Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No One Here but Us Deer

The “Stop – Golfers Only. No Runners, Walkers, or Hikers” sign came and went as briskly as if it were a mile post. I trotted on along the dark golf cart path that twisted, rose, and fell over the greens and fairways. There’s something about running on the golf course. It seems that its secondary purpose was always to have runners clicking along its forgiving, manicured greens and fairways. I mean really. Here’s this large expanse of land that’s sole function is to be well-taken care of, lush, quiet, and untouched.

It’s one of my favorite places to run in the fall and winter once the clocks go back and night time arrives at 5:00. I slip out the backdoor after work once the sun has completely receded and the moon burns bright overhead (nature’s headlamp). I unclip Mattie from her leash and she runs ahead, behind, or alongside me at whatever pace pleases her. Dogs were born for fartlek workouts.

We flash by the clubhouse and black windows reveal that we are in no danger of being caught. It’s not until Mattie’s jingling collar sounds the alarms. Some large dog lurking on a deck backing up to the third hole starts barking. “I know you’re out there!” it seems to say. I disappear into the tunnel that runs under a neighborhood side street. Mattie stops to pee as if daring the other dog to come after her. I wait, peering around the tunnel wall to make sure we are still alone. “No one here but us deer,” I say to Mattie who cocks her head in that way curious dogs do. Finally she finishes and we continue on, undetected at least for now.

I associate my golf course runs with winter and cold the same way that burning fireplaces trigger memories of the fall or the way fresh cut grass reminds me of the home I grew up in. But tonight is different. It’s nearly December and I flirt with pulling my shirt off since the air is heavy with humidity and the thermometer read 70 while I laced up my shoes. Yet all other signs point to it being winter. The moon silhouettes the bare tree limbs and the remaining leaves rattle along the ground and crunch under my feet. It’s the warm breeze that doesn’t fit and this truly becomes a run for all seasons.

Mattie and I circle the water hazard at the center of the 10th hole and she disappears for a moment. I make the kissy noise at her to get her to follow when I hear the water slosh. I turn and she’s dipped her paws and belly into the muddy water. I sigh and wonder if I can get by with just wiping her down when we get home or if it’s going to be a full shower. She gallops ahead of me and I notice that the bottoms of her legs look funny, as if they aren’t there. She halts and when I come upon her, I see that the mud is caked half way up her legs. Full shower it is.

My runs since the New York Marathon have largely taken this shape. I head out to the golf course or some other favorite running route and just go for as long as I feel like at whatever pace feels comfortable. I get a slight itch for the structure of a training program but I also like knowing that if I feel tired or beat up, I can take a rest day with no guilt. And when the memories of PRs past surface, I can let the pace drop naturally while the trail takes on whatever course I blazed…and just as quickly return to easy.

When we make the final climb up the sixth hole back to the house, shadows dance across the fairway like ghosts. I trace their shapes to the edge of the woods before they disappear into the blackness and betray their escape with snapping branches. Mattie’s ears perk up and she summons one last burst of energy before darting after the figures. I roll my eyes and continue on knowing that she’ll be back shortly. Sure enough, she bounces toward me, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth.

Yes, indeed. No one here but us deer.

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