Running in Virginia

Or, Jumanji at 6:30 a.m.

Some back story: In May I started running, mostly to get healthy, mostly to set an example for the little oyster and future kids, a little bit to give me something to do during the day, and a little bit to lose weight.

So, in order:

  • I have definitely gotten healthy–I run an average of 3 miles a day, 6 days a week; I have lost two pants sizes; my resting heart rate is down 30 bpm; I have muscles!; and last week I ran an 8:54 mile. Oh! And I can do my whole yoga DVD without stopping, which I couldn’t do when I started working out and which I do on the day when I don’t run. GO ME.
  • I’m sure I’m setting an example for my kid(s). I want her/them to grow up assuming running moms are the norm and, planning ahead here, I would lovelovelove to do fun runs with my small fry when she/they are big enough to participate, years down the road. Which means I need to keep this up because mama is not getting younger.
  • Truth bomb: I started exercising daily in May because our mornings dragged and hustling around the block with a stroller made me feel strong and gave us something to do. But then a funny thing happened–as I got stronger and started to see results, I got bored pushing a stroller for a 40 minute speed walk and started getting up earlier to run alone before the husband left for work. So what started out as exercise to kill time has become a crucial part of my day, my well-being, and our family’s happiness because, believe it, those endorphin things are for. real.
  • And finally, yes, I wanted to be a certain weight before we went for another baby and knowing that I had at least six months of waiting on hormone levels before trying again, I figured I could lose the weight. Turns out no, and here’s how I know: 20 miles a week for three months, smaller meal portions, less sugar, and way more veggies and I’ve lost all of 6 lbs. Yep, six. And I haven’t lost–or gained!–an ounce since June. So I like to think that after that initial layer of 6 lbs. peeled itself off, my bod got serious about building muscle and toning up what’s left. And I like what’s left. The real goal was to be healthy and I mistakenly equated that with weight. But I’m a great size and a great weight and anyway, it all comes back to setting an example for my progeny; obsessing about a few pounds at the cost of maintaining a good, healthy lifestyle does no one any good.

Again, that’s all just back story. Where does Jumanji come in, you ask?

It comes in every morning at 6:30 a.m. in my quaint little northern Virginia neighborhood where I sometimes feel like I am running for my ever-loving life. I can never look behind me on a run because that’s when you run into a raptor or a tiger and get eaten alive in the movie version so no way, man. You have to understand that the wildlife I encounter–or do my best NOT to encounter–is solely responsible for all of my negative splits, and sometimes we’re talking the difference of a solid minute or more.

Last week I saw the glint of a spider web in an early commuter’s headlights. But as I got closer by the second, I also saw the spider that had made the web and to be able to spot a spider in a web in the wild from 15 feet away ten minutes before the sun comes up really says more about the size of the spider than the strength of one’s eyesight. I was slowing down and giving a wide berth until I saw that the web was spun between a large tree branch and the ground, MAKING IT TALLER THAN I AM. Also, the web was like forty-ply, a thick, plush masterpiece of arachnidal workmanship. Suddenly slowing down seemed like a fool’s errand. On my way home, I ran on the other side of the street.

Little snakes with stripes, bigger snakes without stripes, a darling little blue salamander or two (holy cow, do those things bite? must Google…), all of these creatures appear–always suddenly–on my runs. Someone even lost a white parrot in the neighborhood so in between songs I listen for the exotic cry of a wandering bird but an ornithologist I am not so I don’t think I’d know it if I heard it. I actually stopped and looked up into a tree a few weeks ago thinking “Oh, that sounds like a parrot, at least to me, in my head,” but what flew out of the tree was remarkably brown and small and not a parrot.

And while we’re talking about trees, lets talk about those mangy denizens of the wood, squirrels. They are e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. and many of them are too bold for their own good. Or at least too bold for my comfort. But while I used to run away from squirrels now I go full beast mode and charge at them if they are in my path, clapping if needed. I feel that this also deters potential human attackers.

The crickets in Virginia are so big my Rottweiler backs away from them. I think one hissed at me once. What I hate about encountering these “crickets” is that they are all antennaed and pointy in every direction so it’s impossible to tell which way they are facing and therefore which way they are going to jump. Although now that I think about it, I wonder if their size means they’d be amenable to the Milkbone peace offerings I sometimes carry.

Sometimes the number of creatures dangling, darting, slithering, jumping, leering, swooping, or dashing means that my morning run may be less of a run and more of an avoidance obstacle course. To which I say, who needs calisthenics and interval training? I just run in semi-darkness in a place where Jurassic Park looks like a kiddie ride.

And I’ve got the stems to prove it.