I’m particular. Snobby. High maintenance. Precious. At least when it comes to running. I only run trails. That’s my mantra, my line in the sand. Trails offer solitude, beauty, diverse foot strikes over roots and rocks, tricky stream crossings and steep hills both up and down. Trails are for runners. Roads are for cars, for bikes, for scooters and skateboards. Plus, asphalt and knees don’t mix. This is something I’m certain of. I have been for years.
I don’t run much. Usually once per week, on the weekend, a long-run. That’s a runners’ term, long-run. A distance far enough to build endurance, or at least maintain endurance already built. In my mind, long-running starts at seven miles. A distance I don’t have time to pursue on a week-night. Not that I ever run on a week-night anyway.
So, let’s recap: My running program is a seven-plus-mile trail run on Saturday or Sunday. That’s the whole thing. Until last week.
Susan, my wife, decided to start running. “I think I should be able to outrun a zombie, you know, during the apocalypse,” she said. So now, most days a week, she’s running around the block. The block is .8 miles. So if she meets her goal, she’s running 5.6 miles per week. That’s only 1.4 miles less than my weekly total… and I’m the runner. I had this day-dream the other night while lying in bed. Susan continues to build her mileage and pace until I can’t keep up with her.
When we first started dating, Susan and I were trying to embrace one another’s passions. She began running with me. Because I was thirty and stupid and cocky, I assumed that Susan could run whatever distance I wanted to run. On weekends, I took her out for ten-milers in the Washington, DC summer heat. These runs always ended the same way: Susan red-faced and heat stroked. And two hours later, violently ill. And then we’d do it again the next weekend. Eventually, Susan quit running. That was twenty-five years ago.
Now she’s starting up again, and I’m more mature, not quite as cocky, less stupid. I’m running with her to keep her company, but she’s picking the pace and distance. For me, these are gravy-runs. Something to add on to my weekly one-run mileage. Daily, I’m running a paved loop and it’s pretty fun.
Yesterday, I started my Saturday afternoon long-run with Susan on her loop. Unfortunately, finishing this run left me in an awkward place, right in front of my house. This isn’t my favorite place to start a run. The trailhead is a mile and a quarter from my driveway, not a horrible distance, but it puts me on a miserable part of the trail. This is the trailhead where the horse-people start.
Horse-people? The Gettysburg Battlefield is surrounded by wooded hiking paths, although they’re generally known as the horse paths because the horse-people monopolize them. Rant: They pay the Park Service a $200 permit fee each year to stake out half of a United States Park Service parking lot with their horse trailers, and then conduct horse tours on the United States Park Service Battlefield hiking paths for $50 per rider per hour. When encountering the horses coming towards you, runners are expected to stand deep in the poison ivy to let them pass. When approaching the horses from behind, the tour guides freak out if you ask whether you can walk past them. And through it all, they’re making money hand over fist.
This is a section of the trail I try to avoid. It’s another mile on asphalt to get beyond the horse-people’s domain, so when I finished my loop with Susan, I forgot about the trails altogether and ran a paved route. And Surprise: I LOVED it. The eight miles I ran on my own were about ninety percent on park roads. All one way and lightly traveled. I encountered high vistas above Gettysburg College; wide, flat, sunny stretches across open fields; steep hills on tight, wooded roads; past monuments, over bridges, waving to tourists and walkers and even a runner I know.
Even though I wasn’t in the woods, even though I pounded the pavement, I felt relaxed and at peace. And my knees didn’t hurt at all. I found solitude and beauty even if I wasn’t all alone and in the woods.
Hopefully, Susan will stick with her running. I enjoy the extra 5.6 miles, which will undoubtedly stretch into a longer distance (but not at my urging) as the spring and summer progress. I’ll be sure my weekend long-runs are still primarily trail runs, but the next time I find myself stuck on the road, I’ll embrace the asphalt as just another surface to appreciate.