Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Archives: Running Wild, March 2007

This is from my last semester of college at Ripon, when I was training for a half marathon through a psych class called "Topics in Motivation."

I will admit, I am very prone to bouts of stupidity. Often, I accidentally do the wrong homework assignment, interpret clear things incorrectly, and say ridiculous things. But this time, I went too far.

Literally. I went too far.

Today was supposed to be my first five-mile run in training for the half-marathon. Considering that last week's four-mile run ended up being not quite four miles, I was a bit apprehensive, but excited to break another of my running records. So I measured the mileage with my car last night, in the dark. I decided to run my usual two-mile loop and then go on a nice three-mile excursion, just outside of Ripon.

Mind you, I've never seen this intersection in the daylight. There's a delightfully intimidating hill before this intersection as well. Intelligent as I am at times, I decided to run my new route backwards instead.

So I started at ten, estimating the run should take about an hour. I'd be back at 11, in time to shower and have brunch at the commons. I ran my first two miles (two is so easy now, it seems...) and I had my usual jump-start issues, where I have to prep myself in the first few minutes of the run.

Running, as I've come to discover through class and experience, is very psychological Who does anything at full throttle for half an hour straight, not to mention longer? You get distracted, or stop for a minute or two. But when you’re running, you pretty much have to keep going. So my technique has become memorizing about one poem a week and then reciting it to myself to distract, for a while, from the fact that I'm running. Then, I'll choose a particular topic on which to ponder for a while.

Today, I recited Frost's 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening' (Whose woods these are... And miles to go before I sleep), then began to ponder. At some point, I stopped pondering and just ran. I didn't really notice it at the time, but that's what happened. I ran the two miles without a hitch and turned away from campus to run the next three.

For quite a stretch, I felt very warm with the sun shining so happily, and nearly took off my outer jacket to wrap around my waist. After a short time, I noticed another runner on the road. I moved to the other side of the road to give her running space. I was feeling pretty good at this point. Eventually, my running 'companion' passed me by and made a turn off where two roads met at less of a T and more of a Y made of only two lines.

Following me? Does this make sense? It won't in a bit, I promise you.

So this runner makes a turn-off, and I'm thinking, oh yeah, I should probably be looking for my turn as well. But it can't be for a while yet. I'm still feeling pretty good. I should be more tired, maybe, but that must just mean I haven't run very far yet.

I kept going. I ran down Hwy E, keeping an eye out for my turnoff, a kind of T but not really. I ran past several farms. I ran past several fields. I ran through a five-way intersection that I wasn't sure I remembered from my measurements the previous night. But I just chalked that up to it having been dark.

I started to get worried about here; shouldn't I have seen my turn by now? I kept going, figuring my mind was probably playing tricks on me and just wanted to make me quit running. Well, no, sir, I wasn't going to stop on this run. I was determined to get these five miles in without a stop, so I kept going. I ran past more fields, more farms, a grotesquely stinky barn. My bottle of water was slowly emptied as I fought the wind and struggled to find pavement that wasn't slippery or too snowy.

Yes, did I mention that there was snow and ice? And cold wind? Good times.

I cursed the cars who didn't feel the need to give me a bit more space, splashing me. I ran through sporadic slush. My shoes started getting wet, and, consequently, my feet. Wet and cold. I was glad to still have my jacket on at this point.

I began to worry more, not wanting to consider that I may have overshot my turn. I couldn't have gone that far yet; it didn’t feel anywhere near five miles in my mind, or to my legs. Maybe if I kept going, I would come to the turn around. Maybe that next line of trees was it.

Before reaching that line of trees, I realized my left leg was hurting a lot more than it should for just five miles. My hip was sore, my knee hurt in at least three places, the tops of my feet felt like they were collapsing, and I could have sworn I had a blister developing. I decided if the next intersection wasn't my turn around, I would stop and get directions at that grey farmhouse. If it was, I would stop for a bit anyway.

As you may guess, this was not my intersection. Luckily, my shoe had recently come untied, and I had extra reason to stop and walk for about a minute. But something strange happened.

Instead of stopping for directions... I kept running. Why, oh why did I keep running?

As I approached that next line of trees, I saw a green sign. The kind you see at the outskirts of a city. Oh no, I thought to myself, please God don't let me be in a different city. Maybe somehow I'm entering Ripon City limits and I'm right on track, even though there's no way I could have turned around on this very straight road.

I began to regret not carrying any money for phone calls. The sign, coming closer and closer like a train on a collision course, read


Pop 405

"Fairwater?!" I exclaimed aloud, dropping into a dejected walk.

This was absolutely ridiculous. I was in a different city. I had run to a different city, which now seemed like it was probably a good distance away, and how the hell was I going to get back? Not to mention, who would be open on a Saturday in a town this small? Who would I ask to find out where I was?

Luckily, across from the very closed post office and very closed bank, there was a very open bar (thank God Wisconsin has a bar in every town, no matter the size). But the only sign of life was the lit beer sign. Not even a footprint in the snow drifts.

Wearily climbing the porch steps, the hours on the door read open at 11 on Saturdays. Perhaps they were open; it was about 11. I thought. Walking in, I asked the girl cleaning how far Ripon was from here. "If you drive out on E, it's about 10-15 minutes."

I really was in deep, wasn't I? I explained that these directions just wouldn't do, since I had just run into town from there and didn't particularly feel like running back in such a way. I requested a phone and called my next-door roommate.

The bartender heard me say, "Hey Sandy, can you do me a favor?... Look on Mapquest and see how far it is from Fairwater to Ripon. ...You're kidding me!... Um... Okay, well I just ran about seven and a half miles out here, plus the two I ran earlier. heh. Could you do me another huge favor, and possibly find someone with a car willing to come get me, or if you could drive my car out here?... Thank you so much!"

What a freak, the barkeep-girl must have thought. How do you run that far and not notice it?

I am still pondering this. I have no significant answer; maybe I was just so into what I was doing that my surroundings ceased to matter (What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us - Emerson). I've had a few good laughs about this, though. No more doubts about being able to run a half-marathon, either.

Morals: Measure distances in daylight so as to know where I am going. Run in familiar area. Carry change. Pay a bit more attention and don't be so ridiculously stubborn as to not stop and ask where the hell I am. Over-running, even if you don't feel tired, is bad for your body.

I will be limping for quite a while.

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." ~ T.S. Eliot

Note: I still feel this injury, four years later. Really, running too far is very bad for you.


  1. This is still one of my favorite stories from college. :)

  2. Ah yes, the road less traveled!! I love getting lost.


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