By Joanna Murphy, as it originally appeared in the August edition of The Wingfoot Express.
I had planned on getting a ‘rust buster’ steeple in at the Brown meet, but the text message that woke me up from my coach, Dan, indicated otherwise. “You’re the only one registered for the Steeple, probably not worth the drive. Call me when you get this” it read. My phone call with Dan resulted in a last minute decision to do a tempo workout instead. “Pickles* is running the workout this morning. Call her and find out when…I think she’s heading out soon.” He instructed. Upon calling Pickles, I learned that she was planning to do the workout at the BC reservoir, and she was leaving in 5 minutes. She agreed to hold off for 15 more minutes, so I quickly changed, grabbed a banana and shoved a peanut butter cup in my mouth as I chugged some Gatorade on my way out the door. This morning was off to a great start.
Just for the record: I hate mornings. The fogginess in my head and the achiness in my muscles that occurs before 10am is akin to a hangover…except I don’t get the benefit of the booze (I swear there’s a benefit). I generally don’t feel normal until I’ve had at least 2 cups of coffee and a proper breakfast (2 eggs, bowl of fruit and ideally a potato). Plus, I hate being hungry. So should you encounter me first thing in the morning before proper caffeination and calorication (yes, I made that word up… possibly both of them), you should avoid me like the plague. But at 8:15am on this Saturday morning I was already out of bed, and Pickles is an awesome workout partner, so I sucked it up and hurried to get to the BC res by 8:30 for her. And random sidenote: where I come from ‘res’ means (Indian) reservation. It is a place you go to purchase fireworks and gamble (yes, I know this is politically incorrect). How do people get away with calling a reservoir “the res”around here? Seriously, Boston, straighten out your stereotypes.
It was a beautiful morning out, which helped bolster my energy a bit. Pickles was waiting for me at the top of the stairs as I took the steps two at a time. “I’ve got to get this done quick – I have to be back by 9:15 to get ready to get to the school,” she explained as I got there. Pickles is a coach at a local high school and had a track meet later that day. I could tell she was a little stressed and ready to get this workout out of the way, so we warmed up quickly and got started. Luckily, it was tempo intervals, so I didn’t need as much time to warm up.
We had 3miles at tempo pace (~6:05 pace), 2 miles at 5:55ish pace and 1 mile at 5:50 pace all with 3 minutes in between. One lap around the reservoir is exactly ½ of a 5K, or so I’ve been told, so my quick upstairs tally noted 2 laps for the first interval. I pretty much refused to math after that point.
The clock on the first interval showed we were a little slow, so we began picking it up as we started on the 2 mile interval. We had developed a good rhythm by about 300m in. The sun was brighter than I was used to and I kept my head down as we headed into its glare. After a few minutes I looked up to see three large dogs bounding happily towards us, their owner jogging off to our left a bit in front of them. The owner appeared not to notice the fact that his dogs were taking up the entire path in an on-leash-only area. The dogs were coming for us rather quickly, weaving back and forth in the path. I saw this as redemption for the missed steeplechase and decided to hurdle each dog. The first one approached and I got my steps right, sailing over easily. A few stutter steps made a not so graceful hurdle on the second dog, but still a good steeple. I’m joking. That never happened. I chose the far right edge and took a quick hop off the path to skirt the entire pack.
Pickles, however, was not so lucky, being in the middle of the path. “Oh god, oh god..shit…shit!” she began cursing as she bounded to the left, only to be mimicked by the big Golden Retriever who was convinced Pickles had a secret stash of treats located in her left hand. The other two dogs followed suit. Pickles tried to dodge again, this time to the right, but again the dogs, now finding this game extremely fun ran into her, causing Pickles to have to screech to a halt. She quickly cut to the side, scrambled a bit to get back on pace, and continued on. The owner was completely oblivious that his dogs thought of themselves as canine cannon balls leaving a long trail of destruction in their wake.
Upon hearing Pickles’s cursing he turns slightly, but simply whistles casually for the dogs to come up with him. Pickles, now seething, turns around mid-run and yells, “Put your goddamn dogs on a fucking leash!” This comment apparently strikes a nerve and the owner stops jogging, turns around and yells back, “Why don’t you mind your own goddamn business, you bitch!” Pickles, still mid tempo, retorts, “On leash area – read the sign,” and we continue on out of earshot. She is clearly irritated and increases her cadence angrily. The pace drops. I find it highly amusing that a 40 year old man who is clearly in the wrong (we weren’t the only runners his dogs were taking out) gets all bent out of shape at a couple girls who’d probably still not weight more than him if you put both of us together. We went through the mile about 15-20 seconds fast – big surprise.
