Every Run is What You Make It

Gordon Cherr,


At low tide, the beach strand at Dog Island is hard packed, mostly level and perfect for running. Not that I expected to find myself out here. Well…er…correction, anywhere I go is perfect for running or nearly so, and I run everywhere I go, everywhere.

Heck, a few weeks ago I suddenly woke up to find myself running the periphery of Lambert International Airport in St. Louis at sunrise. The airport feeder road was deserted and “no cars” always makes for a good run. The August morning was hot and humid in the heartland, but the wild flowers were blooming in utter wild profusion and the prairie birds were exquisite in their aerial displays. Superimposed on this idyllic picture was the thunderous roar of mighty jets tearing off of the runway about every minute, just a few hundred feet above my head, shaking the very earth upon which I ran. So what, the roads and trails are free and I thanked my good fortune to be there to take this in.

It is like this everywhere I go. Freezing, slippery runs in Ann Arbor one winter, where you can’t even feel your toes when you finish. Boston, where the wind rips and tears through your clothes like a sharp knife and the slush sneaks up your pant leg to the knee, so cold that it makes you gasp. Yellowstone, where I ran for 7 desolate miles, looking over my shoulder the entire time, hoping not to see an old griz. In retrospect maybe I didn’t enjoy that one so much. Big Sur, under the giant redwoods, so huge they blot out the sunlight at midday and the aroma of cedar is so strong that it overwhelms your senses. Or the time the kids and I ran just as hard as we could up San Francisco’s hilly Lombard Street, because we could, no matter what those surly cops said to me afterwards. Ain’t it great?

You don’t need distance to find that magic. I’ll take the hardpan red Georgia clay of Old Centerville Road any day. Or the soft sandy trails of the Munson Hills. We are so lucky to be right here.

But back to the beach at Dog Island. I have been up most of the night before, eating a bit too much and drinking way too much, and doing some other things which I thought I outgrew more than a few years ago, but I guess not and you don’t need to know anymore than that. Then in the blink of an eye, the sun is about to come up and I am automatically doing what I have been automatically doing before sunrise for more than 35 years now, and that is tying on my running shoes. I don’t even think about it anymore. It is like breathing. You breathe, you run, right?

The tide is out and the beach is hard packed at the strand line. I start to the east to greet the morning sun. We only owe our entire existence to the sun, that’s all, and it isn’t too much for me to give thanks everyday. The sky is crystal clear this morning, the great red ball of the sun just begins to crest the horizon, the waves roll up the beach, the wading birds are all still, standing in small clusters, not yet quite in gear. An enormous great blue heron walking so deliberately, like in stop action, not 5 feet away, ignores me entirely. Small fish and bleached white sand crabs scurry around in the tidal pools. I am dumbfounded for an instant with the thought of how many times this scene has unfolded in the past before we were here and how many times it will be repeated in the future, after we are gone. Countless waves on infinite shorelines, moving and changing, no two waves will ever be the same. Clouds are the same way. I cannot comprehend this thought. It makes me dizzy. Ok, maybe it was the tequila, but you catch my drift.

But the run, this run, is so incredible, it is beyond my description. All there is after a while is the sound of wind in my ears and the steady rhythm of the waves rolling in and out. And for the tiniest of an instant, I believe that the wind actually passed right through me, I am a formless spirit. But that realization is so startling and so shocking that the instant is destroyed, I know that it is gone forever.

Every run is what you make of it. Your every run is unique. You are a runner. Don’t ever take any of this for granted.