Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I'm after the runner's high tonight, charging through the cold and dark of February.  Down crowded Haddon Avenue.  Along familiar Cuthbert Boulevard.  A sharp left past the Shell gas station onto MacArthur Boulevard.  Suddenly the chase takes an abrupt turn into Saddler’s Woods, little more than a modest stand of oak trees amidst a sea of South Jersey suburban sprawl.
I almost didn't make it out tonight.  The temperature plummeted by twenty-five degrees this afternoon, and the windchill has further tugged at the mercury, mercilessly dragging it into what feels like polar conditions.

It was the usual litany of runners’ excuses: I'm too tired; I'm too hungry; I don't feel like it; but above all, it's too cold.  The wind buffeted my windows for hours before my good sense finally triumphed; I have a marathon to prepare for, after all.  At six o’clock I bashed headlong into the gale outside my apartment, wondering how long I would make it tonight.
The woods, however modest in scale, still beckon mysteriously like only a body of trees can.  With little idea of where I’m headed, and nothing more than a crescent moon to light the way, I turn off the sidewalk and ease myself onto the snow-packed trail.
My face instantly meets the fingers of an errant branch, leaving scratches on my nose.  Moments later my feet are soaked in a large puddle whose darkness I mistook for solid ground.  I lose the trail entirely at points as I dodge, duck, weave and jump through the terrain.  In patches where the snow has turned to ice, my legs swing to and fro like those of an Irish stepdancer.  
I compose the first few lines of this post in my head: I'm after the runner's high tonight... I finally fall hard and add a scrape to my knee, and the words scramble.  Wait, what am I after?

Yet I realize it’s been months since I’ve been on a run this good.  The Christmas season, followed by a nasty cold, a trip to Peru and a lackadaisical winter training regimen have all curtailed the edge I cultivated for Philly.  It’s been something I’ve missed on my well-worn, boring running routes, and have longed to regain.  
Now my breathing and pace are steady, the challenge of this “forest” exhilarating.  The snow crunches beneath my pounding feet, and the moon shines weakly through the branches, blending everything in an eery mix of shadows.  The air feels colder still.  I stiffly open my hands and squeeze them shut to make sure I can still feel them.
I almost didn’t make it out tonight... I continue composing in my head.  The trail continues to its vanishing point where I can just make out a group of houses.  It dumps me in someone’s backyard where I fling myself over a fence, and another, until I careen out the driveway onto a residential road I’ve never seen before.  I have no idea where I am.
Twenty minutes later I compose the final lines of this post.  I’m at the intersection of Cuthbert Boulevard and Hopkins Avenue, where the quiet residential street meets the one laden with strip malls, hairdressers and pizza parlors.  This is where I finally catch up with the runner’s high.
Left will deliver me back to my doorstep in a matter of minutes.  Right will send me back for another lap through the icy, uncompromising woods.  

I turn right.
I want to keep going.

Inspecting the damage post run - not as bad as I thought.

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