My many outdoor pursuits include running. Actually, I have had a love-hate relationship with running over the years and right now the affair is hot and heavy. To some degree it is a necessity. You see, I have the metabolism of my Mother’s family. She fought with weight her whole life. She was never “fat” per se but she made a steady diet of sawdust and water to battle fat, high cholesterol, and all the fun and joy that goes with it. For me, if I eat fatty food and don’t exercise, the pounds stack on quickly. But running is more then fitness and exercise. It is an escape from the daily grind and the pressures of life. It also allows me to stay in good enough shape to do all the other things in life I enjoy. I have also learned there is a wonderful, world-wide community of runners out there who “get it”.
Another great thing about running is that it is easily combined with other interests. My wife and I have a little motorhome and camping is her passion and therapy. Happily, it is a simple business to go running while we are camping. In fact, it is fabulous because I can look forward to running in new places nearly every weekend. I get to discover new trails, new roads, and see new things all the while enjoying my run.
Obviously there aren’t campgrounds in big cities and if there were we wouldn’t go there. Our camping, and therefore my running is indeed quite rural. This works for me because I grew up as a backwoods boy and am still a backwoods boy at heart. Along with its beauty, rural running has its challenges though.
Not all with rural running is peaches and cream. There are definitely downsides. First and foremost is rural dogs. While many are well-behaved, most rural dogs on rural roads are free to roam their yard and property and seldom see runners. This always makes for an exciting wildcard. Usually, if I see a well-maintained house and yard and I am not too worried because the dog is usually well-maintained too. The excitement begins when you see the yard with foot long grass, the pickup with 6 coats of primer, and the couch and empty beer cans on the front porch. You KNOW not only do they have a dog but it is not a normal dog. It is some missing link between the modern canidae and some ancient, and especially vicious breed of wolf. This dog lies in wait under the trampoline with the torn cover for that one day a year when some foolish camper goes for a morning run and runs down “his” street. He kills the passing days by gnawing on the rubbery soles of the Aasics of the last hapless runner that went by (chewing the shoes because the bones have long since been devoured). Now, in most dog encounters you the runner hope the owner will be out and will intervene. But that will not be the case with White Fang. His owner put in a long night on the couch polishing off a case of bud light. He probably won’t see the light of day until right before the NASCAR race at 1:00pm. He probably forgot to feed the dog before he went to bed too.
On one run this year, I literally ran by a junkyard with “Beware of Dog” signs everywhere and a large and steaming pile of dog sign laying at the shoulder of the road! On another occasion I ran by a yard that had 3 rather decrepit trailers on the property. This place definitely looked like Cujo’s home. At first I was relieved because there was a sign for “Young Minds Daycare”. Whew! Daycare . . okay probably no biting dogs there. My mind was just wrapping itself around the idea that there probably are people that had to take their kids to an old trailer out in the woods for daycare when I saw the next sign in the same yard. Beware of Dog! Great. I went into running stealth mode and peeked into the backyard. There were two unrestrained Pit Bulls staring off into the woods behind the house. Good . . they are distracted. I’ll just run quietly by. I know right where this daycare/child kibble shop was because it was exactly 4 miles from where I started my run. I remember this because I have a running watch that loudly rings a bell every mile. As I “snuck” by and my 4 mile bell rang (aka the doggie dinner bell) my heart rate spiked and my pace quadrupled. A quarter mile down the road I looked back to see a hungry-looking Pit Bull standing in the street sniffing.
Not all dogs are perceived to be dangerous though. In fact the vast majority put on a good show but fail miserably in their attack tactics. Near my Dad’s house (also rural) a small pack of ankle biters comes running out at me barking and snarling every time I go by. The biggest dog is the size of a large rabbit. I wave my arms and and yell and they all head for cover under the owner’s automobile. Yesterday as I finished my run with amazingly few dog sightings, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a silently charging dog. Adrenaline pulsed in my veins, my heart leaped to my throat, and I turned to see . . . a Golden Retriever “charging”. Yeah . . right. I had a golden. The biggest threat there was getting long fur all over my black running shorts. Over my shoulder I pointed and yelled “HEY . . STAY”. He got a bewildered look on his face and stopped as if he ran into quick sand. He hesitantly backed up, “woofed” a couple of times then sheepishly turned and headed back to his house.
Other dog encounters are down-right fun. Usually when I’m running I don’t want to stop to talk or be greeted by a friendly dog. Sometimes you can’t resist. A few weeks ago I was running down a country road on a beautiful morning and was admiring the wonderful landscaping at one house. The owner was on the front deck looking out. He suddenly looked down and said “No! Spike! Get over here”! I thought “Oh no . . Spike? This can’t be good”. Well, Spike turned out to be an adorable Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix. He trotted into the road and looked up at me with that friendly dog “Hi” look on his face and I couldn’t resist stopping to greet him. I also didn’t want the little guy running out in the road. I had to chuckle at the name “Spike” as I jogged on my way.
Dogs aren’t the only challenge to rural running though. Just yesterday I had planned out my route on www.mapmyrun.com. Off I went with the first two roads and turns going as planned. Then I came to the third intersection. Remember this is the rural road on an even more rural township in an even more rural county. The road sign had been hit countless times and blown by the wind for years without maintenance. I stared at the sign and the roads feeling a bit like Wayne Knight (Denis Nedry) from Jurrasic Park. Spin the sign and take a guess which way is right. Happily, my runs aren’t that structured that I can’t improvise if I guess wrong.
But after a summer of running and camping I will take rural running anyday over running in the city, suburbs, or on the track. It is inspiring to run miles along a field full of cows, or to share the early morning road with a fox heading for bed who doesn’t think you see him as he hunkers in the roadside brush. I’ve seen amazing sunrises and sunsets, and watch hawks capture their morning dinner, all before most people are even out of bed.