When white horses are seen, it is often an indication of being spiritually aware. It can symbolize innocence and purity, be a symbol of good fortune, or even represent prosperity. Being chased by a white horse in a dream can be a reflection of relationship issues.
—An excerpt on the symbolism of a white horse on Karen Brez Jewelry
On September 6, a week after I met a girl in Valley Forge State Park, we met up to go horseback riding. “Hair looked pretty in the late summer sunshine,” I wrote about her. And then: “Really jarred my insides on that horse, starting out.”
That journal entry hardly touches the truth of that situation. When I showed up to ride, she led me to a stable where the largest white horse I’d ever seen stood waiting for me to climb on. I was wearing tight jeans, which wasn’t the best choice for horseback riding. But I stuck my foot in the stirrup like I knew what I was doing and climbed aboard an animal that felt as wide as an aircraft carrier. My legs were stretched to their maximum flexibility on either side. When that horse started to move a genuine shiver of fear shot through me. Would I be able to stay on this creature?
We started slowly. Then my date glanced over and said, “Wanna go faster?”
At that point, I did not want to go faster on that horse. Not at all. I wanted to ride slowly along for a mile or so to get used to controlling that beast’s massive head with its great shock of silvery mane. Instead, I said, “Sure,” and gave the horse a gentle kick. We started to trot. Up and down I went in vertical motion in the opposite of the direction the horse was headed. I had to learn how to use my thighs to get into the rhythm of that horse. But its body was so wide I struggled to maintain any sort of control. “God,” I muttered to myself. “I’m going to be so sore tomorrow.”
We cantered across a big field and through a gate where a wide pasture opened. Ahead of us lay nothing but a green expanse of low grass. Karen gave her horse a low kick and they started to trot, then gallop. My horse, almost without prompting, responded in kind. “Whoa!” I shuddered. Then genuine chaos began. That big white horse turned into a completely different machine on the run. The muscles of its shoulders flexed before me. The head rowed back and forth. The faster the horse ran, the less I could contain myself on its back. My hips started sliding off the saddle, and I grabbed the horse’s neck to keep from falling off. In that state of affairs, we tore across the field. My guts were being hammered right where the solar plexus met my runner’s six-pack. “Oh fuuuuuuuccckkkk…” I moaned. One more slip and I could have fallen off entirely, either breaking bones or worse, getting kicked in the head and suffering a catastrophic brain injury.
Mercifully, the field came to an end and I managed to rein the horse in with some sort of false composure. She turned to me and asked, “How are you doing?”
I lied. “Great!” So we kept at it a bit, and I improved after that. But when the ride was finished I was so traumatized I swore that I’d never ride another horse again.
To whit, we never had another date. Perhaps she sensed what a fool I was to ride with so little experience. Or else I chickened out on calling her for fear of having to ride anything that big again. So the white horse did turn out to be a symbol for that relationship, even if it its meaning was more literal than allegorical. Here I was, this skinny waif of a runner on top of a horse the size of a Jeep. Who was I trying to fool? I was terrified on the back of that horse, clinging to its neck with those giant hooves thundering below me. The whole experience symbolized, for me, the wild ride I was on in life. My native anxiety was hardly the issue in that circumstance. Staying alive was my top priority. And what a lesson that was.
My journal entry the next morning was full of confessions. “My legs are sore both front and back. I’m tireder than I think, I think,” I wrote. “Really jarred my insides on that horse, starting out. I learned to gallop on a horse, though. This morning’s three was barely a roll.”
The night after the horse ride I took stock and found myself struggling to feel a positive flow. “Can’t shit, ache and feel washed out. Too much ice tea? Not enough fluids? Tomorrow I’ll feel fine.”
I had a problem in that I’d become addicted to the ice tea sold at the Turkey Hill convenience store next door to my apartment. That stuff tasted so good that I’d down the entire quart in an afternoon. Then I kept getting sideaches during my runs, and mentioned that to Rich Crooke at the Runner’s Edge shop. “That stuff’s full of caffeine,” he observed. “It dehydrates.” Duh, I thought to myself. That was clearly true in my case. It didn’t take much to push my body off-kilter with the intensity of training I was doing and my low body weight. So I backed off the tea, and it helped right away.
The wrong ride
The third week of September I ran 64 miles with a 0 day on Wednesday because I absentmindedly got on the wrong train out of Philly. Ten minutes into the ride I realized that none of the towns sounded familiar. We were headed north on the Chestnut line, and I walked up to the conductor to tell him that I needed to get off and turn back around. “Not here,” he said with a serious tone to warn me about the neighborhoods we were passing through. “You’ll get killed.”
So I waited for another few stops and got off on a platform somewhere far north of Philly. I caught a train back downtown to Penn Station. Then I bought another ticket and got on the right train back out to Paoli. Passing through West Chester and Villanova and Wayne was by now familiar territory. I got home late and ate a quick dinner before heading to bed.
And that night, just before throwing back the sheets to sleep, I glanced out the upstairs window to an apartment building across the drive. The shades were wide open, and a light was on. I could see a guy lying on his back whacking his pud in clear view. I couldn’t help myself, and grabbed my birding binoculars to watch. There was nothing miraculous about it, I realized. For all the secrecy and shame associated with whacking off back then, I took solace in knowing I was not alone in that category. “Go for it,” I chuckled after lowering the binoculars.
As September progressed, the light available to go for runs in the evening after the commute home was starting to shrink. Rather than run on the roads after dark one night, I slipped onto the Waynesborough golf course to do some interval training on the fairways. I ran intervals on whatever distance the holes were from 200-500 meters. Toward the end of the workout, I was tearing along at 5:00 pace when my thighs hit a taut rope stretched across the fairway to keep carts from driving too close to the green. The impact flipped me head-over-heels. I lay there in the cool grass groaning for a few minutes. A rope burn creased my thighs, and my right hip felt extended and sore. I hobbled home that night.
Thus far, life in Pennsylvania had been a wild ride and the fall racing season hadn’t even started yet. The weather cooled and I met up with Runner’s Edge boys every weekend for a long run followed by a mid-week track session at Villanova. On one of the first long runs that fall, I took off at my standard 6:30 pace and found myself far in the lead after a half-mile. Turning around, I ran back and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” one of them replied. “What’s wrong with you? Listen, we’re going to run an even, slow pace for the first seventeen miles. Then we’ll close at race pace for the last three. If you can do that, you’ll be training right.”
His statement hit me like a brick. “He’s right,” I realized. “That’s how my roommate and I chose to train our senior year in college.” So I fell into the pack determined to learn from runners that were actually far superior to me in talent, training knowledge, and race results. That was the right kind of wild ride for me.