A View From the Top

It’s 11 PM…Do You Know Where Your Runner Is?


By Gordon Cherr,


Contrary to what many people think, Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with eleven (that’s right, 11!), not 10 Commandments, all equally carved in stone. The 11th Commandment, recently disclosed by the Da Vinci Code, as interpreted from the old English, “Ja, yee muss jog lung der Sabbatt”, and loosely interpreted in modern English, “You shall run on Sunday.” The recently rediscovered Gospels of John, so conveniently dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church, was apparently even more emphatic: “E. numemu plurtico mani miles oy vay”, which modern biblical scholars somewhat loosely interpret as “You shall run long on Sunday or else!”.

The ponderous weight of these religious directives were laying so very heavily on my narrow shoulders a few weeks ago. I had run four 10+ mile workouts during the week including Saturday, with two shorter efforts as well, and when the sun rose Sunday, well, I made up my mind that this Sunday would just have to go run-less, as it were. Either that, or someone was going to have to remove these lead weights from my legs and the Steinway off of my back. It wasn’t going to happen. I fielded a few telephone messages and an e mail about setting up a run that morning, didn’t return any of them, it just wasn’t going to happen. And as the day wore on, I didn’t hardly give it another thought, although to be honest, I cannot remember a Sunday run, ever, since I was 15 years old, that I have skipped. I’m sure there are a few in there, of course, but it is darn few, and I choose to not remember them.

Afternoon turned to evening and that little nag of guilt began to grow, slowly at first, then it exploded to exponential. Evening turned to dark, it was a pretty sunset and a not too hot, not too humid evening. I decided to call it a day and turn in. However, the following dialogue ensued, around 10:30 PM:

Wife (trying to sleep): “What are you doing?”
Me: “Where is my headlamp and back up light?”
Wife (no longer sleeping): “What are you doing?”
Me: “Ah, I’m thinking about going out for a run.”
Wife: “NOW?”
Me: “Uh huh…”
Wife: “You said that you were taking the day off, remember? ….You’re crazy. Don’t get run over.”
Me: “I won’t, I’m going to run some trails by Lake Overstreet or Phipps Park.”
Wife: “Now? In the dark? You are nuts. How long will you be gone?”
Me: “Don’t know.”
Wife: “Call me when you get done so I don’t send out a search party at dawn.”
Me: “Ok, I love you.”
Wife “Get out of here. Have fun. I love you too.”

I made my way in short order to the parking lot at Forest Meadows, predictably deserted. Put on my headlamp, grabbed my small hand held back up flashlight and a fanny pack (with the Whoop Ass pepper spray), bypassed the honor box (I’m not paying that $1, even in the daylight) and took off into the forest onto the Blair Witch Trails.

I know these flat and twisty trails well, but there is something very disconcerting about running them at night. Maybe disorienting is a better description. Your world is quite narrow, exactly the width and breadth of the beam of your headlamp. There are a lot of roots on these trails and in this light every one looked just like a snake, lying in wait for prey. George Palmer and Gary Griffin reported seeing a rattlesnake along the lake trail after Hurricane Dennis and while I stayed on the upper trails to avoid alligators which may come out at night to snatch unwary runners, snakes were very much on my mind. This run was no fun at all.

Matters went from bad to worse as the flying insects were all very much attracted to my headlamp and constantly hurled themselves into my face. I tried to breathe thorough clenched teeth. And the sounds of the forest, so friendly during the day, began to take on a bizarre, menacing tone. Actually, this was nothing more than crickets and frogs, but their calls at night are deafening. I started to feel very much alone, isolated like in a far off wilderness.

This was punctuated periodically by a loud and heavy crash in the woods just beyond the sweep of my lights, and I’m thinking that I really don’t want to know what that is, my hand reaching into my fanny pack to assure me that my Whoop Ass was in easy reach, for all the good it might do me. Who’s idea was this anyway? Man, it sure is dark in here at night. This sucks. Why didn’t I stay home, safe in bed?
I was making my way over a fallen tree when one of those crashes happened directly in front of me, and I literally leaped straight up in the air. It was totally involuntary on my part. I was frightened, plain and simple. Scared. Seeing movement ahead, I prepared myself for the worst. Instead I was greeted by an ancient armadillo making his slow and meandering way across the forest floor in search of grubs and worms, in the pitch blackness. Much to my relief, and I came up behind him, thinking that I might kick him like a football, right off of the trail. Then I noticed that he was so ancient his shell had some small holes worn through it, and I cursed myself for even thinking of harming him, here I was, a guest in his home.

Before I could even start to run again, another wondrous thing: Two small bats found me and the insect hordes torturing me, and they proceeded to fly through the light over and over again, and feed voraciously on the bugs. They would fly directly at me and veer away at the last moment, the most skillful aerobatics that I will ever be witness to.

Then I switched off my lights after a few moments and noticed what had remained unnoticed for all too long: the miracle of a million lightening bugs (or so it seemed), all over the forest, pirouetting gracefully among the trees that I could not even see, sending bright signals to each other, searching for mates or just company in the dark forest. In reality I had never been alone out here.

Fear is a bad thing. There was so much life all around me and I had wasted a good deal of time and effort running through the forest afraid about being alone or what I might run into or step on. Life is that way sometimes. We do it to ourselves. Instead of just being in the moment, we worry about our pace or our distance, or the heat or cold or some personal problem that is eating away at us. But now I suddenly felt in tune with my surroundings, the very same forest had taken on a new tone. I felt light and invigorated and an old tune began to run through my head:

“I’ve just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind
Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light

“Fly me high through the starry skies
Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget today’s pain

“Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light

“Though the dawn may be coming soon
There still may be some time
Fly me away to the bright side of the moon
And meet me on the other side

“Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light
Dream weaver
Dream weaver
Dream weaver”
(Dream Weaver, Gary Wright)

I stayed out there, I just don’t know how long. I shut off my watch and just ran. And ran. And ran some more. No snakes, no demons, no scary sounds, no worries. Just crickets and frogs chirping. And fireflies like beacons in the night. Then home before the sunrise to a beautiful friend who also happens to be my wife.

Give thanks for all of your blessings.