A Run Too Far?
How far would you travel to run? The question is not metaphorical. Every year, thousands of people fly thousands of miles to run a Marathon in just a few hours; when I competed in one such 26.2 mile race on the Jersey Shore a year ago, I met several people who were collecting Marathon finishes in all 50 States. (And one man who had done all 50 – twice!) The truly hard core take ships to Antarctica – only to find themselves icebound and reduced to running a hundred laps round the deck. Or they fly into the Sahara to run hundreds of miles in just a few days. I have friends whose diaries are filled with 70-mile runs in Pennsylvania, 24-hour tournaments in Colorado, and Iron Man competitions in England. Then there is the acquaintance who gets up before dawn once a year to drive from the Catskills to Midtown Manhattan as part of a select group allowed to race up the Empire State Building; the run itself lasts barely 20 minutes.
All of which makes me feel like a wimp for flaking out of the first race of my running club’s new seasonal Grand Prix this weekend. It was but 7.2 miles up and around a mountain-top and I’d been warming up to it through midweek jaunts while my winter weekends had remained devoted to a mountain of the snow-covered variety. But that ski season has really taken its toll on me: when I haven’t been working this winter I’ve been on an all-weekend ski course, and the only times I haven’t been doing that is when I’ve been traveling, and the end result is that I have not spent a quiet weekend at home, just taking my sweet time about things, since before Christmas. There’s only so many days in a row you can set your alarm for 7:30 before you start to run down your reserves. Factor in the clocks moving forward an hour this weekend, and it seemed too much stress to leave the house at what would have felt like 7:15 am just to run 7.2 miles with a bunch of strangers and a few friends… Or did I not mention that, living here in the Country, regional races spread themselves further apart geographically than the NYC Grand Prix (five Half-Marathons) do across the five boroughs of New York City. When I studied the map for this Sunday’s race, I saw it was not just the next town over, nor indeed the town beyond that, but a full 50 miles away, two counties over and on the other side of the Hudson, and just as I haven’t had it in my system to drive to the City and back for a concert this past week or two, nor could I see the point of using up half a tank of gas (um, several liters of petrol, my European friends) for a 50-minute run.
The deciding moment was in the town of Hudson on Saturday afternoon. We’d split up to do some browsing and when I got back to the car ahead of the family, I used the excuse of The Spotty Dog’s free wi-fi to get my computer from the car, head over the road and, because free wi-fi comes at the price of a purchase, order a pint of Evans’ Pale Ale. The beer came cold in a tall pint glass that looked bigger even than the Imperial Measure, and when Posie followed with the kids about 30 seconds later, having seen me walk in to the store though I had conveniently failed to spot them up the street, she took a sip and announced, “That’s the kind of beer that could drive a woman to drink.” (Typically, she stays off the hops and barley, preferring fermented apples for her thirst-quenching tipple.)
I’ve talked before about the quality of American micro-breweries, and I should reinforce it: a Bud might taste like piss, but you can’t go wrong with, round these parts, Hurricane Kitty or Mother’s Milk from Kingston-based Keegan Ales, nor the Pale Ale (or the Scottish Light) from Albany’s Evans. The story of how Evans’ Ales came to be sold at the Spotty Dog is told here; it’s a circuitous narrative that brings the beer to a fire station that bares the family name. And if you’re ever in Hudson – or, indeed, anywhere that sells Evans – ask for a pint of the Pale stuff and tell them I sent you.
Finally chilled out from the excruciatingly workload of the preceding week by the cold drink, I realized that I actually had no desire to drive 100 miles so early the following morning and that my psyche and energy would be better served by staying in bed. So we came home, cooked dinner, opened a superb and inexpensive bottle of Bordeaux blanc, and sat up Saturday night watching A History Of Violence. David Cronenberg’s thriller looked like it was trying to update The Unforgiven, and it excelled in the coldly delivered cinematography of its killings, but ultimately fell flat on its face with its lack of plausibility and continuity. The story line is exciting enough: small town diner owner Tom Stall becomes a local hero after he kills two serial murderers in genuine self-defense on the job. But then the East Coast mafia recognizes his mug shot from the TV as a vanished mobster and head out west to bring him home for their own form of justice – and Stall has all three of them dead before they can realize that opportunity. At this point in a story even remotely imitating real life, you would expect the FBI to arrive in droves. Instead, Viggo Mortensen (for it is he) gets away with nothing more than a friendly inquisition from the local Sheriff for having now killed some five heavy dudes in about as many days; meantime his teenage son, who performed the coup de grace on Eric Harris’ Mafia bigwig with the family shotgun, never finds need to question his own complicity in the killing machine. Ho-hum. How comes novelists can’t get away with so many holes in their storylines?
The alarm being disposed of for Sunday morning, we did indeed take our sweet time about things before heading into Phoenicia for a kids birthday party. There we were greeted by a sight that will remain constant over the next several months: motorbikes, bicycles, cars and pedestrians turning Main Street into the rural equivalent of … well, Main Street. With the sun beating down like June already, both Brio’s and Sweet Sue’s had their outdoor tables fully occupied, the hardened old bikers were kicking back beers at the Alamo, the high-end design stores had their wares out on the street, and the kids at the birthday party quickly vacated the church hall for games on the green. Me, I decided to put my training to use and ran 7 miles along Route 28, where road markers every tenth of a mile kept me fully in competition with myself, if not with any other runners. A reminder that the solace of winter running is now fully behind me came with the number of cars behind me; while I always run on the verge of the oncoming lane, the warm weather brought out the inevitable impatience and several times overly eager drivers decided to overtake behind me, riding far too close to my tail for comfort. That’s one problem I would not have had had I driven to the race destination and run up a mountain. But you know what, as if you can’t tell already from this contentedly composed Sunday evening retrospective? It felt good to take a weekend off.