Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line
By Jeffery S. Bryan
Lately, I have found myself pondering my own immortality. Maybe it’s all the long runs that I’ve been doing in preparation for the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run that have pushed me over the edge or I have finally run out of other subjects to think about. I really don’t quite know.
One topic that keeps coming to me is the thought of what my last run ever will be like. Will it be a result of a loss of interest in the sport and I will just choose to stop running someday or will it be a chest grabbing, crash and burn 5K? If you knew heading out the door that it was going to be your last run and you had the ability to choose what it would be like, what would you make of it? How far would you run? Where would you run it? Would you run it by yourself or with others? What would it feel like?
I have determined that this is a totally awesome subject to try to contemplate. Bill McGuire and I had a conversation on this topic at a recent birthday party for a fellow member of Gulf Winds Track Club. Before any of you get the wrong idea, it was not the age of the guest of honor that got us discussing this subject! I think that Bill and I came to the initial consensus that most people would probably become ultrarunners for the run. It would be a fairly common tendency to want to prolong the event for as long as possible. However, after thinking more about this over the last several weeks, I don’t believe that would necessarily be the case. Some may want to experience the feeling that Roger Bannister did when he broke the 4 minute mile. Others may wish to know what Billy Mills felt as he won the 1964 Olympic 10,000 meters. And there are even the Dana Stetson types that would want to experience what Richard Benyo, in The Death Valley 300 describes of his Badwater out-and back run:
“I begin the final fall: I begin to philosophize: The niceties of civilization (etiquette, good manners, PBS, etc.) are apprehended during a situation where man enjoys an extended leisure from basic survival. When he is once again pressed into service to attend to his own survival, however, the civilization one learns from eight years of Catholic parochial schooling in the formative years, four and a half years of college, and a decade of dressing in a three-piece suit in a professional environment blow away like a toupee in a windstorm. When the temperature is above one hundred degrees, when you haven’t slept but five hours of the last thirty-five, when your toes look like eggplants and are so sore that each step is a misery, and when you’ve added eleven pounds in body weight in the past several hours for reasons you cannot fathom, you do not say to yourself, “Gosh, I feel rather unwell.” No. The veneer of civilization has been peeled away by adversity, and one simplifies life radically: “I feel like a bag of shit,” I mutter to myself, “and not a very sturdy bag at that.” My considerations of life have come down to a handful of bodily functions: eat, drink, sleep, shit, piss, fart, burp, and barf, and like a game of Russian roulette played with five bullets in six chambers, I wonder which I’ll find mercifully ending my life within the next seconds.”
I know that I personally would want my last run to be a summary of my life. I would want to begin in Pennsylvania. The starting line would be under the goal posts on the practice football field at Oil City High School where I started many home cross county meets. At the gun, I would tear off across the grass for that first one hundred yards without any care for pace and how far the run was going to be. I would then make the right turn into the woods, once again enjoying the youthful feeling of being a high school harrier. I would bound effortlessly up the infamous “S” bend where many of our opponents were humbled in our school’s long streak of undefeated seasons. However, on this run and on this day, I would not have to run this hill twice.
Leaving “S” bend behind, I would head to the high school football stadium and whip out a 2 mile run in PR time. As a letterman in this event, I never really cared much for it. However, it did help forge me into becoming a better distance runner. Upon exiting the track area, I would find myself at the starting line of the 2000 Tallahassee Marathon. I am completely surrounded by people I don’t know, running a distance that I haven’t trained for and being interviewed by some pesky reporter wanting to know what I anticipated doing. I really just want to tell her “I plan on finishing this damn run so please leave me alone.”
Crossing the finish line of the marathon, my last run would take me through some of the most beautiful parks in Tallahassee. I would cruise through the woods of the Lake Overstreet trails and Tom Brown Park. I would enjoy the rolling terrain under my feet and the crispness of the fall air. The only sounds would be the leaves on Cadillac Trail crunching under my feet and the beating of my heart. I would leap the logs across the trail with the smoothness of fellow Pitt Panther and Olympic hurdler Roger Kingdom.
Bursting from the woods of Tom Brown, I would navigate the accents on the rocky mountain trails of Northern Alabama and Southern Virginia, sprint through the Gulf Island National Seashore, circle Lake Ella and for good measure finish at the finish line of the ultra course at Wakulla Springs. All in all it would be a challenging course and be a pleasurable last run.
Then again, none of this would probably happen. It would be raining that day and I would decide not to run. As all my closest running friends know, I won’t head out to run in the rain. Some people may choose “Born To Run” as their mantra but I will always be the fair weather baseball player that has a slight running habit. A well hit stand-up triple will always be the best run in my life. Go Red Sox!!!