As the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon approaches ever nearer both training groups in Savannah are feeling the need to run further, faster, stronger, longer to prepare for the half and full marathon.
Even the walk runners pray that they will not come in dead last in their age group or the race in general.
For some the goal is to run the whole way without walking. Others expect a personal best, having trained on home turf so long and so hard.
To many, just getting to the finish or for that much the race itself with no injured parts would suffice, but everyone is upping their game at this point and early morning runs in the dark are par for the course.
To that effect the Savannah Striders have bumped up their Saturday morning run time from 6:30 AM to 5:45.
This Saturday, close to 40 runners gather to receive instructions from Tharon Lambert on which route to take to get their miles in. The group sets out in a loosely held bundle of running shoes, sweat wicking apparel, reflective tank tops, multi-water bottle belts, sports gel packs and enough high tech equipment to make Inspector Gadget envious.
Having just spent three days almost exclusively around herd animals, I could not help but notice the similarities.
Here we were running in a pack, in the dark. The moon was barely a sideways smile thirty degrees above the horizon and hanging on the opposite side as it was when full a few weeks earlier, so very little light.
The cars, like threatening predators zipped by as if to mow down stragglers without mercy. One’s very safety depended on sticking close to someone with a flashlight, only this week it was every person for themselves, the pace was fast, fueled by fears of being literally left in the dark, and many of us struggled briefly successfully to maintain the pace.
Once out of street light range it was impossible to see the road. There were pot holes and uneven pavement that seemed to leap out of the dark ready to take out an ankle and send a runner tumbling into the abyss… yes, thank you Nathan Deal for nixing the two cent per gallon tax increase on gas to improve roads in Georgia. When we break our necks and our cars running off a broken road and clunking into a pot hole, we’ll be sure to send you the bill! You could have at least lowered it to a penny and paid someone to tar over the bad spots.
It is really dark.
We run on sidewalks and pavement, grass and gravel, picking our feet up higher and running like we are doing the tire obstacle course on a football practice challenge.
Apparently our brains instruct our feet to do this without our knowledge, a neat trick of evolutionary survival.
It turns out that running this way keeps your upper body centered rather than toppling forward and prevents you from becoming prey to face planting in the asphalt jungle.
As the front of the pack moves ever farther away, one runner jokes, “They sure don’t wait for you do they?”
He too feels like a weak link in the evolutionary pack, just waiting to be picked off by rabid hyenas.
When it comes to serious running, chivalry is not only dead, it’s had the coffin nailed shut on it. Fast runners do not turn back to pick up slow runners until after the run is over or a rest stop has been reached. Though in their favor if they do not see you after about a half hour, they do send out a scouting party to track you down.
There isn’t much to look at in the dark. You smell the houses where smokers live. You smell suntan lotion, which is odd since it is dark and there is no sun yet, and hear the passing bands of hurricane Irene pulse through the saw grass. It is easy to get lost in your own thoughts.
“Ther-ump…” goes the foot as it reaches for pavement along Bluff Drive and the brain discovers that those big white set apart lines indicate a coming hill, followed immediately by a downward dip. You would think one would have noticed that the first five trips in this direction, but since the eyes could see, they just integrated the info into automation with no need to process the logic behind the lines.
One large sailboat is lighted on the water. It is big enough to live in and we wonder if someone actually does live on board. We bet they are glad the hurricane passed to our east. It’s hard to out run a hurricane that covers the whole east coast from Florida to Maine.
In moments, the whole herd reunites at the watering hole at the Isle of Hope Marina, but soon the herd gets restless. They have remained too long. It is time to move on.
For a moment we all move together as one body with many parts. It is like magic, feet falling in rhythm as one. There is power in the pack that you do not have when you run on your own, but the lungs can only take so much togetherness and soon the pack splits in two and the stragglers once again are left to fend for themselves.
Another group comes up behind us. The will to run faster increases, but the lungs are not into the effort this day.
Running is more than just moving your feet forward unstoppingly, but today the desire to stop is strong. Only the desire to stay one with the pack encourages the feet to keep trekking toward their destination.
On the way past the shopping strip at Sandfly, the BBQ place is already fired up. Normally the smell of greasy sausage wafts from the filling station next to Piggly Wiggly, but this morning, the smell of grilled pork infiltrates from the opposite direction. Even to a vegetarian, it smells good. Some of us wish we would have taken time to eat breakfast. Maybe we would have more energy then, or maybe we would just have to squat in the bushes in the dark and hope no kind soul circled back to pick us up or no car lights captured us unaware.
On the narrow strip of road past the packaging shop and the few remaining homes on that section of Skidaway Road, a huge CAT bus passes to our right, moving over to give us space on the nonexistent roadside, like wild dogs and lions respecting each others space, neither willing to pick a fight with the other when there is no benefit to it.
It is just starting to turn light. It seems the days are growing shorter, or rather the light that accompanies them is no longer at maximum wattage. Fall is coming quickly and the herd senses the change. Soon it will be too cold to run in the dark. Soon it will be too dark to run at night, when traffic is worse than early morning and the hazards are greater.
Changes will have to be made, runners will have to adapt. Those of us who fall behind week after week will need to work harder, stay stronger to keep up with the group.
As we reach the lake, CREW is running timed laps around the track; a cheaper alternative to GPS.
It’s tempting to join them. They appear to be laughing and having fun. We appear too serious. We need more fun in our lives and this ain’t doin’ it.
Today was not the best day for one Savannah Strider, but it wasn’t the worst. Not all moments outdoors can be magical, otherwise the spectacular would become mundane and lose its allure.
You have your good days and your bad days when you run and sometimes you just have a day, a push on through and do it day. It’s hard when you see others pass you by and leave you behind when you know you have the ability to stay with them, but you just can’t pull that inner power out of your magic hat and so you dream of one day running with the front runners and sprinting across the finish line with barely a grimace, instead of struggling red faced and drenched in sweat, gasping for air and feeling like you are racing in swim fins rather than running shoes.
Ah well, there is always the next day and the next run and the next great adventure that makes you feel as if NOT running is just not an option.
When we get back to the lake there are many frowning faces, apparently the mood felt by one is the mood felt by many, but there will be better days.
There is always the bridge run tomorrow… it’s only a day away…