Some Things I Learned (or Remembered) on the LONG Road to Oak Mountain


By Gordon Cherr


I have been training specifically for the Oak Mountain 50K, which will be run in Birmingham on March 20. It has been a very long time for me, maybe more than two years, since I have trained with a specific race in mind. Increasing my mileage back to respectable levels to complete this endeavor in an upright position has taught me, or perhaps has helped me, remember some important things:

1. It is not unimportant to have a goal. Maybe a goal race, maybe a goal for the next two weeks on the job or simply at home, maybe it is a year or more away. It is important to have goals and to strive to reach them, to make an honest effort, success not to be guaranteed, of course. For so long my training (= “life”) had become rather haphazard, which in and of itself, is not so bad. I mean, I got myself out the door, so?

There doubtlessly are long periods of time when we float along in life like a leaf on a stream, just going with the flow, and I am convinced that we do need these “down times”, too. But eventually, don’t we need to reach for something more? I think so. After I am gone I hope someone will not say “Well, he was just passing through”, but rather, “He gave it all that he had.”

Right now, are you just passing through or are you giving it all that you have?

2. I am a morning runner and I don’t know how you after-work folks do it. I can’t stand to lug lunch or dinner around with me in my gut, and if I don’t get it done earlier, it hardly ever gets done. Upping my mileage calls for an earlier commitment in the morning and I am happily reminded of how beautiful it is to start a run in absolute darkness and to then later finish up the last hill to my house, with the first streaks of sunlight arching over the horizon, directly in front of me. Unless the bright moon is setting to the west, over my right shoulder, at the same time. That’s even better. You just can’t beat it. It has been going on like this for billions of years. How can anyone not ever see this, and if seen, shrug it off and take it for granted? It is a gift to see this. Even if you can’t run in the morning it is worth your time to sneak out and watch the sunrise every now and then. It will remind you of the wonder that is all around us but that we so easily overlook or take for granted. LOOK.

3. Mockingbirds can sing all night. They are hard at it when I am pounding the pavement at 5 AM. Their melodious and ever changing songs are sweet to hear, but not in your backyard, next to your bedroom window. Oh, at first you will smile and say “How nice”. But after an hour or so at 3 AM, you will be out there throwing rocks at the stupid SOBs and cursing them loudly too. I know, I’ve done it, rocks, bricks, I even took a shot at one once in the dark, during a very long night, with a 9 mm. pistol. You can persuade them to leave. But you’d better do it before they nest, because if they nest, they will evict you before you evict them. They stop singing after they nest, but if they nest in your garage or near the front or back doors, they will try to peck your head off and swoop down and loosen their bowels on you (and they are pretty good shots too), and then you are stuck until the young are fledged. Even our dogs have been are forced to sprint out into the yard in the morning to relieve themselves, running a 20′ winged gauntlet out. Later when they have done their business, they stand out in the middle of the yard and bark and wait for you to open the door, then they sprint back inside. I would shishkabob those feathered creeps if I could catch them. But they sound nice when you are out there by yourself in the morning before daylight.

I’m not certain of the location of the little internal alarm clock that starts birds singing in the morning. But as sunrise approaches, the number of birds singing and their unique songs seem to increase exponentially. Take a moment when you run in the morning to get out of your head, and listen. Our world would simply not be very worthwhile without birds singing, crickets chirping and the symphony of little frogs. LISTEN.

4. When you up your miles significantly over the long term, you get your miles in whenever and wherever you can. You need to stay flexible and you might find yourself out there at odd hours, weather not withstanding. There seems to never be a time when I am running in Killearn (where I tend to log a lot of my miles), when I don’t see someone else out there, also running. Whether 5 AM or 7 PM or 11 PM or 2 AM (yes, sometimes that happens). It never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you to the other compulsive fools who have hung in and have run with me in the middle of the night, in storms, in the heat, while freezing off body parts, etc. Sometimes I can’t even recognize you people in your regular street clothes during the day because we only see each other in the dark and/or in our running gear. Once, maybe 10 years ago, I wandered into a local restaurant with my wife, Sharri. I was accosted by a rather attractive blond woman (who shall remain nameless but she is married to Nick Yonclas, for reasons totally unclear to me and everyone else). She said “hello” and noting my usual confused and blank stare, she introduced herself. I naturally said “Oh, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on”, having seen her clad only in her running togs on some of the Sunday BP runs (you know what I meant). However, Sharri didn’t know or appreciate my comment, and I turned just in time to execute a neat block of a punch headed directly towards my right ear (“Danielson, paint the fence, up, down”, it was the “up” block).

OK, what’s the point of this rambling discourse? The point is, like goals, we need training partners we can trust and depend on to help us through the miles to help us reach our goals. On the run. In life. My running partners have come and gone and I appreciate them all. Fortunately for me, my life partner has stayed the course, and man, I really love her for that and a lot of other things too numerous to list. I hope you have had this good fortune. APPRECIATE.

5. I am not a religious person by trade, at least not insofar as organized religion is concerned. I figure that you should do whatever works for you and please tolerate the rest of us. For me though, the outside world is God’s cathedral and all other runners are my brethren. Everyone needs to belong to something greater, somewhere, and I guess that this is the group I belong to or with. If you are reading this, you are a member of my congregation, voluntarily or otherwise.

I don’t mean to equate running with a religious experience, because sweat should not normally be confused with holy water. But sometimes, just sometimes, when you are not thinking about the effort, it can come so easily, and then you are finished before you know it. You can call it “being in the zone” or a “runner’s high” or whatever you want. To me though, when it happens I have been granted a short moment of pure grace and ecstasy. I once felt the breeze pass right through me during a run. It was a stunning experience. If that turns out to be a once in a lifetime experience, then thank you just the same .

We see and hear things everyday that make us rightfully doubt the existence of God, however you define that. For myself, I spent so many years and so much effort trying to utterly reject the notion of God. Any god. I don’t know why, but that was how I felt then and I do not apologize for that at all. But several weeks ago during a very early morning run on an otherwise unmarked, quiet and deserted trail, we may have bumped into each other in the dark and reconciliation was suddenly in order. I will need to up my mileage some more because that helps me see and hear the obvious things all around me a little bit more clearly. How did I miss this for so long, was I asleep or something? I need to look and listen harder. I’d better think in terms of some very long term goals and training partners.

These are the things I learned (or remembered) on the long road to Oak Mountain