Lobbing caution to the breeze

16.Sep.2010 by Ollie Burruss

One of the benefits of Pepa’s 4-week training blocks is that during that 4th week, when recovery is the focus, I can get out of Craftsbury for a few days.  Not to knock our adopted home, but sometimes a guy’s gotta roam.  So far this summer I’ve used my recovery weeks to spend a week on the northern coast of Maine and to head back to Massachusetts to see my family.  While Maine was definitely new and beautiful and generally spectacular, it was my trip back home that inspired this blog post.

Most Nordic enthusiasts, at least those on the East Coast, probably don’t come from communities where recreational jogging and running is a very big thing.  In all likelihood, there are more people “training” in any given East Coast Nordic hotbed than there are people “exercising,” at least when it comes to running.  However, eastern Massachusetts, where I grew up, has an comparably enormous population and lots of people concerned about their 17 minutes of cardio per week (Note: college campuses are somewhat exempt from my previous assumptions, since they are rife with elliptical machines and people inclined to use them).

What I’m getting at is this: when I go home and head out for a run (the best way to train in my particular town), it’s not rare for me to pass other runners.  It was pretty much par for the course in college to be out on a 3 hour run and get buzzed by some fresh-out-of-college corporate bro (he probably worked for a “boutique investment bank” in Boston’s bustling financial district) suffering through one of his weekly “interval training runs” that he read about in GQ or Men’s Health.  Eventually I got used to it.  In Sherborn, the smaller town that I call home, it’s more likely that I’ll be doing the buzzing, passing one of my friend’s moms out for her cardio (the level of suffering is about the same, but the pretension and smug attitude is lacking).  A polite “On your left,” followed by a greeting, a wave, and a smile, then I’m gone, back to cruising through the woods.  This particular trip, however, was different.

It all started the first day I got home – I headed out for a run to warm up before doing some strength.  It was mid-morning on a weekday, so I didn’t expect to see many people, so when I spotted a guy ahead of me on the trail, I was a bit taken aback.  Despite it being only a warm up, my competitive side awoke, albeit groggily, and I picked up the pace ever so slightly.  I couldn’t help it, it was just a primal instinct best summed up by Duran Duran.  I passed the dude on an uphill, doing the time-tested smile-wave-greeting.  A few seconds later, I hear some labored breathing behind me and realize the dude is still there.  I give a nonchalant glance over my shoulder, only to see the sweat-drenched hair of someone working hard and staring at the ground.  After a few minutes of running, I try saying something, probably along the lines of “Beautiful day, huh?”  Silence.  I look back again and spot the culprit: headphones attached to an iPod on his arm.  At this point, I realize this guy has no intention of speaking to me.  A few turns later, he’s gone and I’m back at my house, ready for strength.  The whole encounter was a bit weird, but I soon forgot about it … until a few days later.

That Sunday, the day I’m due back in Vermont, I went for a run in Gloucester, MA, at a park near my family’s beach house.  Halfway through my run I passed a girl on one of the carriage roads near the parking lot.  Not very surprising – it was a Sunday morning at a park close to the city.  Lots of people were out – Gloucester High School’s girls’ XC team (the Fisherwomen – worst team name ever) was doing intervals, people were running with dogs, families were out for hikes – it was a medley of casual aerobic activity.  The girl in question looked a lot like the girls I’d see in college on the elliptical.  High ponytail, iPod with pink earbuds, earrings, white beater with the pink sports bra showing prominently, black spandex shorts, and Nike Shox.  I remember being surprised she was running outside, let alone on a carriage road in the middle of nature.  When I passed her, she tucked right in behind me, just like the previous day.

Hardened from my previous experience, I knew better than to attempt conversation with this breed of runner.  Instead, I found myself getting somewhat indignant that she was insinuating herself into my workout.  So, I did what any self-respecting man would do when challenged by a woman – I simply went faster.  And then she did too (come to think of it, it was sort of a reverse Duran Duran thing going on).  I’d say I’d raised things from level one to level one point five, my skier hubris telling me this would be enough to shake a mere mortal.  But she was a tenacious one.  I decided to try a different tactic and turn onto some singletrack.  On Massachusetts’ north shore singletrack looks similar to your average trail, but with sharp granite strewn all about.  Something like this, but if the spikes were made of rock.  A mile later, she was still there.  There was a bit of yo-yoing going on, but she was dogged in her pursuit.

After the singletrack ploy didn’t work, all bets were off.  No holds were barred.  I was ready to lob caution to the breeze and crank this thing up to level two.  And still, she stuck around.  I started to get sorta impressed.  I knew she was working hard – I could hear her breathing and labored footfalls, but she didn’t give up.  I decided that if she was so dedicated to following me around in the woods without exchanging any words or even acknowledging that she was following me, I’d admit defeat.  She won.  She could creepily follow me for as long as she wanted.  Turns out “as long as she wanted” was the next fifteen minutes (bringing us up to a total of nearly thirty minutes of brazen stalking) and then she turned back towards the parking lot and was gone just as quickly as she had latched on.