I have this friend. We met last spring during the Philadelphia Mountain Biking Association’s Tuesday night women’s rides (though we realized later that we’d actually become acquainted more than a year earlier when she worked for a party rental distributor and helped me order the linens for our wedding!). This past fall, once it got dark too early to ride comfortably in the evenings, we took advantage of our flexible schedules to link up for some weekday morning rides.
Now that it’s too cold for us wimpy mountain bikers, we’ve decided to try to meet for a run. Last Sunday morning, we planned to meet at 10 AM at a well-marked spot in Fairmount Park for a quick out-and-back. Somehow, though each of us was in the same parking lot, walking by the same bench, we managed to miss each other entirely. I went home at 10:20 and ended up running later that afternoon on the treadmill.
Today, we decided to meet at 9 AM, but we were a bit more specific with our locale: the round bench right in the front of the bathroom, with the stables on the right and the inn on the left. Easy enough, right?
Except when you wake up and find your neighborhood covered in a thin sheet of ice extending from your front step all the way to the foot of the running path.
I happen to live in what is perhaps the best place on earth (I suppose some might argue this particular point…). West Mount Airy is the first and arguably most successfully racially integrated neighborhood in the country (I hope so anyway – I’m staking my dissertation on it). We have a food co-op, a fair trade coffeehouse, an Indian restaurant, a book shop, an independent video store, and a gym, all within walking distance of our house. We’ve been dubbed the Ph.D. ghetto, and for every professor we have here, there are at least 10 aging hippies and 37 dogs. And, we’re less than half a mile from the most developed part of the biggest network of intra-city parks in the United States. We live in the Philadelphia city limits, two blocks from the woods and twelve minutes from downtown. What could be better, right?
Generally, when I run down in Wissahickon (our section of Fairmount Park), I just head out from our front door. Today, though, because my friend and I were meeting a few miles down the path, I decided to drive instead. I scraped the ice off the windows and headed down the street. As soon as I crossed from Mount Airy into Chestnut Hill (the adjacent neighborhood), my car began to skid. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was no way I was making it to the park. I saw buicks running into fire hydrants, tercels turned perpendicular to the street, and even SUVs struggling to make it up the hill.
Initially I simply pulled over and parked on the side of the road about a mile from the path. As I started to walk away, though, I had visions of coming back and finding my little toyota yaris broken into pieces from all of the out-of-control cars ramming into it. I stood there for a few minutes, considering my options, when a fellow runner came into view. As he made his way toward me, we exchanged pleasantries about the conditions, and I asked him whether he thought my car would survive an hour on the side of the road. “Probably… But I live right there,” he said, gesturing across the street. “Why don’t you pull into my driveway and just pick it up when you’re done?”
My new best friend.
I ran, shuffled, and skated my way down the mile-long hill, finally getting to our bathroom-side bench at 9:20. My friend was nowhere in sight, and I waited around for another ten minutes before heading out for a run on my own.
Strike two, and lesson learned – don’t piss off the Mount Airy gods by driving to Chestnut Hill to run. I began to wonder whether my friend would ever want to run with me again.
This was my first outdoor run on my own since last summer. I didn’t have my IPod with me because I’d expected the company, and the path was covered in crunchy snow marked by pockets of slick ice. At a coffee shop yesterday morning, I’d overheard a woman saying that her husband had broken his leg running along Forbidden Drive earlier that week when he unexpectedly hit a patch of ice.
I wasn’t sure how this would shake out.
To borrow a word from a friend, it turned into a glorious run. After two months of PT and cross-training, I’m still getting my outdoor running legs and my winter running lungs, but today I felt smooth and light. And without music to distract me, I found myself noticing things I’d never paid attention to – the length of the strides of runners who’d already gone by; the sound of my footsteps and the crunch of the ice that varied according to the depth of the snow and the squishyness of the mud underneath it; the dog and deer and mountain bike tracks that blended with the footprints for mile after mile. I found myself so distracted by all this noticing that I almost missed one of the mile markers – unheard of in my running career.
And everyone – everyone – was in a good mood. There was a piece in the most recent issue of Runner’s World on the battle between the wavers and non-wavers in the running community. I am an unabashed waver and I’ve often paid attention to these interactions, both among runners and, especially in Philadelphia, between runners and bikers. The article noted that there is an inverse relationship between weather and wave-dom: the worse the conditions, the higher the rate of acknowledgement. This was certainly the case today, as nearly everyone I passed waved or smiled or nodded or grunted. I even got a “good job, keep it up” – rare for an easy Sunday morning run.
I finished four miles in just over 34 minutes. My legs felt loose (aside from the still-nagging hip pain) and my breathing was steady; I was especially encouraged, having struggled to maintain a 9:00 pace during the same run earlier in the week with a different running buddy.
I left the path and ran/shuffled/clawed my way back up the mile-long hill to my car. I slid across the street, grasped for the door handle, and kept the emergency brake on as I crept along, slipping and sliding back to the Chestnut Hill-Mount Airy border.
I got home to an email from my friend. “Abby – i was there – I promise!! I was stuck on the sheet of ice that was Wise’s Mill Road and only after a call to the police and a sand truck (and an hour of waiting) did I get off the hill. I’m so sorry!!! I’m in DC all this week – but hopefully the 3rd time’s the charm.”
Looks like I was safe after all. Running buddy crisis averted.
I made a quick batch of rosemary sweet potato fries and jumped in the shower, and then Brent and I headed downtown for a Keystone State football party (Eagles at 1 PM, Steelers at 5 PM) with a great group of runners, triathletes, and adventure racers. We cheered for the home teams, traded injury woes, and schemed about the upcoming season.
What could be better than an afternoon with folks who understand the wonder of an ice-filled morning run?
Add in an evening of Golden Globes and you’ve got the makings of a perfect Sunday!