On the Road, Out of the Zone

I dress for a cold morning.  I pull on lined tights, two base-layer tops, a fleece-lined vest, and running jacket.  I wear the turtle fur scarf and thin fleece gloves.  It’s 34 degrees outside, and I know after I warm up, my hands will get hot.  I will wind up carrying the gloves, perhaps stuffing them into my jacket pocket at some point.  The forecast promises a mix of sleet and snow, but when I drive the girl to school, it’s not doing anything out.  I come home, drink the rest of my coffee, and head out.

I see Sue, a woman I sometimes run part of my route with, up ahead and I catch up with her.  She’s at the tail end of her run, I’m in my warm-up, so we attack the long, steep hill on Marmion Way slowly but with intensity.  We hit South Street and yesterday’s heavy snow completely covers and hides the sidewalk, so we run on the street.  When cars approach, I drop behind Sue, careful to keep as close to the edge of the road as I can.  As she turns onto Eden Road, I wave goodbye and continue along South, keeping my eyes focused on all oncoming traffic.  I miss the sidewalk.  I am not in the ‘zone’ this morning at all.  I am nervous.  Not just from Sue’s warning about the cars.   “Be careful.  They’ll come right at you- it’s like they can’t be bothered to share the road.”  This seems to be true.  But it’s also that yesterday afternoon  I watched on television a study done on drivers who talk on their cell phones and text while driving.  They were all pretty cocky, with their little kids in the back seats of their sedans and SUVs; one teenager, the same age as my son, proudly touted herself as a super-texter.  The results of the study were horrifying—showing how delayed talkers’ and texters’ reaction times are,  how many near misses drivers have, and how many accidents happen when drivers do not give their full attention to driving.  So already I’m running on the street, although with this particular issue, it probably doesn’t matter, as a driver like that is just as likely to come right up onto the sidewalk anyway, but still, I’m taking a risk .  I am following the rules of the road, running against traffic.  So if I pay attention to the vehicles coming along, I should be able to leap out of the way should they veer in my direction.

The light drizzle I noticed as Sue and I parted company intensifies, and then turns to sleet, as promised earlier on the morning news.  I stop for a moment and take the turtle fur scarf from around my neck.  I shake some of the water from it and tie it around my head like a babushka, securing the Velcro under my chin.  I pull my gloves from my bulging pocket and put them back on.  I use them as occasional windshield wipers for my eyes, lashes, and brows as the sleet thickens slightly into heavy, fat snowflakes.  I briefly consider turning back, but decide to continue.  I’m already wet.  I should finish.  The sleet stings my cheeks, the snow sticks to my face and tights, building up a layer of wet that flings off in little chunks with every stride.

I haven’t noticed anyone driving and talking on the phone this morning.  I did notice, though, that most of the drivers challenge my place on the road.  I wonder if I had a baby stroller, or a toddler in hand, would they move over ever so slightly?  Would they steer around me just a little if I were on my bicycle?  On the return route, an eighteen-wheeler does move over, and I am grateful for the extra space on the road.  I have been running on the thin white line painted along the edge, careful of the slush and little icy spots dotting the side of the road.  There’s not much space on the side, but I figure hugging it and watching for what is coming along is my safest bet.  I breath a loud whoosh of relief when I cross the street at a crosswalk and turn onto a side street.  I run in the middle of the road for a minute, collecting myself, then move over to the side.  Here, on this tiny road, I can hear cars approach from behind.  The street is well sanded, and even though I am wearing headphones, the sounds around me penetrate through and I speed up, hearing my sneakers grind the grit and my breath come in faster, deeper pulls.  I sprint home, finally letting myself feel that feeling I love when I run, not counting the miles or the minutes, not thinking, just being there in the moment.

I don’t want to worry when I run.  I don’t want to think about the choices I am making to enjoy being fit, to weigh the pros and cons of running on the road vs. running on a treadmill in a gym.  I love to be outside, to smell the sea air, to hear the birds chattering, to feel the wind, and even the sleet and snow on my cheeks.    I want the freedom I think I deserve— the freedom to share the road with others— with runners, dog walkers, cyclists, and drivers.  I want everyone to pay attention.

A long time ago, if my phone rang and I wasn’t home, whoever it was could call me back later.  Or leave a message at the beep.  Can’t that still be true?  I want drivers to drive, not talk or text.  So I can run and feel safe.  And I’ll bet I’m not alone here.  I’ll just run.  I’ll stay on the side of the road if the sidewalks are blocked.  You just drive.  If your cell phone rings, please let the machine pick up.

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One Comment on “On the Road, Out of the Zone”

  1. Pat Says:

    Amen to that !~!! It IS scary running or wakling on the road but in some instances it’s just plain scaery to be DRIVING on the road…I am always temped to
    shout at those phoners and texters “what the hell is so important ? You don’t look like Obama on the red phone to me”


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