Sunday, December 22, 2013

Long Run, December 21st: Hills and Heat

Home again, home again, jiggity jig! For my first day back at home for Christmas, I celebrated with a long run through my old neighborhood. I ended up sleeping until almost 1pm, so needless to say, I got a pretty late start. That was not my original intent, but I didn't get home until close to 3am. If I may briefly explain; my Amtrak train from Boston left South Station at 5:35 and was due to arrive at 30th Street around 11:30. However, as we were nearing Mystic, they informed us that apparently the 3:20 train in front of us had suffered an unfortunate encounter with Bambi and his parents. I felt  sorry for the three poor creatures, and I also felt for the people who were stuck on the train whose engines were evidently too clogged with deer smoosh to operate. Now, why Amrak hadn't figured out some sort of solution for these travelers before we arrived behind them two hours later is a bit baffling, but their brilliant idea of a rescue operation involved cramming all 300 of them onto our already-full train. The process took over an hour, during which the power shut off and it was stifling hot (and dark), and the aisles slowly piled full of travelers, either forced to sit on top of their luggage or jammed in between. I had been looking forward to some well-needed rest, but as we crept to New Haven (where they were ready to add on more train cars to make room so people could actually sit--another lengthy process), I paused 'You've Got Mail' and talked with my new travel companions who had to awkwardly stand in the aisle for the next hour and half. SO, to make a long story short, by the time I left for my run the next day, my teammates up in Boston had already been finished theirs about 3 hours previously.

If you recall, last Saturday it was approximately 12 degrees for our long run. And now, a week later, the temperature was hovering around 65. So on the shortest day of the year I put on my shorts, Nathaniel's old club soccer jersey that I had cut the sleeves off of, and set off down College Hill Drive with rivers of snow melt rushing past my feet, grateful to feel the air on my skin and be back in my old haunt. I followed our road down into the creek bed, where it becomes narrow and winding and the possibility of getting run over by the quarry trucks that come barreling around the blind curves becomes a real possibility. However, a year running on these roads back in 2011-2012 has conditioned me well, and I know which areas to watch out for. The creek was overflowing its banks with all the extra melted snow, and in each little dip of the road, the air temperature would suddenly plummet 20 degrees. As the road followed Chester Creek towards Glen Mills, I averted my eyes from the expanse of woods on my right, where Nathaniel had made the decision to leave his body and move on. Instead, I focused on the road ahead--this route was one of his favorite runs, and he did it often. It wasn't long before I burst out into the small town that is Glen Mills. By town, I actually mean post office. Because that's about all there is, although I did see a few people at the railroad crossing, decking out the old-fashioned Santa Express train with wreathes. The tracks here are actually part of the R3 commuter rail line that runs into Philly, but they stopped running the train out this far back in the 1980s. Now, they use this segment of the tracks for a tour train, but it was also the place where Nathaniel and I would walk, talk, imagine, and just be together. It was kind of our default activity, heading down to the train tracks.

One of the major differences between running here versus up in Boston is the terrain. Over the course of any run down here, there is at least one big hill per mile--I don't think I could find a flat run if I tried. If you take a look at the elevation map, you'll see what I mean. As I turned west after the crossing shortly after mile 2, I was faced with a seemingly endless rise that took me up out of the woods and into the highlands. With nothing but rolling fields and the occasional car, I was able to sing along to my music without feeling too much like a huge weirdie. After cresting the hill, I passed the golf course where Nathaniel and I used to sneak around, sprinting across the greens and diving under the small bridges to avoid the patrolling security carts, simply for the joy of being in our own pseudo-real version of a stealth video game. Turning onto Cheyney road, I was almost squashed by an oblivious lady in a red pick-up, who was carelessly staring out the passenger side window. I never thought I'd say it, but I miss Boston drivers.

I cut through a large development to escape the crazy drivers, and was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of over sized cookie cutter houses with their blow-up Christmas decorations sagging in the mud. I witnessed two middle school aged boys playing basketball in the driveway. Warm enough to wear just shorts and tees, they were clearly having a shoot-off. As one's shot neared the net, his friend managed to knock his ball away with a perfectly-timed toss and subsequently received a face-full of snowball for his efforts. The development dumped me onto Locksley Road, which used I run on almost every day during the year I lived at home. I followed it down, down, down, back into the creek bed and across the road I had begun on. Now at about mile 6, it was a steady 3/4 of a mile uphill again, and I turned Nathaniel's old iPod to the Grateful Dead's 'Touch of Grey.' Around 7 minutes long, I always used this song back in 2011 to carry me up this gargantuan hill, letting the words "I will get by, I will survive" urge me forward as I sweated out all my pain, fear, anger, and sadness until all I could think about was the burning in my lungs.

Given that I was feeling pretty good, I ended up extending my route to include a loop through the neighborhood that abuts Westtown campus, and then development-hopped my way back to my street for 11.8 miles in total. We live on top of a hill, and I realize how much I have missed the satisfying final push up College Hill Drive. It is good to be home.

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