Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Being a Runner Again

Walney Pond
The afternoon rush hour hummed all around. If you closed your eyes, it almost sounded like waves roiling up on the shore. Almost. My CRV crunched over the gravel parking area. I killed the engine and opened the backdoor to let my dog Mattie out. The perpetually happy dog, her nose went to the grass as she hoovered whatever new smells called her all the while wagging her tail. You see, despite the major highways that crisscrossed in the background, there is a small pond inside the afternoon chaos with a little more than two miles of trails behind it. It’s just enough to help you forget that you’re in a bustling metropolitan area and only moments ago capped your eight hours at the office.
Returning to Walney Pond casts wide memories of my youth like the ripples that spread along its surface from nervous frogs. I remember fishing alongside my dad and grandfather using a bamboo pole when we first moved to Virginia so long ago. It brings back Cub Scout nature walks, elementary school fieldtrips, and the summer afternoon bike expeditions that live in coming of age novels.

My wife and I return to it now and again for short weekend walks. More recently, I’ve taken to adding it on to my 12 mile loop should the plan call for 14-16 miles.

Yesterday, however, I simply decided that I needed a change of scenery. With the Rock and Roll USA Half Marathon behind me, I have room to play. Yes, I realize this is in direct contrast to what I wrote about not too long ago, but aren’t we always tempted by that seemingly greener grass over there? And, truth be told, I already have a new training program on the fridge that includes this week of “easy miles” to just enjoy being a runner again.

So, Mattie and I set off behind the pond and across the wooden bridge that spanned a burbling stream. We went at an easy pace to acclimatize ourselves to the too warmish March weather and to simply enjoy an uncommon middle-of-the-week outing.

After a half mile running at a slight incline over wood chips and mulch, we merged onto the one mile long North Loop trail. The acrid smell of freshly cut trees punctuated the air and was quickly replaced by the soft perfume of budding trees. Clusters of daffodils add a shock of color to the muted woods.

Another half mile goes by and we tossed a nod to a pair of walkers before bearing left onto the half mile Wild Turkey Trail. Mattie kicks mud up my shins from the suddenly soggy route. The trail veered close to the street long enough to remind us that we’re not completely immersed in the wilderness.

When we reconnected with the North Loop, Mattie’s tongue lolled out the side of her mouth. We slowed the pace and made a quick diversion to the stream for her to steal a few sips. Up ahead, a gray doe stands guard on the edge of the trail. She locks eyes with us and just beyond her, we can see the mottled hides and white tails of her troupe. It’s not until we’re 10 feet away that she spooks and darts into the woods. Mattie’s lethargy disappears and she’s straining at the end of her leash to give chase. It’s enough to carry us back to the start of the North Loop trail.

We make one more pass around the North Loop and Wild Turkey Trails before ending back at the bridge and burbling stream. The heat has gotten to both of us so we walk when Mattie wants to walk and we stop when she wants to sniff.

Before heading back to the car, we walk down to the clear, cool stream and I unclip her leash. She nearly belly flops into the water and alternates dipping her belly with slurping from the stream. I peel my socks off and dip my feet in while she bounces from rock to rock and chases the water spiders. The cold rocks feel good on my slightly swollen ankle.

For a few more minutes, we let the warm afternoon breeze wash over us and just relish the thrill of being a runner and a dog.

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