On Monday morning, I decided it was time to get back into a running groove. It had been 15 days since I tied up my road shoes – due largely to two long bike rides, 8 days on the trails, and hours spent in the car and exploring quaint New England towns – and my feet were itching for some pounding. I worked it out with Brent so that I would leave his parents’ house at 7:30 AM and he would meet me a couple hours later in Northampton – a town roughly 13.5 miles away – for breakfast at one of my favorite coffee shops in the area.
There’s nothing better for forcing yourself to do a long run than to find a point-to-point route with your husband (and brunch!) waiting on the other end.
It wasn’t the smoothest of runs – the temperatures were already climbing into the high 80s with saturating humidity and, like I said, it had been more than 2 weeks since my last effort – but I was reasonably comfortable as I made my way down the Norwottuck Rail Trail, water bottle in one hand and gu’s in the other.
About halfway through the run, an older man rode past me from the opposite direction on a little touring bike. He was one of a dozen or so bikers I saw as I ran past college campuses, chain store strip malls, and small dairy farms. “You must be either in first place or last place,” he yelled, “because I haven’t seen another runner for a long time.”
“Just me,” I said and continued on my way, laughing as I do every time someone calls me a runner.
It’s been about two and a half years since I started running. For years, I held an inexplicable fear of the activity, probably a vestige of high school “run days,” where, once a week, gym classes would thunder through the hallways of the athletic wing of my school, jogging and talking and dodging oncoming foot traffic for 10 or 20 minutes – I don’t remember now – before returning to the regularly scheduled kickball or basketball game. So, in January of 2006, I decided, what better way to get over my fear of running than to sign up for a marathon?
I’ve never been one for dipping my toe into the water, I guess…
I joined Team in Training, set out to raise $5,000, and spent the next six months training for the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, in Anchorage, Alaska. It was a fantastic experience – I linked up with a great group of women, and we’d have weekly singalongs and catch-up sessions as we logged mile after mile, often with brunch to follow. I got to the race in mid-June, ran the entire thing with my friends, and sprinted to the finish where I quickly proclaimed, more to myself than anyone else, “Hmm… I could have done that faster. When’s the next one?”
I’m not sure whether I was hooked on the running at that point or on the community that came with it, but for whatever reason, I continued to sign up for races and continued to train, always enjoying it but still not adopting it as part of my identity.
To date, I’ve certainly put in enough miles and competed in enough races to call myself a runner. And yet I still feel as though I’m playing dress-up every time I consider brandishing the label.
I awoke around 7 this morning and decided to head out for another run before Brent woke up, shorter this time, maybe 4 to 6 miles. I logged on to the trusty US Track and Field website to map a route for myself (http://www.usatf.org/routes/map/ – absolutely fabulous) and then headed out the door of our room at the Knights Inn Motel in Lenox, MA.
I thought I’d run over to the bagel store we’d passed yesterday to pick up breakfast and bring it back to the room. Five minutes into the run, though, it started drizzling and quickly progressed to a steady rain. The bagels would be mush by the time I made it back with them, I reasoned, so I decided to turn around at the two-mile mark instead. When I got there, dripping but not drenched, I stopped at a red light and bent down to stretch.
My fingers touched my toes for all of five seconds before I heard a loud screech and looked up to see a toyota tercel coming through the intersection as a tractor trailer made a left turn directly into it. I reeled back briefly as the vehicles collided and then sprinted over to the small car, which had ricocheted off of one curb and slid to another before coming to a stop in a grassy driveway. The woman inside, about my age, was shaken and a bit bloodied from what seemed like an impossible amount of broken glass, but she appeared to be okay, all things considered. I opened my cell phone to call the police and attempt to give them directions to a small town intersection on a local highway in an area I’d been a resident of for a grand total of 16 hours, and then walked back over to the tercel to keep the driver company until they arrived.
We talked about nothing of substance as I tried to keep her calm. Within ten minutes, three police cars, two firetrucks, and an ambulance arrived and went to work, directing traffic, checking to make sure she wasn’t broken, and using the jaws of life to pry open the driver’s side door. By this point the steady rain had transformed into a minor hurricane (okay, slight exaggeration) and my whole body felt like it needed to be wrung out as I walked around, trying to steer clear of the activity and wait for an officer to take a statement.
Fifteen minutes later, two firemen and a police officer had asked me whether I’d been involved in the accident.. “No,” I told them. “I was just running by and saw it happen.” Finally, another officer took me aside, notepad in hand. “So, you’re the runner?” he asked as he pulled out a pencil.
I headed back to the motel a few minutes later, dodging traffic and ankle-deep puddles, and thought about the past hour. I’d run four miles in 34 minutes, marking the distance by chain motels and highway signs. I’d encountered torrential downpours and mighty winds. I’d watched steel meet steel and saw both drivers come out relatively unscathed.
And somehow, in the midst of all of it, I’d become a runner.