Forty Years and Still Going Strong
By Gordon Cherr
It has been nearly 40 years since my boyhood chum, The Kid, challenged me to a footrace around the block. If I had only known then what I know now…well, we would have done it earlier. He was hooked before I was, and then we were both hooked. It has only gotten worse. As I reflect upon it, since 1964 running has been the single most constant in my life.
I am certainly not alone in this folly. What could possibly explain it? When I think of running, I am reminded of running through the seasons and the years, the hot and cold, the wet and dry. Full moons, no moons, bright sunshine and the dead of night. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Autumn leaves have a special aroma all their own. So does bus exhaust. Fog and hail stones, raindrops (big and small), lightning and thunder, some runners run through them all. The start of Hurricane Kate, the end of Hurricane Kate (now, that was a challenge). The birth of children, the death of loved ones, odd jobs, old jobs, new jobs, lost jobs, good jobs, bad jobs. We just keep running.
I remember running during a total lunar eclipse once, just to see what magical thing might happen. As it turns out, that was silly because had I been paying closer attention, I would have realized that the magic was already there, in every single mile. It still is. Sunburns, windburns, frostbite, heatstroke, pneumonia, stress fractures, strains, sprains, even a hernia or two. I have lost more toenails than there are fleas on my hound dog’s backside (and he’s got plenty, but you know what, he is a runner too). Countless pulled muscles, but if you are a runner you learn early the difference between annoyance and real important pain. I have surely had both and should have paid better attention sometimes. If you are a runner you are relating to this right now, aren’t you? If not, listen harder.
Maybe the best way to measure the miles is through the many friends met on the running trails of life. In high school in New Jersey, it was Boris, the Mad Hungarian, and Swanny, Rose and the Rat. Frankie and that damn red headed Irish Kid Keating, who started this mess for me. Artie and Big Steve and Little Steve. In college in Boston, it was the Stiper and Hossy, Sean and Jack, and the Rat (again), who followed me there from high school. The Walrus and one guy we called “The Tush” because his was too big to be a good runner, but in fact he was one of the best. There is a lesson in that for all of us: anyone can run because the quality of the run is what you make it. It doesn’t need to be fast, it doesn’t need to be painful either. It can be slow and easy because no one is the judge of it but you. Go fast if that is your choice.
In Asheville, it was Garry, Tony and Scott, Nancy and Nancy and Dolly. Cullen and Janet and Lloyd and Darryl, and Ann, and in Tallahassee it is Ron and Chuck and Mike and Dean, and even Gunga the Complainer (honest). AB and Bill and David and Dr. Karl (you know who you are). And another David, the Hoof, Hoov and even the Dockter (and you know who you are too), and “J” and even an “MJ.” So many others have enriched my life by sharing the roads and the miles, no wonder I can’t stop. Sure, running is fine if you choose to go it alone. It is so much better to take a friend. In fact, take a whole lot of friends, the more you take, the better it is. If you run, then take a moment and think about your running buds. You’ll remember all of yours too; I know that you will.
Perhaps we runners measure such things by the places we have run because we run everywhere we go. My favorite places would fill an encyclopedia but the list must include the Blue Ridge Mountains and Big Sur, on the left coast, among the giant redwoods. And running in freezing Ann Arbor during February or Boston all winter long, and I still can’t feel my toes if I think about it. And a scary run alone, in Yosemite, looking over my shoulder for seven miles, worrying about a very large bear. But while the far away places are easy to name, right here we are blessed with the soft sandy trails of the Apalachicola National Forest, the incredible vistas of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the hard red clay of Old Centerville Road, the gentle hills of Phipps Park, the shifting shade of the Lake Overstreet trails and endless quiet neighborhoods in Killearn and Waverly, Piedmont Park, Betton, Golden Eagle, Linene Woods, High Grove and Brandt Hills. There are so many more, and if you run here, you probably know them all like the back of your hand. Absolutely no one knows the neighborhood as well as your local runner.
Perhaps we runners can measure the pleasure by the incredible things we have seen while logging the miles. Shooting stars and harvest moons rank high on my list, but lost shoes and clothes of every type, style, size, color, and some things that have simply defied description (just what the heck was that?) are more common. Hammers and screwdrivers, lots of loose change but not very much folding money (darn). The goat with his head stuck in the wire fence on Miccosukee Road, the runaway horses trotting by, the cows chewing their cud so peacefully (almost all are facing the same way, have you ever noticed that?), those huge emus in that field on Roberts Road sure did surprise us. The screaming eagles wheeling effortlessly overhead. Remember the dog that fell into Big Dismal a few years ago? He’d be just that much more fertilizer right now if those runners hadn’t found him first. The snakes we have jumped over, and even that darn squirrel that used to attack us every time we ran through FSU near the Westcott Building. Those ripe ‘dillo and possum that no one takes off the asphalt, parboiling in the summer heat (whew, now that smell has staying power!). Barking dogs, yowling cats, and those still unexplained noises we hear while running late at night. There is a lot to see and hear and even smell out there. You simply miss life by riding around in your SUV all the time.
You can still sneak up on wild turkey around here if you run quietly enough through the forest, but once they get going, they are faster than you or me. I have been bowled over a few times on Millers Landing Road by the inquisitive stare of a bobcat, gone in the twinkling of an eye, so fast you wonder if it wasn’t really your imagination after all. And once I saw a tawny panther cross the road fifty yards in front of me while I was running very alone far out in the county, and, buddy, it will definitely make your gut twitch nervously to realize that at that moment you are not at the preferred end of the food chain, but somewhere, more towards the center. At that moment I was nothing more than an appetizer in waffle trainers but somehow lived to tell about it. See, old runners have many tales to tell, and all are true, I assure you.
Eventually all trails will come to an end and some day my running shoes and I will together turn to nothing more than dust. So will yours. We are no different, you and I. We will be faint memories, finally extinguished over time. Truly, then, our lives are not measured in our final destinations, but in the roads we chose to get there. So, choose wisely while the choice is still yours to make.
May the road rise to greet you, my friends.