The Running Tide


The Running Tide

by Patrick Reed

“…every day of the running streak is akin to an ultra: replete with the concerns of total failure, the joys of finishing another mile of the ultimate goal, and a constant working with the big picture in mind…”

Running at night. The first footfalls are a slow awakening to the humid truth of a Carolina summer: it is a hot and heavy atmosphere not made for the distance runner. Nevertheless, the muscles’ cobwebs dissipate slowly, the breaths labor at first and then find their rhythm, and yesterday’s limps and lurchings subside. Late afternoon revelers, with their anxious or bloated fill enter the distance race for a moment, crossing my path to reach their cars. Or beach houses. And the headlights wander forward and behind in the linear distance. Given that I haven’t had a haircut in nearly 9 months, the inky challenge of watching the bob of headlights and listening behind for their revving is complicated with a constant flinging back of the head and the unnervous tic of pushing the hair out. of. my. eyes.

By the time I have met two sets of heavy, beach-combed challengers on the warm tar-streets, my pores have opened up and a rain of perspiration has my dark strands painted to my face – a frame of sorts to encourage those same hopeless challengers to flee.

Now I am at the Surf City Pier – long ago our 1 mile marker, but now with GPS wisdom, barely the beacon of 8/10’s of a mile completed. (It’ll take 4 times that effort to get to my 5k for the day…:) As it is Saturday night, my task now is to get through this downtown stretch of road without humiliation or anger welling up. After all, just the other day, a heckler huffed audibly at me as I cruised by barely breathing and cruising 7 minute miles. He had his Carolina flower at his side, so he must have felt the need to puff himself up at my expense. She smiled and looked away. My response was to glare at the rooster, looking back with my best ‘fierce face’ and meeting his young eye for but a glance.

I thought moments later that I should have retorted to his grunts: “Let’s race!”

But on last night’s run, I had no encounters. I only watched as shirtless fishermen crossed the street towards our pier and silhouetted surfers, retired for the night, stared into the black liquid waves – imagining tomorrow… And above them all, a grand copy of the stars and bars was gracefully flapping about the crowd- a reminder of this freedom.

The remainder of the “out” on this out and back course of mine is a well-worn path. For my brothers and I have run it innumerable times in the previous 3 decades. I headed to the turn-around at the ‘surf condos’. How  many times had we raced to this self-same spot?! Usually after dinner, our bellies well full. Though one had triumphed to reach this point first, the true race was just beginning: getting home.

The same was true this night. I reached a row of plastic trashcans marking the turn, the like you see all over the modern world. Color-coded – blue and green; wheeled receptacles standing at attention. The salute complete, I was heralded by this quiet ovation to get on home. These hardened sentries were like coaches, in their own silent way, barely looking up from the stopwatch to assent to the pace.

The night before and this one, too, the turn-around also meant time to hit the sand. The tide was low enough these evenings, though still reclining from its height 2 hours before, to allow for fair footing, and I – ever a sucker for the natural – was pulled to that sandy track aside the waves. Two nights ago, I had run there, gently finding my footing in this dark, every once in a while igniting my iPhone with a click on the top button. I figured in this way I could be seen, if I needed to be seen.

Those final kilometers had ended well that night. I just barely made out the shape of our beach house as I kneaded the sand some mile back towards home from the pier. Our rasping flag was my real assurance. It’s tatters betrayed the hours it had stood at attention, rarely retired from its job for even a night’s rest.

But on this night, I was reminded in a moment of the lasting allure of the running streak. I remembered all too quickly the stuff of the daily challenge: for every day of the running streak is truly akin to an ultra: replete with the concerns of total failure, the joys of finishing yet another mile of the ultimate goal, and the constant working with the big picture in mind. All of the sudden, I felt a knot in my left calf – one of those seizing-up sensations where a pull is imminent.

But I had one kilometer to go. So, I did as I do well – I locked my left ankle, slightly altered my gait to a flat landing on my left foot, and weathered this unwelcome reminder of the fragile nature of the distance ruuner. I knew I must stop, so I pulled up and quickly massaged a sandy grit into my calf – working up and down with both hands cupped around my lower leg. I realized I needed to get to pavement, and so I looked – almost in vain with the narrow light of my iPhone – for a public crossover on the dunes. As luck would have it, a crossing was not 50 meters from me, so I ran-limped over and got to the road. A little more massaging and I made it running home.

Now, I await tonight’s humid run – letting as much sand slip through time’s hourglass until I lace up the shoes again to see if the streak can and will continue for another day.

Keep keeping on!

~Coach Patrick

Coaches note: consider avoiding workouts on slipping sand:)

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