Category Archives: Running

Unexpected Fauna in Suburbia


The first one I noticed was a cat.

Actually, I’m not sure what the first one was; but the first one I knew for what it was was a cat.

See, any animal in the wild will startle and then stare at you. They suss out the danger, watch you for movement, decide whether to run or fight. But not these things. Not this cat. They stare through you, like you wandered into a place you’re not meant to be, seen things not meant to be seen. They stare at you like they’re waiting on the word from some master you can’t see for permission to tear you apart.

You might think that suburbia is a totally tame place to go running for exercise, but any place can seem alien at four AM, especially a place where civilization and vast stretches of untamed land butt up against each other. (I run at four AM because I have to — it’s the only time of day that really belongs to me. The kids and wife are asleep, work is still a long way away. It’s quiet, peaceful, calm. Perfect for running. And despite living in the suburbs, the regular route snakes right out of the neighborhood and onto a road that carves through a forest, dipping and winding through trees and growth that feel old, the way only an old forest can feel old. Like if you stepped off the road and wandered fifty yards into the trees, you might find yourself lost for days.

It’s not quite like that, but at four AM it definitely feels like that.

Wildlife is common at this hour. There’s the neighbors’ cats that stare, golden eyed and still from front porches and from under bushes. Sleepy dogs out in their pens that come to and give chase along the edge of their fences. The occasional stray that pursues for a while, but gives up rather than follow too far. Then, across that imaginary border between civilization and the woods, things get a little more exotic. Squirrels and rabbits everywhere, poking their heads up for an instant then bolting for cover. Coyotes aren’t unheard of; I never see them up close but have glimpsed them at a distance. Unlike dogs, who will head right for a person, a coyote will see you from afar and melt into the trees before you can even tell what it is.

Then there are the deer. There’s something magical about deer at four in the morning, gliding like shadows across fields or through the trees, sometimes alone, more often in herds whose size is only grasped when they all suddenly explode into movement together. But these, too, just startle and run.

But like I said, the first one I saw — the first one I knew — was a cat. It came into view at the top of a hill as a flurry of movement, hard to identify but clearly animal. Then it froze. But not the freeze of the spooked animal; this was that other freeze. It halted mid-stride and didn’t move again, didn’t take eyes off me, until I rounded the next bend and it disappeared behind me. I kept my eye on it the way you keep an eye on the potentially dangerous person talking out loud to nobody in particular on the city street — you don’t think it’s out to harm you, but you can’t be too careful.

Then, there were the rabbits. A whole crew of them, about six or seven, in a clearing in the trees, just staring. A lone rabbit will freeze, hoping to avoid notice, but a group of them will always break and run: when one goes, they all go. Not this group. Being watched by them felt like being watched by people: people who didn’t want you in their area, people who wanted you to leave.

Then I started noticing the deer. Normally you glimpse them at a distance and they ghost away, but they started appearing in more and more obtrusive places. Closer than usual, too. They started showing up in the middle of the road sometimes, or right at the edge of the trees, just off the road. And they didn’t spook, either, not until I’d get almost close enough to reach out and touch them. Their heads just swiveled as I’d plod past. Watching.

Until finally, this morning, the latest. This was in that really dark stretch, trees creeping close at both sides of the road, thin hazy fog blocking out the starlight. Troublingly dark. One of those real man-goes-missing-on-his-early-morning-run-in-the-woods kind of moments. And there it was — a shadow coming out of the fog. Not aggressively or curiously, but steadily and inevitably. At first, it seemed to be a dog, but as it grew closer, it was obviously too big. A deer? Maybe, but it was too heavy set, too plodding.

A few more steps, and it was undeniable. A human. Or at least a human shape. In the dark, it was more like a human-sized hole in the night.

I froze, my heart pounding. There was no discernible face, no discernible features. I couldn’t tell you how tall it was, but I could tell it was staring at me as it came nearer, as it passed just on the other side of the road. I tried to call out, weakly, some sort of greeting, but the voice died in my throat. You don’t really feel fear like that as an adult in this world, but I felt it then, and I found myself the frozen animal, spooked and startled, ready to bolt. It glided past, and it was gone; not gone like it retreated into the mist and out of sight, but gone like the mist had swallowed it up or spirited it away. Either way, it was gone, and I ran home in uneasy silence.

