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09.10.2003

Two Months Before the New York Marathon

Driving down to Boston yesterday, I came up with a new personal credo: "Never drive for four hours after a fifteen mile run". My leg kept cramping up in the locked and down position, jamming itself against the accelerator for minutes at a time. Thank God I was driving a Saturn - the car that will not accelerate past seventy fiveâ„¢.

I got up for that long run long before dawn, not because there was any chance I would set out in the dark, but because I needed my brain to be too sleepy to find a plausible way to cop out of running. One die-hard cricket was still chirping outside, but the thermometer on the porch showed forty-five degrees. I made a vat of tea and went through long agonies of procrastination - drinking in tiny sips, reading the paper online, even clicking through to stories like "Alan Greenspan Recovering Well From Intestinal Polyp Surgery" just to avoid having to go out there and hoist my weary bones onto the pavement.

By the time I hit the rolad, the temperature had soared to forty eight degrees, and the valley was filled with dense white fog. The sun was rising shamelessly through it, creating the kind of effect one associates with motel-room paintings called "Misty Morning Memories". How is it that nature can get away with levels of kitsch that even Bob Ross would blush at?

I found myself running through a sea of milk, watching dim and hopelessly bucolic tableaux materialize a hundred feet ahead. In the space of two miles, I got to see Red Barn on a Hilltop, Blue Heron Takes Wing, Horses Dappled in Morning Light, and even the vaguely Taoist Mountain Summits Rising From a Sea of Cloud. Then the road climbed up into clear air, and suddenly everything was bathed in Technicolor sunlight. I tried to burst out into glorious morning song, but all I could manage was a faint wheezing.

The fog had burned off by the time I lurched my way back to the valley floor, and what I saw almost made me stop cold with wonder. Between every pair of stalks, twigs, and thick stems in the fields around me there hung a spiderweb outlined in bright dots of dew. I could see tens of thousands of them, receding out in every direction - the field looked like someone had planted a crop of silver tennis rackets. It was unsettling and beautiful. I had always imagined the meadow to be a haven for flying bugs of every kind, a theory corroborated by the clouds of deerflies, mosquitoes and other flying vermin that always engulfed me during runs in the hot part of the summer. But now it seemed like a small miracle that anything airborne could make it through that field alive. Up to and including great blue herons.

A few more minutes and the dew was gone, burned off by the sun. The endless spider webs had gone completely invisible. I stared and stared, trying to make out the faintest outline of what I had seen, until I reached the yard full of feral German Shepherds. For a moment I delighted an oncoming school bus full of pointing children with a tableau called Staggering Man Pursued by Hounds, and then everything fell quiet again. The miles flew by like molasses.

Just when it felt like my legs were about to impale themselves permanently into my torso, I saw a pair of trees surrounded by hummingbirds, and old sappy Mother Nature had me again. All my aches and pains were forgotten; all I could see was the tiny hovering birds, looking for September flowers.

Next week is a seventeen mile run, and I fully expect an owl to settle on my shoulder, or a pair of unicorns to wink at me from the forest, watching me scour the weeds for a cached bottle of Gatorade.

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