I woke up early this morning, and I couldn't go back to sleep. Looking at the clock, it was about four thirty in the morning. So, I decided that rather than toss and turn in bed, I'd do something productive. So I did some stretches, put on my running shoes and shorts, then went out for a short jog.
As soon as I opened the door, the chilly air nipped at my face. It was still dark, and I didn't see any cars on the roads. Just silence and a few working street lights. But there was fog, patches of it near where I lived. And the farther I ran, the more fog I encountered. While the ground may have been hazy, the heavens were free and unclouded as far as the eye could see. The sky was clear, the moon and two planets shone usually bright near each other. The chilly air that made me shiver at the beginning of the jog now felt good on my skin, but it still stung my nose as I breathed it in.
The thing about the chilly air is that it somehow energizes me, making feel like I could go farther, longer, faster. So when I got to the turn around point to make it a short jog, I just kept going forward instead. The route I was taking was a long shaped S. I thought, well, I'll just do a middle distance jog and on the way back, take the short cut. Twice, on the quiet run, I saw cyclists in groups riding along the streets. We greeted each other as we went our own way. Other than that, it was mostly a silent run.
When I got to the next turn around point, the fog had thicken considerably. And when I turned around, I was surprised to see another jogger on the far, opposite side of the street. He was on the left side of the road, an old man who was jogging some short distance ahead of me, going the same way I was. I didn't see him before, but now, I could clearly hear the tap tap sound of his shoes hitting the sidewalk as he ran. He was running about the same pace as I was, but I was still feeling high on energy, so I decided to pick up the pace. Though I was on the opposite side of the street, we were going the same direction, and I quickly passed him. Still, I could hear the tap tap sound of his shoes, though it was getting faint as I ran farther.
Then the fog started to get thicker, and the road started to curve left. I could hear the tap tap sound getting louder. The old man had picked up speed, and the road was curving in his favor. As I was on the far right side of the street, I had more distance to cover. So, once more, I picked up the pace. Now, part of me was motivated by a sense of competition. I was not going to let this old man beat me. I know, childish, right? But I would be lying if I didn't admit that a small part of my competitive nature was coming through, and I was not going to let up. So I started putting a little more distance between the old man and I, and the sound of his feet, tap tap, started fading away again til I couldn't hear it anymore. The fog was thinning as I kept on jogging.
I was nearing an intersection on my side of the street, and I saw a vehicle there. When I got close, I saw that it was hearse. How odd--and sad, I thought, to see a hearse this early in the morning. I had to wait for the light to change before I could safely cross the street and continue my jog. And soon, I heard the familiar sounds of tap tap, the old man was catching up again. As soon the light changed I crossed the street and tried to put distance between me and the old man. But the fog reappeared and the road was starting to curve left once more. Damn! I could hear the old man catching up!
I picked up the pace again. This time, I was starting to break out into a serious sweat, my breathing was starting to get labored, but I refused to slow down. Yet, the fog was thickening and the sound of the old man running was getting louder. Tap tap. He was getting closer, and I was really starting to feel the strain! I could see the shortcut coming up, and it was clear, free of fog and lit very well with street lights. But with the old man still within my hearing, I refused to take that shortcut! I was not going to let that old man pass me up!
The road was straight for a little while longer, but I knew that there was another major intersection up ahead. Tap tap, the old man was catching up! I picked up speed, the fog was thicker here. I could only see just a few yards ahead before the fog hid everything from sight. It was getting harder to breathe, I could feel the strain starting to take its toll on my body. What was supposed to be a fun, short jog was turning into quite the workout! And still, tap tap, the old man was getting closer. It felt as if I was being drawn back, falling behind no matter how hard I tried to run ahead. It was as if I were on a giant treadmill and no matter how fast I was running, I was getting no where at all!
The road was starting to curve left again, and I could see the intersection coming up. In the corner of my eye, I could make out the shape of the old man catching up to me. Damn it! The light at the intersection was red; it wasn't my turn to cross the street. But as I came upon the intersection, the roads were clear, and I just ran right through! I ran faster, trying to put more distance between me and the old man. I was almost sprinting. I was breathing hard, gasping for air, my body overheating from the exertion. Sweat was dripping freely from head, my body was soaking wet. I was picking up speed but I wasn't sure how long I was going to last.
I could see the road up ahead. Finally, it was starting to curve right, towards my advantage. The fog was starting to lift here, too. But the chill that had energized me was not enough to cool me down. My body was on fire. I thought to myself, I'm going to have a heart attack and die, but so long as I beat that old man, I'll be die a happy man! I could only hear the sounds of my heavy breathing as my lungs grasped desperately for air.
And then it suddenly occurred to me, that the only sound I could hear at this point was my labored breathing! I couldn't hear the tap tap sound of the old man's running shoes anymore. I turned my head back to look for the old man. I didn't see him on the far side of the street. But a movement on my side caught my eye. It was the old man! At some point, he must've crossed the street to my side of the road. And instead of running, he was walking away from me. He was going back the other way, disappearing into the fog that was rolling back with him.
Victory! I had outlasted the old man! I eased off the pace, falling back down to a nice, slow jog. I had to admit, it was a welcomed relief! The rest of the way home, the fog was gone, and a cool breeze had started to blow--wonderful, sweet breeze pushing me all the way home. When I finally reached home, I thought, man, that was a great workout. I'm going to be feeling some aches and soreness in the next few days. That cold shower I took felt good, and for the rest of the day, I had incredible energy.
After lunch, I was talking with some co-workers. Some of them wanted to know what drugs I was taking to remain energetic and alert. I told them I wasn't on anything. I just went for a jog this morning. One of the IT guys asked me what gym I used. I told him I didn't use any gyms. I just ran along certain streets. When I told him about the street I ran this morning, he said,
"Oh, yeah. That's one of my favorite routes to ride. It's clean and well lit; the bike paths are pretty good."
I said, "Yeah, I saw a couple of people riding bikes together this morning."
He said, "Oh, yeah, nobody rides alone on that road."
I replied, "I suppose it's safer to ride in groups. That way, cars can see you better."
He said, "Well, yeah, but that's not really why cyclists ride together on that road."
"Oh," I said, my curiosity rising, "Why do they ride together then?"
IT guy answered, "It's because they're afraid, " he paused and whispered, "that road is haunted."
"What?," I asked, "That's some bull crap! Haunted, my ass!"
But IT guy looked serious, "No, it really is. I've seen the ghost myself. I was riding that route last year, and he kept appearing in front of me on the side of the road, even though I passed him like three times! He only appears when you're alone. That's why I ride with a group. "
So I said, "Well, what's the ghost supposed to look like anyway? I've run that route a few times by myself, and I've never seen a ghost!"
IT guy replied, "Well, that's because the ghost of the old man running only appears with the fog, when it's darkest before the sun comes up."
Running in the dark
Mud and Puddles