Man on the Run

Life at a different pace

By Bill Fields

Wearing my orange slicker with the hood up, I must have looked like a large buoy that had escaped Long Island Sound. As I lumbered east toward the water on a chilly and rainy afternoon, my short, choppy strides weren’t earning any style points.

It was the last Sunday in March, and the inclement weather meant I had the street to myself. Social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t an issue. Whatever description fit what I was doing — running, jogging, slogging — moving at a pace faster than walking felt good.

This exercise was rooted in a hot afternoon last fall when I was walking near Southern Pines Golf Club on a route I used to run. A high school cross-country team appeared on my left, where they were beginning practice on the fallow Little Nine. I passed them as they stretched, but a minute later the teenagers — some in singlets, others in T-shirts but all as skinny as a young slash pine — glided past, their laughter and chatter receding as they crested a hill, leaving me to make a much slower, solitary climb.

As I continued a long walk through the Weymouth neighborhood and back to my rental car parked by Downtown Park, I surveyed my running life, meager at its apex and missing for a decade, replaced by workouts on the treadmill, climber or stationary bike at the gym.

I never was fast nor did I possess notable endurance, which explains why for many years a tiny red ribbon signifying second place in a first-grade race shared space in an envelope of Turkey Trot numbers accumulated as an adult.  I never entered anything longer than a 10K — and only a few of those to go with a larger number of the Thanksgiving Day 5-milers — and never exceeded 8 miles in a workout. Career highlight: finishing one of the Turkey Trots in 43:50 when I was in my early 40s.

But “having run” was still satisfying, a feeling of accomplishment. This was so whether the journey was from my Old West dormitory room to Gimghoul Castle in Chapel Hill to clear the head before a long night of studying; through a Georgia neighborhood on sticky summer evenings; along a windy seafront in England, wishing I’d worn another layer.

My most purposeful trips took place in the late-1990s when I set out to lose weight by running multiple laps on a nearly traffic-free perimeter road at a city park near my home. I kept at it each evening after work for months regardless of the weather, shedding pounds through my plodding routine, motivated by a fellow jogger who did his many laps wearing a headlamp at dusk and told me he had dropped 50 pounds after several years of running there.

While on a 45-minute walk in mid-March, after my gym had shut down, I remembered that guy. I turned my stroll into something more for a block or so, resumed walking, then jogged a bit more. I did this for most of a week before stepping out with a different goal — to go for a run.

I began at a shuttered restaurant that in a previous iteration had a tiny bar packed with folks after work. Later on, it was a sports-themed place with 25-cent wings on Tuesday nights, which ensured a big crowd.

It was dark, the parking lot empty as I began the first of three round-trips up a stretch of Riverside Drive, over Ash Creek and between the marsh. Others also had escaped the indoors, and we made our way giving each other a wide berth. There were as many paces as faces, some slow and some fast. I was solidly in the middle but exerting enough energy that after 25 minutes I was sweaty and winded.

On my calendar, over two weeks of canceled out-of-town work the second half of March, are times and distances denoting my new daily habit. As one month melted into the next, I was sure of very little, only that I would try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, running both for and from something.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at williamhfields@gmail.com.

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