Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The plow

The ice of Monday evening gave away to warmer rains yesterday morning, which turned to ice again as they day progressed and temperatures dropped. I can run on ice (actually, it is easier to run than walk on ice) but if the world is one giant skating rink, it is not the best idea to go for a run. I would rather miss one day of running than six weeks due to a broken leg!

When I stepped outside on my way home from work and saw the inch of fresh snow on the ground, I knew I had to run when I got home.

Black Under Armor winter running tights. Sports bra. Gray Nike sweat-wicking longsleeve shirt. Gray generic t-shirt. “Philadelphia Eagles”-green New Balance faux fleece 1/3-zip shirt. Dirty white New Balance 826’s. White Under Armor winter running hat. Black reflective Nike running gloves. My old sports watch (so amazed the cheap thing is still working!). My key ring.

My hearing aid screeches feedback into my ear as I pull my hat over my head. I press a finger against it, adjusting it through my hat.

I wear the largest key ring over my right middle finger, all 1,007 keys loosely held in my palm. I have been running like this for as long as I can remember. On the very rare occasion that I don’t need my keys, I feel naked. My right hand feels too light. When I still lived in Chicago, they offered a measure of comfort. I knew that if I couldn’t outrun an attacker, I could drive the keys into his eyes as hard as I could.

I decide to run around the apartment complex. It is exactly one half of a mile around so it is a brainless way to know how far you are going. It is incredibly boring but on a dark, lousy night like this I have no choice.

(I terribly miss running in the city. In the city, there are a million different routes to take, each one well to decently-lit by streetlights. Out in the suburbs, I have taken some after-dark runs blind, counting on the sensation of the sidewalk beneath my feet to tell me that I am going the right way. The only route guaranteed to be well-lit is around my apartment complex. Boring!)

The wind is driving the snow sideways. Cold needles on my face. Millions of driving white flakes of snow reflect in the beams of soft yellow light radiating from the parking lot lights. I notice the semi-fresh plow marks in the parking lot. I look for the snow plow and see it on the other side of a row of parked cars. It is a red Dodge Ram with a red plow. No yellow strobe light. In contrast to the slow, awkward cars sliding into the parking lot from Warrenville Road, the plow moves quickly and neatly as it pushes the snow before it.

I start my run away from the wind. On the first lap, wary of ice beneath the snow, I am cautious of where I place my feet. When I run into the wind, the stinging snow goes into my eyes and I pull my Under Armor hat down tight and lower my eyes. One lap passes and I check my watch. 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Not bad. Before winter began, I was working on steady 8-minute miles. I know from experience that I will emerge from the winter faster and stronger than ever. Nothing conditions you like months of running on snow and ice!

I notice the plow is gone. Since I can't hear it until it is right on top of me, I watch for the subtlest change in light and shadow before me, signs of headlights far behind. My senses are heightened. The slightest change in any type of light, the smallest scent of automotive exhaust or smoke alerts me to a car. Or the plow.

I am on lap two, following my footsteps from lap one, and I see the plow before me. It is perpendicular to me, pushing snow towards the corner I am headed for. It is tireless and graceful and almost beautiful in the falling snow. A workhorse. I cannot see the driver in the shadows of the cab. The plow is a being unto itself.

It quickly turns and moves along the next row of parked cars.

4 minutes, 40 seconds again.

Then 4 minutes, 20 seconds.

By my fourth lap, the driving snow is a comfort to my hot skin. I have not seen the plow for a while. I follow my footsteps of laps one, two and three. Strangely, they are all right next to each other. It looks like a long-strided, six-legged beast of a human passed through.

Light plays on the snow. I slow down. The plow is waiting for me to pass. I stop and wave it on. We acknowledge each other—the plow and the runner, sharing the same parking lot. We are out in the thick of it as other apartment dwellers hurry inside, clutching bags to bodies and hoods tight to faces.

4 minutes, 20 seconds. I stop and walk, cooling off. A part of me wants to run on. The run was short but so sweet. I leave the plow behind and go inside, dusting snow off my clothes and hat.

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