The image you see above is random, magical and perhaps inevitable, all in one snapshot. It's me, caught in mid stride by the Google Street View camera. After more than 25 years of running through the streets of St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront, I have this photo documenting my faithfulness.
Left onto Beach, left onto Coffeepot, over the Snell Isle bridge to the Vinoy golf course and back, over to the manatee gathering spot, then back toward home. Three miles. Five or six days a week.
It gave me a chance to see what you see.
I am the "running woman," as some of you call me.
Last year around Christmas, one of the kids across the street gave me this cool gift.
"I saw you on Google," he said as I got out of the car after work.
I was intrigued but uncomprehending. "Huh?"
"I saw you running on Google."
Satellite photo technology, I thought. Pretty cool. But how on earth did a satellite capture me running? Shrug.
I didn't think anything about it until a few weeks later when I was researching something at work and stumbled upon Google's Street View photos. You know them, the ones where they take a car and photograph everything at a 360 angle so you can get a great view of businesses and scenery. And sometimes people.
All of a sudden it clicked. That must have been what he was talking about.
Suddenly, I became determined to find myself. I pulled up the street view of my neighborhood and followed my running route from my street to Coffeepot Boulevard.
Then I took a turn over the Snell Isle Bridge. I saw only an empty street as I pushed the cursor along the boulevard on the right-hand side. I headed back south in the other direction.
There I was. Right in front of the St. Petersburg Woman's Club.
wow. very cool.
• • •
Some people don't like Google Street View. Invasion of privacy, they say.
Not me. I love the fact that Google captured me in the act of doing something I have been doing for more than 30 years: running. Putting one foot in front of the other most mornings. Running three quick miles to keep my sanity in check and my weight and heart rate down.
I have never contemplated what life would be like without that run. It gives me such a feeling of controlling my destiny, even if only for that 25 minutes that it takes to do it. To not run is to go down a slippery slope toward … heaviness, both mental and physical.
Now technology had captured one of the most ordinary, but important, parts of my life.
But it made me wonder when I saw that photo. What has changed most in those 30 years? The scenery around me? The technology? Me?
• • •
Think of technology and running and you think of the recent spate of music players, GPS systems and instant feedback monitors for your heart rate, pace or caloric burn. Thirty years ago, when I first started running to stay in shape for my high school basketball team, it was something much simpler.
It was the shoes.
The first running shoes I ever owned were the Adidas TRX. I think I paid around $35 or $40 for them, and they replaced the clunky $12 pair of Converse Chucks I'd been wearing for basketball practice.
They had little suction cups on the soles, and it felt as if I was running on springs. I was practically flying home in them every night after work at the softball fields.
Next, the eyes.
I switched to soft contacts from glasses and that geeky rubber band that held them in place during those high school basketball games. I could run without sweat dripping down onto my glasses or them sliding down my nose.
Still, even those helpful improvements couldn't help me fight off the freshman 15 ... 20 ... 25 ... when I went away to college. Before I knew it, I was up to 150 pounds.
I brought out the big gun: The Runner's World Diary. I faithfully recorded runs, weather conditions and the amount of calories consumed that day, all written in tiny print block letters in each entry. Every missed day was a rebuke; every food binge a cause for soul-searching.
The pounds began to come off, thanks to that diary — and a mandatory physical fitness class.
• • •
Returning for my junior year in the band at Ole Miss, I was about 40 pounds lighter and had a new approach to life.
"You look like someone who was here last year," one of my fellow bandmates said to me, not realizing we had marched together the previous football season. "But you're much nicer than she was. She was mean."
I didn't have any idea until that moment how much carrying around those pounds had meant carrying around resentments. And memories of people in high school calling me "Blubber Glover" or "Five Man Anne, the Lady Wrestler." Now that the pounds were gone, so was the anger.
• • •
That junior year also brought me my ultimate runner's high: A Sony Walkman.
I had to drive an hour and a half to Memphis to get one. And pay a couple hundred bucks. But ohmylord was it worth it to have those songs in my ear as I pounded the pavement.
Diana Ross. The Ramones. The Police. Any number of sappy songs that people would laugh at if they had heard them.
But it didn't matter how limited by record collection was. I had a rhythm to run to. No matter that those bright orange headphones made me look like some sort of weird geek running down the streets. I was listening to Fame. … I was gonna learn how to fly … high!
• • •
Arriving in St. Petersburg after graduation, I promised myself that I would live somewhere near the downtown waterfront so I could run along the sidewalk that hugged the bay. I lucked out and found an apartment ($225 a month!) in the 400 block of Beach Drive.
