Monday, July 18, 2011

Nugget #39

Ah, the good old days when I ran no matter what.

Running with Wolves
By Bill Donnelly

            I never much liked winter.  I hated going out into the cold, didn’t much like winter sports, and oh yeah, I HATED going out into the cold.  As a lad growing up smack-dab in the middle of Minnesota, and then moving to Buffalo when 16, that pretty much meant I never much liked upwards of nine months of the year.
            But then I started running, and all that totally changed.  Suddenly, I didn’t mind the cold so much as I started to experience so much that I had been missing.  I think what I came to appreciate the most was the beauty of nature, especially in winter.  I came to realize that, as I ran, I was experiencing things with my senses that most people were totally missing.  I think I became kind of smug about that, in fact I still feel that way.
            How many get to experience the beauty of feeling you are the only person alive seeing the beauty of Forest Lawn in the early morning after a windless snowfall has left snow precariously balanced on every branch and twig in the cemetery.  How many times have you stopped while running in the country to watch a nearly frozen brook that is more beautiful than any postcard you have seen?  Even the thrill of running around Delaware Park in glorious  bitter cold sunshine, yet as you look to the south you see the line of nearly black clouds on the horizon, and you thank God you decided against going to Chestnut Ridge because you know it is getting two feet of snow.
            My strongest memory of winter running goes way back to when I was training for my first Boston in 1974.  In those days I ran my miles everyday no matter what.  Neither snow, freezing rain, blizzards, my girl friend, nor time of day could stop me from getting my oh so many miles in.  At this time in my life I made my living as a substitute teacher.  Not much of a living in that, so that year I also worked delivering and picking up tax forms for 24 offices of a tax preparing firm that shall remain nameless, but whose initials are H&R B.  This endeavor would take me four hours, so that on days I also taught (or at least survived the kids) I would not get home till eight at night.  Yet running I would go.
            I would spend no time stretching in those days, but by the time I put on seven layers of cotton shirts and sweats, and four layers of long johns and sweatpants, usually with some old socks pinned inside the front to prevent frost-bite to certain delicate body parts (THANK GOODNESS for modern protective running wear), it would be 8:30 before I was out the door heading for eight laps around the Delaware Park Meadow.  I remember that first January night clearly, for it was bitter, with no wind or clouds.  Heading around the park with the snow crunching beneath my feet, I was totally alone with only my daydreams of winning the Boston Marathon to keep me going. 
Just as I was going by the zoo at Colvin, the nearby howl of a wolf shook me to my soul, for even as a boy growing up on the prairies of Minnesota, I had never heard such a terrifying sound, for wolves were long gone there.  What a sound it was, and what feelings it leaves one with when not expecting it.  My next lap was probably the fastest I ever ran, and I was probably wondering how I would clean my long johns later. 
The wolf was still howling, perhaps at the moon, but as the laps flowed by, I got to look forward to going by the zoo and hearing my friend, for to me I made it a greeting from one solitary soul to another.  For the rest of that winter, the nights were more special if I heard the howl.  It was something I alone was experiencing out there in the cold darkness, and did I feel smug about that. 

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