I don’t know who that person was, but I hope I don’t see them out there again.

It’s actually funny; as I’m writing all this out, there are deer gathering in the yard, just staring at the house.

I wonder what that’s about.


Honk if You …


I was out on a run this morning, and a guy honked at me.

Context: I run in the wee predawn hours, while most of the normals are still asleep. And I run in the suburbs of a fairly rural county. (Depending on the direction I go, I can pass more cows than cars on the road. And no matter which way I go, there will surely be roosters crowing.) This means streetlights are scarce and trees are ubiquitous.

What I’m saying is, as much as I love my generally peaceful starlit runs, they are scary, too. And I say that, fully cognizant that as a good-sized white dude, I probably have less to fear from the world at large than anybody in a similar circumstance.

I can’t see very far. Anything could be lurking in the trees. And despite my day-glo reflective vest, I can never be entirely sure that the oncoming car is going to see me or not. I mean, the driver is out before 5 in the morning — they’re probably sucking down coffee or shaving or applying their makeup or stuffing their face with a buttered biscuit, expecting (fairly!) zero human contact on our sleepy back roads. They’re not expecting to see a lunatic pounding the pavement with his idiot dog in tow.

All of which is to say: there I am, running. I hear the car coming up from behind. I see its headlights illuminating the trees along the roadside. Then, as it passes me: BEEEEEYOWWWWWWW.

Nice, firm blast. Not the quick, cheery ‘toot’ of “good morning, fellow early riser.” This is laying-on-the-horn. This is “you deliberately blocked the intersection in front of me, and now I can’t go, and nobody behind me can go, and now NOBODY ANYWHERE CAN GO SO I WILL HONK AT YOU IN FUTILITY.” This is the vilest of expletives delivered without words.

And because I’m out running in the scary night and I’m always a little on edge in that situation, I jump off the road and stumble into a ditch. Dog gets tangled up in my legs and starts yowling. It’s chaos.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been honked at before, and every other time, the driver adds some comment to clarify his communication (strangely enough, it’s always a “him,” innit?). Lots of times I can’t make it out because they can barely get the window open in time to shout it out and the doppler effect or their naturally neandarthalic speech smears the words into an unrecognizable buzz. Lots of homophobic slurs, for some reason. Tons of “idiot”s or “a-hole”s. I even had a car slow down and pace me for a good, solid minute once. That was scary.

But none of that this time. Just the horn in the dark and a drive into the night. And it left me wondering, as I climbed out of the ditch and untangled my dog’s leash, “why?”

Why beep at a runner in the dead of night? A runner, mind you, on the opposite side of the road, whom you are in no danger of hitting, who is causing you no inconvenience, who might well be one of your neighbors?

I have some theories.

  1. He just wanted to let me know he was coming. This is a favorable interpretation, but a dumb one, because a car coming down a dark road with its lights on is the most noticeable dangerous thing possible for me.
  2. He wanted me to know that he thinks I’m a jerk for running on the road. Sorry, pal. Gonna need a little more clarification than that. Say it to my face. (I bet I can outrun you.)
  3. He saw something in the trees and wanted to warn me of the danger. Again, unlikely, but hey, I can still be charitable.
  4. He hates runners because a runner once killed his brother, and he now wages a private crusade against all runners by honking at them. Sorry, bro.
  5. He just noticed a bee in the car and hit his horn in the ensuing panic for his life. If this was the case, I totally understand.
  6. His horn just goes off sometimes. That’s okay, honey. It happens to all guys sometimes. Still, maybe get it checked out.
  7. I offended his life choices as a fat slob with my in-your-face running lifestyle, and he had to voice his displeasure.
  8. What he really wanted to do was cross the center line and run me over, but in lieu of a murder charge, he honked his horn instead.
  9. He thought I was a luminous, highly reflective monster coming to devour him and his entire lineage, and he honked to scare me back into the night.
  10. He thinks I’m awesome and wants me to keep it up.

Yeah, we’ll go with #10.


Hiatus Interruptus


After my operation about a month ago, I was instructed not to run.

I guess that’s an instruction that your average human might be only too happy to receive, but for me, it was a little like telling a duck not to waddle, or a cat not to chase little red laser-pointer dots, or a leftover lasagna not to go bad in the fridge. Goes completely against nature. But I made the mistake of asking if, after the surgery, I could run, and was told “not until you’re recovered.”

