Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Run Before Church

Consider this fair warning. While I hope to incorporate my musings from my runs into this blog this, my first post, has nothing in it that is more overtly spiritual than the title. In fact the experience became a little more earthy than I would normally experience.

The alarm went off early. It was Sunday morning and I limped out of bed to shut off the alarm hoping to minimize the impact it would have on my still sleeping wife. My daughter had a friend over and they kept us awake with their thumps and giggles until after midnight.

I knew I'd have to get going quickly to get in my full run. If I could get out of the house in 15 minutes I'd have 45 minutes to get ready for church when I finished my run. We had had guests the night before and I was a bit disorganized. I shoved snacks in my pockets, grabbed a drink from the frig and turned to go.

I remembered that my flashlight was in the car. I couldn't remember where my keys were. I'd have to go without. I thought, "wouldn't it make a great story if this decision came back to haunt me."

My experiences running on the trails around Kennesaw Mountain had taught me that the city lights reflecting off the clouds often provide plenty of light. I was fairly certain that it would be the case today.

I had decided to take a new route based on a information I had seen in a post on a trail running forum. It appeared that the beginning of that trail would allow me to travel a short distance on it after a long run.

As was typically the case on morning runs, I started slow and sped up very little. "Just keep it under 10 minute miles." I said to myself, "You'll speed up later."

My first mile ended with an 8% grade down a hill with a similar grade back up the other side. At the top of the hill I was still under 10 minute miles.

At Mathis Airport Road I turned right and began a short journey on the only portion of the run that would put me directly on the road. No sidewalks were common around South Forsyth. At this time of the morning it didn't matter. For two thirds of a mile I didn't see a single car.

Now I turned onto a road that would take me all the way to the trail head that would take me to the top of Buford Dam. I only had a rough idea of the distance but I was running for a specific time and would turn to come back when I was half way.

Half way to Old Atlanta Road I encountered what had become a challenging hill. Cresting it just before Old Atlanta was my turn around point for runs during the week. I was feeling strong when I came to the intersection and crossed the deserted road.

I could feel the onset of plantar fasciitis in my heel. I had first felt it the day before and incorrectly diagnosed it as another of a list of pains my right foot had recently began to haunt me with. Nature would be a distant and unconcerning entity if I wasn't so directly connected to it through my incessantly aging body.

After Old Atlanta, The hill began to rise again. As I continued forward I was amazed that I never traveled this way. The road stretched on with sidewalks on each side for mile after mile. Hills a half mile, three quarters of a mile and even a mile long stretched out in front of me. A little way before reaching the next major road I crested a hill to see the most daunting hill of all.

"It can't be any worse than the trail to the top of the dam." I reasoned and toiled on.

I crossed Highway 20 into the Chattahoochee River Club. Here's where what had been a long run became an adventure.

I was looking for a street called Trout something-or-other. This would be the turn that would take me down the road to the trail head. The neighborhood is huge and I ran further than I thought I should need to. I ran on confident and was not disappointed.

I turned onto Trout Place Road. The road curved back to the right, but the parking for the recreation area and the fish hatchery were directly on the left. I never considered going back to the right and wandered around the parking lot looking for the start of the trail.

Tick. Tick. Tick. My ten minute pace was slipping away.

I began to feel uncomfortable crunching across the gravel next to a large house. I went back out to the main road through the neighborhood and decided to run further in. I new that this road was still long and perhaps I would find another way onto the trail.

As my time to turn around drew nearer I struck pay dirt. Or, more accurately, pay wood chips. I had found a horse trail. I could see where it ran down around a house and into the woods toward the river. As I made my way down a hill by the house I saw a partially covered step. Then, as the light of the street lamps became more muted I discovered another more abruptly I slowed down.

There were a few more steps and less light at each one. As I came to the back of the house the light failed completely. I stepped forward and felt undergrowth against my leg. I stepped back, turned and tried again. Undergrowth.

After a couple attempt I found the clearing of the trail and started forward at a walk. I was just beginning to come to terms with the counter-productive absurdity of what I was attempting when I checked my time. Three minutes passed my turn around time. I made my way back to the steps. Going up required me to bend down to spot the steps to avoid tripping on them.

When I got to the street I took comfort. I was exploring and this was to be expected. All my detours would make it easy to return home in the time left.

I decided to remain on the horse path as it was easy on my aching heal. As I ran along I mused about my missteps. The flashlight, the flashlight and the flashlight. I did not know that I was adding another misstep as I ran along.

About a half mile from the last side road I found myself in a cul-de-sac. I had missed my turn. "You've got to be kidding!" I turned around.

I had made right turns going in. If I missed a left turn going back I would need to find it and turn to the right once again. I had added a mile to my trip back. Now I would need to hustle.

My issue from earlier was now beginning to haunt me again. The McDonald's at Old Atlanta would be open if I could just hold on. Just hold on for seven miles.

I finally made it out of the Chattahoochee River Club. I tried to disregard my increasing physical discomfort. I looked to the Million Dollar homes on the other side of the golf course to my right.

"I don't think, I'd ever want to live in a comm... Look a bathroom!"

On the edge of the golf course was a tidy building with two doors positioned in the universal sign of a his-and-hers bathroom. I thought it was unlikely to be unlocked.

It was locked.

I threw my accumulating trash in the unsecured trash can and ran on. I began to realize that I wasn't going to make it much further without relief. In fact I wasn't going to make it any further at all.

Across the street was a road with a sign for a park. A park! Surely they would have an open bathroom. Maybe they would but I would never find out.

When I got across the street I realized that the road into the park wound down to a parking lot that was about 50 million miles away.

I looked to the bushes on my left. They were thick and the bank dropped sharply off. There was nowhere to go there.

I looked to the right. The ground banked up sharply but was scalable. I dropped my remaining drinking bottle on the foundation of a lamp post and ran for the trees. I found a suitable spot and turned. I realized I was exposed to the park road still but it didn't matter. There was only one thing to do.

And I did.

A few minutes and a handful of leaves stripped of a small plant and I was on my way. My pace was freshened with the relief. Happily the leaves turned out not to be of any poisonous variety.

I was now on my final legs on the final leg. I realized that I had burned far to much time and would have to cut down Old Atlanta to get home on schedule. Traffic was light and I encountered no further mishaps.

I had started my run at 3:50 AM and finished at 7:20. I had expected to run over 21 miles but smiled to myself on an unusually eventful 19 mile jaunt.

I went immediately upstairs and awakened the girls to get ready to head out at 8 AM to get to an early church service.

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