That September in 1982, I began heading out the door and turning left onto Beach, then left onto Coffeepot. Around the manatee gathering spot at 23rd Avenue N and back home again. Sometimes it was 3 miles. Sometimes 7, if I looped around the Pier. Always accompanied by a growing collection of music in my ears.
Along the way, I fell in love, moved three times and fell out of love. I lost my dad, my oldest brother and a close friend. I also found my soul mate, picked up a couple of tattoos, discovered the wonderful obsession of golf and settled into my current running route that has been the same for the past 20 years.
One Walkman came and went, then another. I fell for the promise of a Sony portable CD player, only to be disappointed when it skipped during most of my running route. And I bit when Sony introduced a mini-disc player that used digital files burned to a tiny disc. What a revolution, I thought, as I invested in a box of those tiny discs.
• • •
The woman came up to our table at the Independent as we were enjoying a beer before an American Stage performance recently.
"Are you the woman who runs along Coffeepot?" she asked. I probed her about where she had seen me, and confirmed it. "Yep, that's me."
It's one of dozens of encounters in random places over the years with people who have recognized me from that morning run. (My friend Joe from work, who runs the same route, encounters the same questions.)
I have lately begun to wonder who they see. In my mind, I am still in my late 20s or early 30s, still running that 8:15 mile (or less) like I did in college. I wear my baseball cap backwards with baggy shorts and a ragged T-shirt.
But then I see other women running who I know are my age. Do I look like that, I wonder, not even knowing what that precisely is. But that looks older —- and a lot less like my mind sees me looking.
I find myself lengthening my stride and picking up the pace when I see them.
Then I imagine myself at 60 or 70 or 80, ambling along my route. That will be okay then. More than okay.
• • •
Tomorrow when I go out the door for that 3-mile jaunt, I'll have my iPod Nike+ fired up. It's attached to a Nano, second generation, one of three iPods that I own. (That Sony Walkman Disc from 2002 lies on a shelf in the closet, a relic of the early 21st century, its box of discs long discarded.)
A small transmitter for the Nano fits in my running shoes, and I can tuck the iPod into my specially made Nike shorts. I can calculate my run in kilometers, miles or time. No need to measure running routes. My calibration allows me to run anywhere and be reasonably certain I have run the distance I have set out to do.
It satisfies my need to validate the run — no matter that for 20-plus years before that the only validation I had was in my head or that long-ago discarded running diary. Now I get cranky if the Nano's battery is not charged and I have to run without recording the distance. My totals at my account on nike.com will take a hit, I lament.
The music experience is different, too. Once I had to spend hours making a cassette tape to get the exact timing right at the end of the cassette tape for the old Walkman. If you didn't, the song ended in mid-chorus and you had to flip it to resume the music.
Now I download alternative, techno dance mixes, upbeat pop and punk (thank you, Green Day!) that keep me moving along the route. Don't like the song? I just push a button and get a new one from my playlist.
Always, though, always there is Diana Ross. Miss Ross. She's propelled me through good times and bad, and she's in my ear when I need her on my "power song:" The Boss. I just push a button and she comes on all fierce and vulnerable at the same time. That's a little bit like me, I have decided, after hundreds of listenings.
When my run is over, I can hear a voice that tells me how far I've run, what my pace was and how many calories I have burned. "Congratulations!" says Lance Armstrong every now and again. "You've recorded a new personal best for the 5K."
Nice, I think. The same 5K I've been running for 20 years. The scenery still beautiful and little changed.
Damn. I've still got it.
• • •
My running route is transitioning now. My partner and I found a place to vacation in the western North Carolina mountains. At first I was bereft over the running choices. A soul-sucking highway route along U.S. 19 (yes, that same one). A bland track at the rec center. I quietly fretted over a potential wrench in my retirement scenario and longed for my familiar route along Coffeepot, running with the dolphins.
And then I discovered Lake Junaluska, an idyllic body of water with a perfect running loop over wooden bridges and along paved garden paths. Swans and geese and ducks waddle or glide nearby.
"Did I see you running at the lake?" the woman was asking me as we celebrated a round of golf up there recently. I flashed back to so many people who had asked that question before her.
What had she noticed? My backwards baseball cap? My long shorts? My ragged T-shirt?
"Yes," I told her, satisfied that she had recognized me. "I'm the running woman."
And I hope fervently that I'll always be, wherever I am.
Anne Glover is the features creative director for the Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just wave "hi" if you see her out running someday.