The second interval starts to get hard about a half mile out and at this point I’m really feeling that fast first mile. My breathing is starting to get a bit labored right about the time we pass the owner of the dogs. This time his dogs are on a leash. As he jogs by he sneers, “Dogs are on their leash – you fucking happy now?” Pickles looks up, a little winded, nods, and says “Thank you”. The owner pulls over to our side of the path, and leans in towards us a bit. “Happy now?” He sneers, his nose all puckered up as he seethes through his clenched teeth. “Mind your own damn business next time,” he says condescendingly as he passes, and continues mumbling indiscernible phrases out of earshot (I can only assume they were compliments). I can’t help finding this hilarious and begin laughing hysterically while trying to run 5:55 pace. This results in extreme side cramps (most likely karma), which then turn to wheezing. I want to call it quits when we finish the lap at 1.5 miles, but Pickles makes me feel like the worst workout partner known to man for considering this, so I suck it up and finish the 2 miles.
Call me judgmental, but if the man would actually be able to keep up with Pickles and I during that workout I may be more inclined not to think so lowly of him. He was most likely an ex-football player, liked to focus on his biceps and chest with the weights, and probably jogged on the weekends so he could go drink beer with his buddies while he watched the Red Sox game. He obviously had never surrounded himself with any amount of female intelligence for too long or his ego would’ve been able to handle two little distance runner girls calling him out mid workout. I don’t say this because Pickles and I are were calling him out. I say this because he’s clearly a dumbass.
The 3 minute rest was a nice relief and the cramp settled down a bit. About 45 seconds to the start of our last interval the dog owner passes us yet again, this time without dogs. He slows down as he jogs by, “all you gotta do is get out of the way….not a big deal, just move out of the way next time,” He explains condescendingly, over-annunciating each syllable as if we had never heard of this magical language known as English. The fact that we were practically lateral bounding at 6 minute/mile pace to get out of his dogs’ way obviously never occurred to him. “It’s an on-leash park,” Pickles retorts. “That means your dogs have to be on a leash.” She’s great at getting that “teacher-authority” tone. This sets him off again. He turns around and yells, “All you have to do is get out of the fucking way next time.” He’s jogging backwards while waving his arms gesturing in the middle of the path.
It’s very clear that he is not defensive at all. I start laughing again, hoping the side cramp doesn’t come back. “We did get out of the way,” Pickles shrugs, turns her back to him and starts skipping. “Why are you still talking to us?” I ask, mostly to myself, but the dumbfounded look is still on my face, evidencing my confusion that this man actually cares that we think he’s a dumbass. He ‘sprints’ off (I’ll call it sprinting for effort sake, but it was about 7 min mile pace) and continues grumbling about the fact that we didn’t move out of the way of his (clearly exceptionally aware) dogs.
I roll my eyes. “Why is he still talking to us?” I ask Pickles. “I can’t believe his ego is that fragile. It’s frightening.”
We start the last interval: One mile at 5:50 pace. I hate the fact that this feels hard. “God, I hope we don’t catch him,” Pickles says in the first 400m. I look up and see him about 600m in front of us. We would definitely catch him before the mile mark at this pace. Thankfully, he cuts off the path, taking the stairs down to the parking lot. We both exhale a sigh of relief and pick up the pace slightly. Pickles pulls away from me with a half mile to go. I have a nasty habit of letting people slip away halfway through intervals. My coach thinks it’s because I’m not aggressive enough, but I blame it on my difficulty with depth perception…I can’t help it if I have bad vision. With 400m-ish to go I close the gap and push the pace for the last minute.
“I knew you’d have the last minute,” Pickles says out of breath. “That’s why I pushed a bit halfway through.”
“Yeah, I know…I hate it when you do that.” I replied, knowing she was right. Like a great workout partner, she’s good at pushing the pace precisely when I don’t want to.
On the drive home I passed a happy duo out for a run along the river. The woman was clearly enjoying the sunny morning with her partner, a golden retriever, happily trotting along next to her on his leash. It was a beautiful scene. My college coach often quoted the saying, “Good neighbors are fenced neighbors”. I’m beginning to think dogs are a lot like neighbors.
*Note: Pickles wasn’t the woman’s real name. It was changed to protect her identity. The reason I chose Pickles? You had to be there (and even then you’d probably be shaking your head).