“What’s that mean? How long is that?”

“Well, you’re a healthy guy. So anywhere from 2-4 weeks until you’re up to your full range of normal activities. But don’t overdo it too early or you could end up back in here.”

“When’s too early?”

“You’ll know if you do something you shouldn’t.”

I will?

How will I know? Will I immediately be in terrible pain? Or will it start sore and become awful? Maybe there will be a tearing sound with no pain at all? Can anybody ever really know anything?

So I’ve been in a state of supreme doubt ever since, and out of an abundance of caution, I haven’t run. Jogged a little. Chased my kids around the yard a few times. But no miles.

In six years, I’ve never taken such a long hiatus. Partly that’s out of fear: momentum matters, I know, and when you stop for a long time, like that hulk of an automobile growing weeds through its engine block, it’s hard to start up again. Partly it’s because I never had cause to think I needed to take such a break. And partly it’s because runners seem to be, by rule, dumb and willing to pigheadedly push through pain even when they should stop. And I, as one of my students taught me to say, am sick with that germ.

But I gave it a month. And then I gave it a few more days. Abundance of caution. I’m hardly the picture of youth anymore; I have to play smart, not hard. The goal is not to be the best, it’s to be the best I can be without blowing myself up in the process.

This morning, though, I laced up again. Beautiful morning for it — sixty-five degrees or so. Cloudy. No meteors, but I guess you can’t win ’em all. In what now seems like a sign from the running gods, my GPS watch died within the first minute (of course I could have predicted this; it hadn’t been charged in a month because I hadn’t had to plug it in for a month!). As a result, I wasn’t harried in the least by thoughts of pace or distance for their own sakes.

I just ran, stopping here and there to let the dog sniff in the high grass or to catch my breath and look out for meteors. (Sadly, there were no meteors. I may have mentioned this. I always seem to miss these celestial events. Still sad, hours later.)

I didn’t go as far as I usually do. And I probably didn’t go as fast as usual, either. But heading out this morning was more like knocking a little dust off than it was like pulling weeds out of a carburetor. The month off maybe cost me a few steps, but it didn’t put out the fire.

Better still? Tracing the outline of a shape I already knew, I find myself wanting to write more today than I have in a while. The running helps the writing, and when the running helps the writing, the writing makes me want to run.

Positive feedback loops, not negative ones.

More miles await.

And maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, meteors.


Better Miles


Some days, the miles are easy. Some days, they’re hard.

Some days, you drag yourself out of bed to pound the pavement because you know if you don’t do this one thing, get this one win early, you may not see another win all day.

Some days, you burst onto the street, strong like bull, ready to wrestle the day to the ground and steal its lunch money.

Some days, you run and you slave and you gasp and groan and feel like you’ll never cross the finish line.

Some days, the fresh, clean air hits your lungs and you feel like you could run forever.

Some days, the miles are best forgotten about.

Some days, the miles stay with you.

But any day when the finish line looks like this:

20180620_080023.jpg

Those miles seem just a little bit better.

Happy running from Tybee Island.


Caveat Pre-Emptor (Or, Why It’s Okay to Brag a Little)


So, like, I’m a writer, right? Or at least, I’m trying to be. I aspire. Along with the legions of others.

And once in a while, and I do mean a good while, somebody will ask me “how’s it going?” Or, even more rarely, the subject will come up for the first time and they’ll ask “what are you writing?”

And before I can even properly formulate my response, the caveats start flooding out of me like the air from a punctured tire. “Well, I haven’t been making the kind of progress I’d like, but —”, or “you know, I really haven’t been working on it for very long, so —”, or “I don’t have the time to really focus on it, and —”, or, you know, fill in the blank with whatever disclaimer is handy. I’m basically telling the person that whatever it is isn’t really up to standards (mine or theirs or some imaginary person’s? WHO KNOWS, I DON’T), and it’s basically just me noodling around on the page like that lame guy who knows three chords but pulls his guitar out at the party anyway.

All of which, I should point out, is true. I mean, I’d like to be making more progress, but THIS STUFF IS HARD. I really haven’t been working on it very long — writing in general for maybe three years, this project in particular about a year, all told — but that’s because THIS STUFF IS HARD and I only recently decided to take it on. And I don’t have the time to really focus on it, because THIS STUFF IS HARD and it takes a ton of freaking time and I have, you know, a job, bills, a family, etc, etc.

