilled to thinking things were back to 11 on the Huh?! meter.

Why have I waited so long to talk about Chunk? Well, because I couldn't quite process everything. I mean, sure, I know that certain runners ran a certain time or certain place in a specific race, but those are elite runners. Even those runners that aren't elite by most people's standards, they're still pretty damn good. For example, I know a runner who is sponsored by a few companies but isn't considered an elite runner. But he has won marathons and ultramarathons. That may not be elite by a textbook definition but that's pretty damn elite to me. Do I go around spouting off his times or places or make him feel awkward? No. Or at least I hope I don't. I know I'm more introverted than Chunk and that's probably why. But it's taken me this long to process all of my encounters and to think of a nice way to talk about him without making things too awkward between us. Plus he's no longer working at Sweet Feet. Well, he may work there occasionally but he's picked up work elsewhere.

I'm glad he's found a better job and I wish him the best of luck. I even feel comfortable enough to say that I hope to see him at a race in the future. He doesn't scare me. He just annoys me sometimes and makes me feel special while doing it. That's why I called him Chunk in this post. He's like Chunk in The Goonies. He's a little annoying, he's a little bigger than normal, and yet he makes me feel special.

So there you have it. I have/had a stalker. I loved it and hated it, all at the same time.

PS - If you're out there Chunk, I hope you don't have hard feelings over this. And while I have your number, please don't expect a call. Not because of everything I've said here but because I hate talking on the phone. It's not a lame excuse, I just seriously hate it.

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