I decided to go for a run last night. It’s the first time I have run (without chasing a soccer ball in the process) in a long time. At least since last week. In the neighborhood I currently live, there are “trails” (think wooded with sidewalks) that weave around townhouses, past tennis courts, lakes and through tunneled roads. Since this was my first time on this trail, I was unsure as to where it led, how far it went or how to get back home. Notorious for a poor sense of direction, I figured I better bring my i-phone and i-pod as back up. The i-pod would undoubtedly distract me from the pain. The i-phone would allow me to dial 911 quickly or use the google map app for when I get lost. (Yes, I fully expected this to happen.)
I started out like any serious runner: walking. Almost immediately, two physically fit white men sprinted past me. I’m pretty sure they were Kenyan. Afraid they would detect my novice running status, I tried to give them the impression that I had just finished a triathlon and was in my cool down stage. I don’t think they were buying it as triathletes do not (I’m sure) run this trail. Triathletes sweat a lot and I, somehow, was as dry as a Q-tip. I decided to stretch various limbs prior to my run as I felt that was a prudent idea for a man in his upper upper 30’s. 39-ish. With 5 years of experience.
After a full 20 minutes of employing every known exercise in the universe (aka stalling) as my pre-run ritual (stretching, synchronizing my watch, getting my playlist together, adjusting my ear buds, praying to the god of oxygen, faking the aforementioned cool down stage, checking for ticks, checking my stocks, checking my email, double knotting my shoestrings, jumping jacks, etc.) – I was finally ready to begin. Like the majestic trot of a pure breed Arabian racehorse I began the “jog pace” (minus the majestic, pure breed & Arabian part).
I took about 3 steps into my run and remembered the “Map My Run” app on my phone. I downloaded the app the same time everyone else downloaded it – January 1st, Resolution Day. Mine still had cobwebs on it. Apparently there is an option for every type of pace (walk, cross-country, power walk, dog walk, etc). Though the “sprint” option was tempting (I could die sooner), I selected “trail run” as that most closely resembled what I wanted to do. At least in theory. On paper. Vicariously through someone else. After that, I hit the “start workout” button and my jog had officially commenced.
At first, it felt great to get outside and be on the trail. Of course, I was still standing still. When I actually started to move forward, somehow all hell broke loose with my body. It was as if 44 years of resentment built up and my body was now angry or something. Shin splints appeared out of nowhere. My tongue immediately became devoid of all moisture. My lungs collapsed. At least they felt like they did. My legs seemed heavy. Incredibly, someone – without my knowledge – succeeded in placing lead bricks in my sneakers. I think I got chicken pox. How was I going to be the first man to run a 3 minute mile with all of these medical anomalies happening at once? To make matters worse, the stupid app had a timer on it and I knew time was ticking. Why do we add unnecessary pressure on our run with a ticking clock? Is the universe going to explode if I don’t make it home in 30 minutes? I’m already stressed about my run – I don’t need some ticking metric to point out how slow I really am. I looked at my watch with disdain. I had been officially “running” for about 30 seconds now. This was not a good start.
By all accounts, my pace is slow. Think turtle with a sprained leg after triple bypass surgery. Keeping up with the Kenyans (or the Kardashians) is not the goal. Jogging this trail, I reminded myself, is not a race. So what if the white Kenyans were in another zip code by now? This is not a race. So what if the elderly man in the motorized electric chair is passing me? It’s not a race. So what if the seven-year old girl walking her disabled poodle lapped me – twice? It’s not a race. So what if I’m already parched within 50 feet of my door? It’s not a race. I’m here to get some exercise and lose some weight and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. Oh, and die of cardiac arrest.
Trail runs are interesting, if I can even call this one a trail. Apparently, in America, we can’t even allow our trails to be natural. Just a few suggestions for the future trail makers of America:
- First of all, there should be a law requiring neighborhoods to mark their trees. Ribbons or spray paint would work just fine. How can I know where I’m going when every tree looks identical to each other? I mean, they all have bark and green leaves. How in the world could I possibly tell I was circling the same Pine tree for 45 minutes straight?
- Second, there should be signs at every “V” in the trail. Numerous times I had to choose between going “right” or “left.” I felt like Neo in the Matrix picking a pill. It reminded me of the Encyclopedia Brown book series I read as a kid – determining my own ending. If I went “right,” was that where lemonade and Dr. Scholl’s inserts would be? If I went “left,” would I encounter snakes, leprechauns or other dangerous creatures? Which way did the freaking Kenyans go?
- Third, where are the helpful “you are here” maps that they provide in the malls? Granted, they would be impossible to create as even the “you are here” map makers would have no clue where they were. Even so, it’s the thought that counts. If you are lost in a mall, at least you are indoors and not far from the food court. Survival is not a question. On the trail, sunset was imminent – at least 4 hours away. That didn’t give me much time to find my way home.
As I continued to wander in the wilderness like Moses, I thought about those wilderness survival shows on TV. I wondered if I would have to cut off my arm to survive or what animal I’d have to kill and eat to make it through the night. I mean, it was 68 degrees out and I was developing a slight chill. At one point, I recalled a story from childhood that may have proven helpful. It was a beautiful story about 2 trail running children. Something about leaving food on the ground. Wait a minute, wasn’t someone trying to kill them? I really should have paid more attention to my bedtime stories. Besides, I wasn’t sure how feeding the squirrels was going to help me so I immediately abandoned that train of thought.
About 55 minutes into my “run,” I came to the conclusion that I was officially lost. Even though I had only traveled about .3 miles from my front door, I began to panic. I wondered if Park Rangers had been deployed to look for me yet? Were there teams of individuals canvassing the neighborhood organizing a search for me? Was the local police chief holding a press conference? I wonder what picture my roommate provided to show others what I looked like? Secretly, I hoped a Facebook page was created for me (“Support group for fans of the pseudo trail jogger“). Then the thought hit me – “What if I became the next Reader’s Digest story?” Those stories always seem to involve a bear mauling. This, by the way, is not helpful thinking when you are alone, on a foreign trail, in broad daylight, in the middle of suburbia. At one point, I was so concerned, I almost drew a panicked self portrait of myself to hang on a nearby tree – left behind as a clue to my whereabouts. (Note to self: bring a sharpie and paper next time I go trail running.)
As for the i-pod, which was to serve as the ultimate distracter of pain? It’s final song was ironic, if not taunting. “You’re only human (2nd wind)” from Billy Joel:
“Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll get your second wind
It’s not always easy to be living in this world of pain
You’re gonna be crashing into stone walls again and again
It’s alright, it’s alright.
Don’t forget your second wind. Wait in your corner until that breeze blows in.”
Note to self: Update my playlist before my next trail crawl.
As I finished my near death trail running experience, it led me to think about running as a past time. We don’t time our experience at the grocery store. We don’t time our dentist or car mechanic. And yet, somehow, we put this pressure on ourselves that we have to run a certain distance in the speed of light or we are out of shape.
No sir. No more.
As for me, I’m getting rid of my watch. In it’s place, I’m strapping a calendar to my wrist. It doesn’t “tick” and is much more encouraging and gracious.
I began my run in May. If, by the end of June, I’m not back – come look for me.
Until then, I’m circling the trees and feeding the squirrels in search of some Kenyans… who I have a feeling are back at home “liking” some Facebook support page.