By Christopher Cudworth
So my companion is a pretty tough Missy who has completed a Half Ironman and can outride and outswim me. She’s a pretty fair runner too, and getting better by the year.
We drove over to the Experience Triathlon Saturday Morning Run Club in Naperville, Illinois because it’s nice to have a little camaraderie to go along with the 19,000 footsteps you typically cover in 11 miles or so. We learned that fact from a fellow club member who held up his pedometer to show us the truth behind our collective shuffling gaits when running 11 miles in the cold.
Not so cold
Of course it wasn’t that cold today. Not by comparison to the last 6 Saturdays, all of which had temperatures below 10 degrees and several weeks below zero at the start.
You find all sorts of adventures in that sort of weather, if you don’t watch out. Fingers can freeze, and private parts too.
So we thought it would be better running today with 11 miles on the docket due to Sue’s plan for running a Half Marathon in April. Or was that March? May? I’m supposed to run it now too. She suggested that.
Suppose I could. Up until this year the last decade of running has been considerably less arduous than training for a half marathon. Some weeks I’d only manage three 3-milers a week, covered at about 9:00 pace.
Back at it
But something clicked a couple years ago and I started running more, again. Last year the opportunity to anchor a Sprint Triathlon Relay came along, and I ran 7:00 pace for 5K. The previous summer I raced a little cross country meet and managed 21:00 for 3 miles as well. So there’s not really a top end going on, but my bottom end isn’t terrible.
And then this winter rolled along and running with Sue is fun so we’ve been increased mileage each week from 7 to 8 to 9 and then 10. Today was supposed to be 11 at 9:00 pace or so. Base-building stuff.
Only there was one problem. The trails heading south of Naperville were slick with intermittent black ice. Really nasty, sloped sections.
Sue had just gotten done with physical therapy following surgery for a torn rotator cuff that was caused by a bike accident last summer. (She was riding with me.) I was leading on my road bike. Her triathlon bike was not suited for the wet bike trail we were on and down she went. Bam. Bad shoulder. We knew it wasn’t good. Then came months of getting by. Then surgery. And all those weeks of PT.
So I wasn’t about to hustle her along when we kept hitting icy patches. Then we turned off the trail and headed into the wilds of suburban Naperville.
I know the town well, having trained there for years. But even the side roads were slick with ice in the gutters. So we minced along and tried to stay out of the way of cars, many of whom were nice enough to move to the center lane to give us room to run.
That’s because Naperville is a true runner’s town. North Central College in downtown is one of the leading running schools in the nation. Various track clubs and high school teams use the roads for training year round.
So we weren’t in any real danger, but Sue was not having fun. I could tell that. You get to know a person by how much they say, and when. If they are saying nothing, and staying back a few steps, you know you had better tread carefully up ahead.
It wasn’t Armageddon out there, but it was pretty awful in spots. Big ruts on the the shoulders. Sneaky ice everywhere. Then big traffic surges came our way and when we turned south again on a major side street the traffic was crazy. The road bent east and cars were coming around the sweeping turn like it was a NASCAR competition. We stopped in our tracks, trudged up into the snow and talked as pleasantly as we could about the fact that this could suck way worse than it did at the moment.
Which is a nice way of saying, “Let’s not really talk about it.” People who run together have to know when to complain and when not to complain.
When to complain. And when not.
And here’s a simple rule. You should really only complain about the stuff that doesn’t matter, like how you wish you were running 8:30s instead of 9:00s. Because if you complain about how freaking scary the traffic conditions are and how you wish you were anywhere else in the world but on a road where people don’t care if you live or die, you can turn your brain into something resembling overcooked eggs.
So we ran in a sort of shuffling, half committed fashion until we found a mercifully quiet side street. But memories of the roads we traveled now haunted me. We’d followed my directions heading up to Maple Lane, which is a big four-laner that passes Benedictine University. I was hoping the city would have cleared the sidewalks along that major road. That’s what I was banking on. And for 300 yards my dream came true. Then we hit a pile of pushed up snow and that was it. We were on our own.
By mid-Saturday morning traffic in suburbia gets insane. People are not paying attention to the road. You might as well be running loops in one of those wire cages at the circus where they send motorcycles winging around in defiance of gravity. People don’t want to move over when they’re headed to the grocery store or picking up their kids from some inane sports practice at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m., for God’s Sake.
So I’d taken her through the gauntlet unintentionally. That stuff doesn’t scare me typically. I’ve been running for 40+ years of my life, and have seen it all. I’ve run to hell and back, and let me tell you, suburbia on a Saturday is worse than hell for runners and riders. I mean, if people could actually threaten you with their cars in the pool when you’re swimming, they probably would. There’s a lot of pissed off, distracted people in this world with double chins and a damned black heart beneath them.
States of mind
They just learned their sister wants to claim their share of the inheritance before mom and dad even pass away, or they found out the painter can’t come till Tuesday. Their kid just got busted for dope on Friday night or their dog ran off and got worms from that nasty little bitch down the block. Her owner probably has worms too.
So you’re running along and all these people with wicked problems and bad attitudes look out their greasy windshields and figure they’ve got no real reason to tolerate some biped using a chunk of the road for which they paid good goddamn tax dollars to build.
Peace on the side streets
But when you reach the side streets and all that fades away, the world seems to close in and things are okay. You smell the strange quiet odor of someone’s dryer working away at a pile of Saturday clothes. A small dog barks at you from inside a house and you realize the little feller probably hasn’t even had breakfast yet. The house looks sleepy and no one is probably awake.
But the suffering wasn’t through. Not for Sue. With just a mile or two to go something got stuck in her eye. Probably salt from the roads. That’s been a problem. It was like the world did not want to leave us alone.
So, by the time we got back to Starbucks after 2 hours and 10 minutes of running, we’d covered 12 miles, which is more than I’d run at one time run in at least a decade. Things were creaking but still operable. We smacked gloves together and went inside to change. The world was back to normal. The pissed off, distracted people in their Acuras and beater Buicks did not get us down, or run us down.
I apologized for the route, and Sue said all was good. But for a while there…
I know. I know. Lesson learned.
Let’s do it again. Only better next time.
Then we retreated to a great little downtown Batavia restaurant called Daddio’s and had clean tasting omelets and checked our cell phones to see what the rest of the world was doing. The surface of our iPhones looked a lot like black ice. But neither of us seemed to notice.