Damn, I even caught myself doing it when I was doing a little journaling the other morning. In a bit of personal writing, from MYSELF to MYSELF, meant for absolutely nobody else’s eyes ever, I put an asterisk on a statement of accomplishment. (I’d been for a run in the morning, and thanks to a nagging injury, my pace wasn’t exactly what I’d prefer, so I hemmed and hawed — again, AT MYSELF — about the fact that I got out there and ran my morning miles.)

Something — something deeply rooted and insidious like the fungus at the heart of an ancient elm — makes me shy away from “bragging”. Somehow, to talk about a thing I’ve done seems too much like grandstanding, like a ploy for accolades, like fishing for compliments. No, it’s even worse than that — I have this thing where I can’t stop thinking and analyzing. And because I’m always analyzing (especially when it comes to my own efforts and the stuff I create), I know, deep down in my bones, that what I’m doing is a far cry short of the best stuff out there, that it probably won’t appeal to the average person, and that therefore any horn-tooting about it would be very much amiss. Something about pride and falls and all that.

But you know what? It’s exactly because THIS STUFF IS HARD that it’s worth bragging about. Getting it done, regardless of the quality of it, is worth tooting my own horn, I think. I mean, just to put it in perspective: how many people out there didn’t run a 5k with their dog (in the rain!) before the sun even cracked an eye to reach for the snooze alarm? Almost all of them. How many people didn’t pen the last words of a draft and start the long, thankless process of editing their novel? Almost all of them. How many people didn’t carve time out of their lunch hour to itemize the entire plot of their story on notecards strictly for the purpose of mapping it out and seeing it better on the re-write? Pretty much all of them.

Almost all of them might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s really not. I’m reminded of a passage from Douglas Adams explaining that the population of the universe is essentially zero. How does that work, you ask? Owing to the staggering amount of empty space, the amount of space that has people in it compared as a ratio to the amount of space that doesn’t gives a value so infinitesimal that for all practical purposes, it might as well be zero. By that rationale, sure, there are tons of writers and runners in the world, but they are outnumbered on a planetary scale by people who aren’t writers or runners — so, basically, virtually nobody writes or runs. (This is a fun way to claim significance for just about anything.)

And why didn’t almost every person out there do any of these things? BECAUSE THIS STUFF IS HARD. But I did it anyway. Regardless of the time it took to finish, or the quality of the product as I look back on it, or how I felt or didn’t feel as I was doing it, I did these things.

To hell with layering it, like a damned wedding cake, with asterisks. To hell with putting disclaimers on it. That’s a hot pile of horse puckey. I did these things, and they were worth doing. Doesn’t matter if it could’ve been better; doing it was better than not doing it. Doesn’t matter if it took a long time; it’s done now. And if I don’t show some pride in the things I’m doing, who the hell else is gonna do it for me?

To hear me tell it, basically everything I’ve done is only a half-measure. Sure, I wrote a few plays after college, but they were just those lame murder-mysteries you can see anywhere. And yeah, I wrote a full-length play that was a smash hit at my old high school, but it’s really too long and there’s all kinds of things wrong with it. Yup, I’ve finished a novel, but I’m not published yet. Or yeah, I run, but only about fifteen miles a week these days. Sure, I’ve run long-distance races — but only a half-marathon. (By the way, somebody seriously needs to get on re-branding the half-marathon — the title itself is a caveat. And get out of here with that Pikermi crap, you can’t be serious in a run if people think a digitized cartoon rat goes dancing across the finish line.)

See how lousy that sounds? But strip the caveats out, and that turns into:

I run four days a week. And I’ve run over 13 miles at a stretch before.

I’ve written plays. (Plural.) Which were performed for audiences which paid money to watch them.

I’ve written a novel. (And am working on more.)

See how much better that sounds? That sounds like a guy who’s got his life together. That sounds like a guy you’d buy a cup of coffee for, if you could, and maybe hear a little bit of what he has to say.

So here’s a challenge for me and for you: cut out the caveats and the disclaimers. Stop knocking yourself down before you’ve even properly stood up. Accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish and be proud of the accomplishment.

Stuff your caveats in a sack. Then set the sack on fire and shoot it out of a cannon.


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