Saturday 7 January 2012

My coach said "run outside tomorrow". No big deal, right?

I run by myself and I love it.  I love the flexibility of going out when I want and I love the solitude.  I never cycle alone, or swim in a lake alone, but running is different – a time to think.   I have been warned by my friends that it could be dangerous but I don’t go when it’s dark and I live in the suburbs so I’m safe…right? 

Hmmm, maybe not… A couple of months ago something happened that changed everything.  Except for a few out of town, outdoor runs, I have been treadmill-bound.

This is what happened. I have a wonderful 4km (out and back) trail that begins steps away from my front door. It is a stunning part of the neighbourhood, densely treed in some areas, and meandering gravel paths. It ends with a short, but challenging switchback hill. Normally it is full of people taking a stroll or walking their dogs. But on the day in question, it was cold and raining. 

I began my run around 2pm in the afternoon and for the first 15mins I did not see a soul. This bugged me a little, so I decided not to do a repeat, but to carry on into the subdivision when I got to the end of the trail. It had been a good run so far. I was running at a faster pace and felt very strong. I entered the forested part of the trail, which descends into a valley. I normally love this part of the run – it always takes my breath away – but today I felt very alone and aware of the isolation.


Down the hill I went, music playing, rain hitting my face. This would normally be a high point for me, but out of the corner of my left eye I saw something. 

“Oh f***, what was that?” 

I looked again, longer this time.  I was now on a wooden bridge and there it was…a man (late 20s) standing behind a tree just 30 meters away from me, on the floor of the valley.  He was wearing a hoodie and smoking a cigarette.  “This is not a good sign, this is not a good sign at all”, my brain kept yelling at me.  I looked again, still trying to process the situation.  Then I saw it! He had something in his hand and it was big and silver.  I knew immediately what it was. It was a gun!!!

“Now, what?”

My brain was still trying to process. What was he doing, what did he want?  He was staring at me. We looked at each other, eyes meeting. I figured I had a bad situation on my hands, but I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  If he ran and caught me, would I fight, or would I submit?  He had a gun… “submit you idiot, submit”.

Ok, I was resolved to submit if he caught me.  I was now at the end of the bridge and I took my last look over my shoulder. 

“What the hell…he hasn’t moved?  Why hasn’t he moved?  Why is he not chasing me?“

Then it hit me, if this guy was not a rapist, maybe he was a complete psycho, and he was going to use me for target practice. 

I was now at the base of the switchback hill, and I began the ascent. Panic like I have never felt before washed over me. 

“Any second now, am I going to feel a bullet in the back of my head? Why aren’t my legs moving?... Why can’t I feel my legs?” 

I knew I was moving but it felt like I was dragging a 100 pounds behind me.  It felt like the awful dream you have, when you want to run, but you move in slow motion.  I was now halfway up the hill where it turns back to the other direction.  My legs were burning, I couldn’t breath, and my heart rate was beyond anything I had ever felt. 

I was now headed in the same direction as the creep with the gun. If he ran up along side the forest he could cut me off at the top of the hill.  I was keenly aware that this might be his plan. Drag out the hunt, if you will. When I got to the top, nothing… no one. 

“Is that it? Am I safe?”

I didn’t stop.  Still running as fast as I could, I had another 350 meters or so before I was at my house.  I had nothing left…I couldn’t run any faster.  “Run, run, run”, that is all I kept telling myself.

I reached my front steps, opened my unlocked front door, and sprinted up the stairs to get my cell phone. Why didn’t I run with my phone? What was wrong with me? 

“911, what’s your emergency?” 

I couldn’t talk, nothing was coming out…not a sound.  Again I heard “911”. By now little squeaking sounds were coming out of my mouth, but nothing coherent.  “Calm down,” the 911 operator told me in a demanding tone. “CALM DOWN, CALM DOWN”, I wanted to scream at her.  “Do you have any idea what just happened?” 

I was still struggling to catch my breath, but I was only able to say “gun…he has a gun”. 

A few moments later I was able to give my address and describe in detail what had just happened, no more than 5 minutes before.  An impressive ten minutes later, there was a police officer standing on my porch with a shotgun.  Four cruisers had closed off my street and there were men with rifles everywhere. By now, my husband had returned home to witness the chaos. He begged me to change out of my clothes – I was soaking wet and shivering from the rain – but I wouldn’t leave the porch.  “I need to see him”, I said. I desperately needed to see him being dragged out of the forest in handcuffs.  I stood on my porch for over an hour, fixated on the path, and drinking hot tea Drew was now forcing on me. 

It took forever, but finally an officer came over to give me the news I dreaded the most.  They didn’t find him.  They told me that some of the neighbours had seen kids in the past playing with paintball guns in the forest, so maybe this was just one of those kids.  I really wanted to believe that (believe me), but I knew what a paint gun looked like and that wasn’t what I saw. 

Maybe this guy was only guilty of mischief, for being ignorant and scaring the crap out me. But he took something away from me that I want back. 

I am going to run outside in my neighbourhood tomorrow. I called my friends and they are happy to have me join their running group. Group running is better for training, so I am hoping this is the silver lining. Maybe solitude is over-rated.

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