'Runner's New World'

Our runners used to gather 80 strong, and they'd line themselves among the bleachers, shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet -- the chattering of up to 500 words per minute with gusts up to 1250.

It's not that way anymore -- they are in small groups, and before they are allowed to take the first step, stretch the first muscle, a thermometer is placed on their adolescent heads. The number is 100.4 at our school -- not sure if that's universal, an Atlanta thing, or something our trainer felt was right. Regardless, if you're over the number, have a good day. Rest well. Try again tomorrow.

Our youth are put in groups and they will stay that way. Nothing personal to the latecomer who wants to join -- but wherever they were equaled different germs, different encounters, hands placed on rails in other cities, perhaps contaminated.

Used to be the runner longed to change groups, move up the charts, elevate his or her game. Now it's not so much about time, but about conflicting germs. A bit sad and then some, but we live in a time of different rules, and said rules could change with the next newscast.

What to do about meets, it's been asked? Smaller meets are a good answer and think of it this way: Used to be your top runner might finish a distant 27th at the 30-Team-Invitational, his finish noted only by his coach and whatever relatives happened to be at the finish.

Now, 27th could mean breaking the tape at a Tri-Meet, said runner now flexing his pecs at the top of the podium while bowing his head in preparation for a medal. And a blue ribbon. After all, a 27th place finish doesn't turn a lot of heads in the general sports population; it's a certificate at the end of a camp you went to, a participation trophy, something that will get lost among your concert stubs and study notes.

But first place? First place gets your name called out at assembly, maybe even a walk upfront to take a bow before your peers. Who knows, if the moon is tilted right, maybe even the head cheerleader takes note, asks someone your name and what year you are.

Other new running normals? We now train with grace, knowing there's a possibility of a start to the season without a finish. There have been many crazy things happen in the running world -- bombs going off in Boston, bandits sneaking onto courses, wrong turns, falls near the finish line, and the like. Still, there has all-ways (one word and two), been a start. And a finish. It's just the way things are and should be.

Until then, we train. We hope. We stay in small groups praying a machine pressed against our skull yields a number under 100.4. We must suck it up knowing this goes against the instinct of the runner; for we love to gather, to mingle, to swap sweat and trade germs while telling tales, some of them perhaps even true.

New normal or not, our competitive ears still long to hear that starting gun -- not heard since early March. March, in reality, a mere three months ago, though it seems and feels like years. And we hope there's not another gun fired somewhere in the middle, signaling us -- once again -- off the course, back to our tents and then back to our homes. A start. And a finish. Let's hope even the 'new normal' includes both of thoseā€¦