[Ed Note: It's been a while! Sorry for the large gap, but training took over and updating this site fell by the wayside. But there's more storytelling, so here's a return to the book!]
I spent the next few months thinking about getting into better shape. Running was great, but I couldn’t sustain the 8 miles per day I had done in Washington. It simply wasn’t interesting enough around my house -- there’s something about trails and mountains that makes an hour disappear where roads make that hour seem like half a day.
My first move was to get some weights and start lifting at work. I took 10 minutes each day to just lift something, never too much but just enough to feel like I was stressing my body a little. This routine went along with more rides to work, and I decided to explore a couple of the trails near my office that I had neglected over the previous couple years. These turned out to be entirely too short but still foresty enough to be attractive.
Late in the fall (or early in the winter) I made my way to the edge of Department of Agriculture land, dashing around the end of the cornrows to the only open stretch visible: a power line track that included a creek crossing. Worried I would be late for a coming meeting, I picked up the pace, but it turned out the power lines led to a tall fence which, once I’d clambered over it, dropped me a couple miles from the NASA campus. My 5-mile venture turned into about 10, and when I got back to the office, I was covered in mud and debris. (This was several jobs ago; it may or may not have contributed to my sudden departure from there. Who's to say?)
Winter descended, but more like a feather sporting a parachute than its usual falling brick style. This was 2015-2016, when legitimate warmth stuck around until the beginning of January. Mysteriously, I decided to do more cycling than running. Many days I would get home by 5, drive a car to the Metro, and leave it for my wife to drive home so she didn’t have to take the bus. In mid-November, there were days when this left me running in 80-degree sunshine; by early December I would occasionally need to wear a long sleeved shirt.
Our usual family strategy around Christmas and New Years is to travel somewhere warm. On our slate that year was Costa Rica, where we’d rented an apartment to share with other family members. On the day we left, DC was gripped by a cold front: low-70s, clear weather. We landed in darkness, with CR temps in the mid-70s. It barely felt like we’d left home
The apartment was spectacular, but one problem with beach vacations (because, you know, it’s appropriate to complain about beach vacations) is that - and I know you'll be shocked to learn this - the sun is extremely hot. For the next two weeks, in order to avoid the heat of the day, I would get up before sunrise, shuffle out the door just as the sun peeked over the horizon, and get back an hour or more later ready to get back into air conditioning. My first run was an attempt to go up the hills behind town, but instead I found the resident dog population after making a couple wrong turns. It took a few days to work out the route, but eventually I found the road and did a solid 7 miles of hilly dirt -- still avoiding a variety of unfettered canines.
A couple runs took me across town or down the beach, and I tried to explore as much as possible. Often this got me funny looks from locals and tourists who thought the guy clambering up the “trail” on the side of the hill probably needed some quality chill-out drugs. After establishing this routine, I felt it necessary to run each day, so my trips to the beach were somehow even more lazy than a typical trip to the beach. My legs loved the attention.
On my last day in town, I decided to go to the next town through the hills, about 12 miles round trip. I made my way out early and was pleasantly surprised to find no dogs. But 5 miles in, a horse trotted by going the other way, no rider in sight. I thought the situation odd, and 3 rolling climbs later found the cause: a man stood in the road with a rope in one hand and a water can in the other.
My Spanish, I’ll admit, is pretty poor, but I’m good enough to talk about caballos without much issue. So the conversation that ensued was quite entertaining to the horse’s owner, whom I will call “Spanish as a First Language”, the gist of whose side is wholly invented below:
SFL: “Have you seen a horse?”
Me: “Yes. Without a friend.”
SFL: “I went to get his food he slipped out of the rope. How far away was he?”
Me: “Two, maybe three. Up down.”
SFL: “I should probably get him then.”
Me: “Yes. With speed!”
SFL: “You’re a weirdo.”
Me: “I go!”
I carried on to the town, which was set in the hillside on the next -- very steep -- rise. I pushed toward the top, but when a dog emerged from one of the uppermost houses, I retreated. Back toward the horse owner I ran, noting that he seemed wholly unconcerned about the escaped horse. Instead, I saw him carrying a bundle of sticks around his house.
I went up the hill, up the next, up the next and the next and the next, the rolling terrain grinding on my legs until they made a strange clopping sound. They don’t normally make such a sound, but...what’s this? As I came up the second to last hill, I saw the horse strolling along, its head bowed after its multi-mile effort. The gap between us closed, then it noticed me and picked up the pace; on the uphill, its pace was enough to pull away, but descending on the other side, I gained ground. Up the last hill (on this road) we went, the horse once again putting distance between us, and on the long drop back to the highway, I got within perhaps 25 meters, the horse looking back at me uncomfortably.
It turned right, with me hot on its tail. I had no designs on catching the thing, it just happened to be returning to my hotel. I whipped out my phone and took a grainy, shaky video of the escaping equestrian before the beast plunged onto a side road, barely avoiding disaster when an oncoming car swerved in surprise.
And that’s how I ended up with a video of a horse running down a highway.
We got back to Virginia early in January, and the snows and cold weather hit immediately. I also got in a discussion with a friend about running, and he invited me to join him on a trail run. This, as we shall see, was perhaps a mistake by him. For his safety from my wife, I shall refrain from referring to Kevin by name.
Next up: I'm Into Nothing Good.
Mash out. Spin on.
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Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.