Saturday, January 11, 2014

Running in the Dark

I love running before the sun comes up. It's just me, my music, and my knee brace on the dark open road. I run every day except Sunday. Not fast, mind you, but I run 5 to 6 miles a day and I enjoy every minute of it, except for maybe the first five minutes when my knee, lungs and hips scream, "What the heck are you doing?" You're too old for this! Stop right now!" but after that, things go well. I get into a rhythm and just cruise along, usually with some audio book or class in my ear (I love to listen to "The Great Courses" while I run -- Check It Out Here) or the new iTunes radio station "Indie Rock." This time of year, running gets very, very cold. Most mornings, it is somewhere in the 30-40 degree range for my morning run. If you are reading this in Minnesota, you probably will laugh at my definition of "cold", but as a pure bred California mutt, anything below 80 degrees is cold. It's also very dark--only streetlights and headlights most of the way. I wear my reflective vest in order to be more visible to anyone else that might be out there with me. It makes me look a little bit like a Cal Trans road worker on the lam, but it beats blending in with my surroundings and becoming road kill.
I started wearing the reflective vest after a bicyclist hit me as I was running over a narrow bridge. It was early morning--pitch black, he was dressed in all black clothing including a beanie, and riding downhill over the bridge at a high rate of speed on the sidewalk toward me. I saw him at the last second and turned, but it was too late. There wasn't enough room on the sidewalk for both of us. He ricocheted off my shoulder, flew off his bike on to the sidewalk and then bounced into the roadway. Luckily, it was around 5am in the morning, so traffic was light and no one was on the road when he went into it or he would have been a hood ornament or a speed bump. He was very hurt and lay on the roadway moaning. After I processed what had just happened and caught my breath, I dragged him out of the roadway, all the while he apologized profusely and asked me in a breathless agonized voice, "Are you OK?" I was fine. He huffed and puffed and moaned and whimpered as I pulled him up and on to the sidewalk that ran over the bridge. Luckily, he wasn't a big guy. He was young, maybe early twenties, a slight build and shorter than me. My shoulder was sore from the impact and I was shaking, but I was standing and not in any pain. I was in a state of shock and worried about him. He could not stand up, so he just lay in a heap face down on the sidewalk for a few minutes after I dragged him up there and continued to moan and apologize. He said he was on his way to work. He hadn't seen me. He knew it was his fault. He was so sorry. Then he would alternate between complaining about his back or his leg. I was upset that he could have killed us both, but how could I yell at him now? His decision to ride his bike on a sidewalk in the dark at full speed had cost him a lot more than it had me and he was truly sorry. But it could have been ugly. He literally could have killed me -- or at least hurt me very, very badly if he had hit me head on. I realized his bike was still in the road and dragged it up and on to the sidewalk next to him. The front tire looked a bit bent, but it was hard to tell in the dark if his bike had other damage. Awhile later, a friend picked him and his bike up. I hope he went to the hospital and got looked at by a doctor, but I doubt it.  He insisted I not call an ambulance. I told him I would take him to the hospital (I lived only a block away from the accident site), but he said, "No, no, I'll be fine" and called a friend to come get him. After he left, I continued my run with a new surge of adrenaline, wider eyes and when I got home I ordered the reflective vest from Amazon.
That was one of the most interesting and disturbing moments out on the open road, but I've had some other "running adventures" out there over the years. Keep in mind, I always run very early in the morning, usually when it is dark. I am blessed to live in a town where I can do that and be relatively safe. Once, I was chased by a guy in a dark blue Dodge Durango and had to run to an Albertson's supermarket to call the police. This was after he pulled off the side of the road, tried to hide his car behind a burm and waited for me to approach, but I spotted him and ran the other way. I have never run so fast in my life. I am sure I could have beat Jessie Owens at his best. I had tears of terror streaming down my face as I ran. The employee "Paula" who let me in the store before it opened so we could call the police was a hero and I came back the next day to thank her with movie tickets. I also placed another order on Amazon. This time, it was pepper spray.
Another morning, I was chased by a coyote and finally had to stop and stand my ground, yell and lunge at him. He kept coming. I unclipped my cell phone from my running pants and waved it at him. He ran away. (Maybe he thought I had a gun? Knew about the radiation they omit? Or he was camera shy and was afraid he'd end up on YouTube?)  I used to run with my dog, but that really brought the coyotes out of their dens. I might as well have had a bloody slab of meet on the end of a rope. One time, I had to pick my dog up and run with her because a coyote wanted to have her for breakfast and wasn't afraid of my iPhone. I stopped taking her just one week before I got hit by that bicyclist on the bridge. I don't even want to imagine what that accident scene would have been like if I had had her with me.
Another time a little later in the morning, right before school started, I ran under a bridge near the local high school and there was a man, not of high school age, in jeans and a white T-shirt who was leaning against the wall and holding a large wad of cash. He shoved it in his front pocket and tried to look casual. My guess is if I needed a little something special to speed up my run or something to smoke and relax to later, he could have hooked me up. I notified the Sheriff's Department and have not seen him there since.
I am not the only one out there most mornings. There is an older gentleman, appears to be in his 70's (no joke) who jogs nearly every morning.  He is tall and lanky, bundles up like an an Eskimo and always runs the same route I do, only the other way, so our paths cross twice and we wave each time.  It always seems a little bit funny to wave at him the second time, but it also seems like the courteous thing to do, so we wave. Some mornings I have wanted to stop him after our first wave and say, "If you don't see me the second time, call the police. I have been abducted, eaten by coyotes or I am buying drugs under the bridge."  I have even pondered asking him, "Hey, you want to run together?" But I am worried he will want to.
There is another lady who I used to pass all the time at the same spot--a road that cuts through a quiet neighborhood. It was like clockwork. As soon as I got to that road and started to run up, I'd see her running downhill on the other side in her gray sweatsuit. She never waved. In fact, she never even looked at me. She is not running to lose weight because she probably weighs 80 pounds soaking wet and she shuffles along without hardly lifting her feet off the ground and always has her gray hooded sweatshirt up over her head. I haven't seen her in awhile.  She probably thought I was stalking her and is running a new route.
I have also crossed paths with bunnies, deer, stray dogs, jack-rabbits, skunks, possums, raccoons, owls, rats and bats. I am fine with all those. It is humans, especially those on bikes and in cars that seem to cause me the most trouble. The hungry coyotes are disappearing because evidently, they are not interested in the new 4+2 solar powered single family houses with a view on the hill.
So even with near death experiences, wild animals and frozen fingers, why do I still love running in the wee hours of the morning?
Because it's my time. I can go into my own little world with my music and my breathing and the pounding of my feet on the concrete and just disappear until I come to another runner coming the opposite direction and we both break out of our worlds to wave or say hi (or not) and then put our heads down and move on.
So much of my work involves being around other people and don't get me wrong--I love people, but this is MY time. I also love music and learning and this is my time to plug into the world of new music or listen to a good audio book or the lecture of a professor from some university I can only dream of going to. This is when I come up with ideas for songs, blog entries, poems and programs. It's when I remember that I haven't called "so in so" in awhile, or really should finish that book, or should book a flight sooner rather than later. It's like my brain uses the time to organize itself, think things through, plan, ruminate and remember and yet, it is relaxing. I am not sorting and organizing, just picturing and pondering beneath the stars as I chug along. It's relaxing and invigorating at the same time. I look forward to the natural high it gives me (sorry, guy under the bridge), even if it means I have to dodge downhill bikers or out run hungry coyotes to get it.

Hope A. Horner, 2014
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