Monday, December 22, 2014

Long Run, December 20th: Christmas Secrets

As the "official" training season kicks off, I have been frequently thinking back to last year as I begin to follow nearly the same schedule. Our first John Furey training program run was last week, and I once again extended the 6 mile out-and-back into Newton to make it a bit under 9 miles. We had a significant number of Samaritans runners there, and I shared the first 3 miles with our alternate, Jesse, who has just received a bib and will for sure be running in April! It was not nearly as blistering cold as last year, just another depressing morning in a succession of dull, white-sky days we've been having. Overall it went well, and the highlight was probably when I had to step into the middle of a traffic jam on Beacon Street and windmill my arms at a dozen inert turkeys to herd them out of the road and into the center island. I have no idea what business they have in Brookline, but I suspect that three of them were the ones who pursued me aggressively on the top of Summit Hill a few months ago, causing me to flat out run away down the hill and some guy in a car saw the whole thing. This time I successfully asserted my dominance.

Once again, I missed the second Furey run by heading home for Christmas on Friday. The Furey schedule was only for 8 miles on Saturday, but last year I did over 12 here in Cheyney and I felt pressured by my former self to achieve something similar. I set off to do the same route, but changed my mind before I even reached the bottom of the street. I was aware of the unpleasant dip in air temperature as I headed down the road that follows Chester Creek, passing the spot where Nathaniel and I once spotted a muskrat plunging into the stream. We often headed this way on our walks, usually to follow the train tracks that parallel the other side of the creek to the clearing along the pipeline. There is a hollow tree down the embankment that is more than likely still filled with rocks that we once tossed into the opening over some hours as we sat on the rails.

I don't love running on Creek Road as it is narrow with blind curves, but the awkward rail spacing makes running on the tracks even more uncomfortable. So I took the road and was rewarded for the risk when I came across an object on the side that I have been coveting for a long time. Among all the useless and gross (and suspiciously alcohol-related) litter that lines these wooded roads, Nathaniel would occasionally find car hood decals that he would save until Christmas to wrap and put in my dad's stocking. After he died and I began running, I continued the tradition after finding a cracked Toyota decal on the side of route 926. I rarely find more than one a year, and I was bummed that this year I had struck out. Cambridge is generally not rife with car parts alongside the road. Call it what you will (a Christmas miracle?), but now merely days before Christmas I found not JUST a car emblem, but a highly coveted BMW one that had clearly been rattled off someone's hub cab by one of the crater-like potholes that cover the length of this road, exacerbated by annual flooding of the creek. Pennsylvania tends to "let nature run its course" with the roads, which probably partly explains the incredible nonchalance of an apparently large crowd of boozing drivers--I am fairly sure that any erratic drunk driving could be explained away with "just dodging potholes, Officer" and if it weren't for breathalyzers, that would probably be a tough one to argue. I know I probably look trashed when I drive down this road. But I threw the alignment out of the Prius once and I am not about to do it again. Anyway, into my pocket went the ornament, and on the 25th it will join the Honda, Lincoln, Toyota, and Nissan decals that sit above my dad's desk. Dad has been warned to not read this blog until then, as this is just about the only surprise I have for him. My family is not so great at buying gifts without excessive consultation with the recipient first.

Instead of continuing along Creek Road to do the run that I did last year, I turned left onto Old Gradyville Road, a monstrously steep and winding "roller coaster road" that I rescued a box turtle from this summer. I felt like I was running in place for several minutes as I huffed my way up the narrow drop before it finally leveled out and continued to route 352. I was going to Ridley Creek State Park to run the loop, which I have often driven to but I have never actually run there and back. I was mildly concerned by the fact that I wasn't actually quite sure how far it was, but in my head it couldn't be more than 14 miles round trip, and I was feeling good enough to risk it. When I got there, I was sharply reminded of the year right after Nathaniel died, when I lived at home and often came to this park to run, as I know he once did too. I ran clockwise around the circular loop, which meant running up the nasty big hill instead of taking the gradual up-and-down way. I paused at the base to catch my breath and ready myself for the climb, and took off my ear buds to hear Christmas music coming from a small log house. It is a pretty park, and it was nice to have the pseudo-company of other joggers and dog walkers. I thought of my Samaritans teammates at the Furey run, which probably began right as I did at 8:05a.m.

Once I was done the 4.5 mile loop, I decided to take 352 to 926 so that I wouldn't have to run back exactly the way I came. In my head it wasn't very far, but over 2 miles later I realized that my inner map was a bit skewed. Nathaniel and I usually opted to take the roller coaster road home, but we would also sometimes go this way solely to pass this one particular Church that tends to post absurd biblical advice on its sign. It has been too many years to recall any specific quotes, but we usually managed to find a way to read and interpret them in a way other than was intentioned. I was too distracted by a bamboo forest on my left to even notice the church until it was too late, and from there on I was continually craning ahead to see if I could spot another landmark--an odd missile-like rocket structure that someone randomly has on their front lawn. It felt like ages until I passed it, and I was beginning to run out of gas. But once I was able to turn off 352, I felt like I was on the home stretch and MC Hammer put some pep back in my step. It was satisfying to push it out up College Hill Drive and collapse onto our driveway. It may just be the tip of the iceberg, but a hilly 13 miles without any fuel or water along the way felt like a good enough accomplishment for now.

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