Friday, July 27, 2007

A Short Story

I have been running for nearly 27 years. I have had some of the most unusual runs over that time. Some that included climbing trees to elude dogs to the most mundane runs that I almost ran into a parked car as I was half asleep.

Running to me has always been an escape. I tell myself before going out the door that no one or nothing can bother me for the next hour. Unfortunately this theory does not always hold true.

It was an unusually bright, sunny clear day in Northeast Ohio. Unusual in the sense that most days in this part of the world the skies are gray and overcast with very little sunlight. When we see the bright yellow ball in the sky that most people refer to as the sun, we think the earth is being hit by a meteor from outer space.

I strapped on my running shoes, grabbed a water bottle, and headed for the park. Mill Creek Park is one of the best kept secrets in Youngstown, Ohio. Nestled in the downtown area, it incorporates endless miles of well kept trails for a runner to loose themselves on. I set out for one of my favorite courses, a little bit of hills, a little flat speed work, a lot of scenery.

Not 10 minutes into the run, I passed a group of high school cross-country runners that were going the other way. Shortly after that, I came across a man who was walking around aimlessly looking at the ground. As I bounced toward him, I was trying to figure out if he was crying, hurt, lost, or just plain crazy. The closer I got, the more confused he looked. I pushed the button on the watch and stopped to see what he was doing. He started to tell me that he was walking on the trail and realized when he reached his car that he no longer had his cell phone with him. I said, “I come out here to get away from it all, don’t you?” He said, “I just carry it with me, but it was turned off.”

Now I am probably one of the ten Americans that do not own a cell phone. I figure that if I need to talk to someone, I will use a payphone. If they need to talk to me, they can call me at home or work, e-mail me, or come on over. If I am out, it is because I am “getting away from it all”.

After giving this guy a troubled look, as I now realized he is taking away my run time, I say, “well where were you?” He chuckles, “here, there, and everywhere.” I respond, “well, we are here, I am going over there, and you can go everywhere else.” He laughed, but then looked puzzled again as I pushed the button on my watch and started to run away from him, back to my “time away.” As I bebop down the trail, he yells something to me about where his car is and how to get the phone back to him if I find it. I wave in acknowledgment, not really listening to what he said.

“Ah, back to my peaceful time away” I think to myself. I am now about 10 minutes behind schedule and decide that I will try to push it a little harder for a mile or two to get “back on track”. Running harder has always felt good to me. I don’t normally run hard except when racing, as I am usually more interested in just unwinding and taking in the scenery. I am not a serious racer anymore, and in fact I only enter races to meet interesting people before, during and after the race. I have evolved into what they call a true recreational runner.

As I proceed on my run, I half purposefully look at the ground thinking about this guy’s cell phone. I figure with all of the leaves on the ground, the rocks, and the foliage, the chances of finding this phone is about as likely as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

I reached the mill, which is about the half way point of my run, and I decide to refill my water bottle as the sun has made the run hotter than I expected. I leaned over the fountain, and there it was, a bright and shiny cell phone. I looked around but no one was there. It has to be the man’s phone who I met on the trail. I started to go through the conversation we had, and what he was saying as I was running away from him. I remember him saying something about the boat docks at Glacier Lake.

I thought for a moment, and decided that I would head that way and see if I could catch up to him. I began a tempo run and picked up each mile as I went. Glacier Lake was about five miles away from the mill on the trails, and I already had about four miles in. From Glacier, it was about three miles back to my car. I stretched my legs out as I hurdled rocks, puddles, and logs. I began to feel like a cross country runner in high school again.

Running on the trails always feels faster than the road. The constant change of speed, direction, leg motion, and momentum can give you the feeling that you’re flying! As I was “flying” my way down the trail, to be the rescuer of the lost cellular phone, the same group of high school cross country runners came up on me and passed me as if I was standing still. They nodded as they went by; each finely tuned and poised to run 5:30 miles all through the park. I came to a screeching halt. Recreational runner extremist or not, these “kids” going past me as I felt like I was flying was troubling. Age is catching up to me I thought.

Back to the crisis…..the cell phone. I made it to Glacier Lake in about 41 minutes. Not too bad as I patted myself on the back, somewhere around 8:00 minute miles. I started to look through the parking lots for the man. I did not remember what kind of car he said he drove, so I went from one parking lot to the next. As I was running down the long side of the lake, I saw the high school runners stretching and cooling down. Grinning as I strode by them, I was thinking of the story of the tortoise and the hare.

As I entered the last parking lot, my legs were now pretty well tired. I had run over nine miles, most of it harder than I had anticipated, and I still had about three miles back to my car. Standing along side his car, with the same puzzled look on his face was the man from the trail. I ran up to him and asked, “did you find your phone?” He replied, “nope, but I am sure it will turn up.” I then smiled and said, “Is this it?” He laughed and said, “Where did you find it?”
I then explained where I had found it and hoped that he would offer me a ride back to my car. He thanked me over and over and even offered me a reward. I declined, and told him that I had to be going.

I am 40 years old and stopping and starting is not as easy as it once was. I had talked to the guy for about 10 minutes, so my legs were good and stiff now. I started to run like the last leg of the triathlon, after pedaling 30 miles. My legs were moving, but I had to think about every step. I believe I was even grimacing at times. I thought to myself, three miles is nothing, after completing an ultra-marathon last fall, (this is my battle cry every time I get tired now).

About a half mile down the road, I passed the parking lot where the cross country runners were getting into their cars. I glanced up and I could hear one of the runners say, “that guy is a machine, he is still running!” Another shouted out, “keep it going buddy, you’re looking good!”. Still another said something like “I hope I am running like him when I get older.”

Adrenaline surged through my sore body. I picked it up. “Tempo run” I thought. I am a machine. I look good. I am a flying recreational running machine who looks good after 11 miles. I just love running.

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