A Perfect Day in a Deadly World
I got out of my car and it was already hot.
It must have been cold in other places but it was still Summer here. I don’t mean calendar Summer. I mean real Summer, where the tiniest remnant of the night’s cool might sit right on the morning’s edge – balancing – ready to blow away and leave you sweating.
I kept my t-shirt on. I always start off like that. I’m an optimist. I’m a rube. My Daddy will tell you that. I regretted the shirt four minutes later, too far away from my car to go back and make the work out in time so I kept running. Time is a wolf. I am the rabbit.
The park’s lights hissed and lit my way to the soccer fields. The stubborn moon, still hanging in the sky, carried me to the trailhead dropping darkly into a tunnel of deeper night still left over in the woods. That’s when I turned the headlamp on.
I held it in my hand though. It’s easier to see things when the light angles low, the terrain makes more sense plus there was no way I was committing to wearing it. I would be back out into the moon light soon enough and then the Sun would be up eventually.
I got to gate A early and waited on Z. to show. The half lit dawn quivered with shadows and things coming to life out of darkness, the furtive almost moments before pure sunrise. Everything is possible and everything is likely doomed.
Z. pulled up two breathes before I could bag on the whole thing. Something about waiting gets me thinking about things, something about pre-dawn puts the nerves on me. The trees sway. There’s the sounds of frogs and cicada. I am the rabbit.
Z. sits sideways in the driver’s seat and gets his go fasters on. He’s workman quiet setting out his tools or worse, like when your Dad sat quiet across the table. You knew he knew what you did and you knew what was coming. This is his workout.
Z. found these two lengths of trail 8oo meters long, more or less. One is mostly downhill with three or four rollers at the bottom, all set on turns. The other length of trail is uphill with a 400 meter gradual climb followed by 400 meters of not so gradual.
We run hard but not all out. Also, Z. is pretty fast. He isn’t Tallahassee fast. He’s everywhere else fast and he’s faster than me. It isn’t running the oval though. It isn’t that precise or as dangerous. This is speed work for trail runners, wolves and rabbits.
We jog out a half mile to the start, which is a trail that leads down to the lake, and before I’m ready or Z. even finished his sentence, we were escalating to tempo pace and then a sprint. Wait. I was sprinting. Z. was just running hard.
I held on mostly, maybe a few steps back until I saw Z. stop and when I hit his mark I stopped. We didn’t talk much. Usually we talk a lot. Usually there’s a third runner but he’s up in Montana right now in 20 degree weather which must be like heaven.
There’s something about that middle runner that makes this work. All Z. and I have is the distance between what he can do and what all I’ve got in my holster. There is just enough time for me to get it together before we reach the next trail and we’re escalating the pace again.
We do this four times with me just hanging on. The next two halves I start falling back. The middle runner gives me someone to hang on to when the gap between Z. and me becomes blindingly apparent. I get to the finish and spit and start running again. I’ll be the rabbit running toward Z. who is the wolf.
And Z. doesn’t care. He knows his pace and runs it. I plug. Its good work but its plugging. I try and focus on what my feet are doing, paw back on the downhill, climb the steps on the uphill, I count the hills, memorize the trail, pick my line.
I like jumping. It isn’t efficient but it takes the edge off losing ground. I come off the far right side of the trail leaping a little trench in the trail to a clear spot. Z. stretches his lead out further. The last two halves Z. doesn’t even wait for me to finish. He just starts running.
Running is like that. You know what I mean? There are runs when you’re there for the company of a fine person. This isn’t that kind of run. This is work. This is pack running. I’m not a social runner. No small talk. I’d rather get dropped than risk slowing you down.
Slowing down for someone is condescending and hangs in the air, makes it hard for to breathe. I know what’s happening. You say it’s okay but it isn’t. You can taste in your mouth like dirt. I’d rather have the wolf behind me than pity.
I knew I was coming apart and had this been a chase, I’d be in the Wolf’s teeth and I wouldn’t want Z. to even look back. I wouldn’t look back on his ending either. Like the man said up on Chimney Top said, “It don’t mean nothing, drive on.”
I search my guts for some last morsel of courage, dig in and tell myself if I just fight I can catch Z. That’s a fantasy but I convince myself anyway, straighten up my back and fight up the last hill. No telling how long he’s there waiting for me to finish.
We jog back to gate A. I tell him I have a race this weekend up in Tennessee. I’ll be here the next Tuesday. I know it’s a lie. He says, What about Thursday? I can’t I say, I’ll be in Tennessee. He turns and walks away toward his car. I turn and jog off down the trail to my car.
The Fitness Crowd is rolling into the parking lot and they stare a little bit at me as I head toward the showers, soaking wet and dusty at 8am. I don’t reckon I’ll ever beat Z. but as long as the Wolf is between me and the tennis crowd, I believe the rabbit will be safe for a minute or two.