I like how musicians can show up with an instrument and sheets of music, sit down in a sea of other musicians, and start playing along in the collective.
I have always looked at this from the outside but I never gave much thought to the individual's perspective right before an introduction and becoming part of a group. It is not simply confidence that you can pull something off but assurance that you would complement the assembly.
I was able to look closer at this a week ago when I approached a group of elite runners I have seen religiously gathering at 7:30 every Sunday morning at a local duck pond. I am typically finishing my run when they are forming. I asked if I could join in and was welcomed but the acceptance happened once the run was underway and I held my own. Some runners were doing ten miles, others were going twice as far. Running long distances is similar to ocean swimming in that you cannot really decide halfway out that you are not in the mood. So this was a sink or swim situation.
A long distance runner's body is very much like a musical instrument. It resembles a violin or viola because the stringlike tendons and muscles are taut and need to be in tune. The body is typically light, without excess. Its performance depends on how you play it. A runner's body is also very much like a wind instrument; a flute or trumpet because of the breathing skills required, especially while carrying on a conversation. At the same time a runner is also a percussionist, keeping rhythm with his or her swinging arms and striding legs, and beating the surface of the ground ever so lightly with the soles of his or her feet.
The analogy of running and music is something that presented itself several times to me while running. Sunday is my social run. On this day, I try to arrange to run with friends. I have always noticed how each person plays his or her instrument. It can be the difference between a violinist and a fiddler or a flutist and a drummer. Likewise, a run can either feel like a well-conducted concert or a creative jam session. While running in a pack, one person might want to mix things up and change the pace. He or she steps it up and stands out from the others very much like a soloist.
While I am a smooth runner, I prefer not to run with other gazelles. I like the work horses who cover the same distance at the same pace but do so with a gutsy, locomotive drive like Emil Zátopek. It is the variety in style and age that makes a group diversely more interesting and frees up the regimen of exercise into a jazzy experience.