Politics & Policy

Runner’S Roulette

The few, the frozen, the addicted are out there; please get out of our way.

–It’s been eight days now since Mother Nature dumped on Richmond, leaving five inches of snow and ice and creating a wintry tableau that would be pretty, if it didn’t look so much like an ER visit waiting to happen.

It’s been cloudy and cold since then, so nothing much has melted, and a walk to the mailbox remains a risky proposition without snow chains on one’s slippers. The 15 miles of bike paths that snake around my community are worse. The shade that is so welcome during the summer now conspires against pedestrians, and instead of improving, conditions are getting worse. The slush has melted and refrozen enough times to qualify for a second-grade science-fair project. It’s the same at the track down at the neighborhood middle school: frozen tundra all around.

So what’s a runner to do?

More precisely, what’s a runner without a membership to a health club with a quarter-mile track to do?

Some might say, don’t run. Take a break. Kick back. Embrace the sloth.

Those people don’t live in my house. The people who live in my house know that my daily three-miler keeps the beast at bay, and my cheerfulness, industry, and willingness to pick up dirty socks off the floor is in direct proportion to the number of miles run that week. So as soon as the precipitating stops, they’re pushing me out the door.

Problem is, there’s nowhere to run but the road.

And so begins the winter ritual of Runner’s Roulette, in which exercise addicts like myself face down three-ton Range Rovers on slick surfaces. Why Fox hasn’t picked this up yet is a mystery to me.

I begin cautiously, trotting down the road as close to the icy edge as I dare. Every time a minivan emerges on the horizon, I hop over onto the ice and wait, meekly offering the right-of-way as if the passing cars were steel-and-fiberglass gods due homage. I do this for a half-mile or so, but then, empowered by the cold, I get cocky.

I remember the February issue of Runner’s World and its Tips for Cold-Weather Running: “Make running dates with your buds! This force feeds you out into the cold, where the weather-cursing and collective ‘Yeah, we BAAAAAD!’ boasting will take your mind off the temps.”

I have no running buds, but the attitude, I happily adopt. “Yeah, I BAAAAD!” I chant, throwing my shoulders back and taking up a bit more of the road.

The next time a gray Taurus heads toward me, I look defiantly at the driver and don’t budge an inch off the pavement.

Inside the warm car, the driver puffs a cigarette and looks contemptuously at me. I know what he’s thinking: “Yeah, you IDIOTTTT!”

I am undeterred. I have the moral high ground, if not the right-of-way. I am, after all, exercising, and it’s 14 stinkin’ degrees outside. Heck, anybody can get in a car and go to work.. I am Rocky Balboa–III or IV?–in Russia, training his tough self in the snow.

Eventually, I brazenly run in the center of the lane, trusting my senses to alert me to all coming interlopers. I duck to the side only on the rare occasion when there’s a car in each lane, and I can’t take the chance of those sedentary morons, distracted by my machismo, plowing into each other. Mentally, however, I start taking inventory.

Green Jeep, luggage rack on top, I think, as an SUV heads toward me. White Mercedes, early ’80s coupe, OBX sticker on back.

I want to be able to identify the person who hit me when they load me onto the stretcher.

I doubt it will be an accident. I smell animosity in the chill air, but I’m unable to quell it. The endorphins, they’ve taken over.

Twenty minutes later, having turned around and safely heading for home, I finally encounter another runner. It’s a woman, about my age, though barely identifiable under multiple layers of Gore-Tex. She, too, is running on the road, and in the universal greeting of runners, we nod at each other, without breaking a stride.

Our shared noble effort, however, seems to call for more.

“It’s not so bad up out there,” I say bravely, even as a school bus bears down upon us. She says something, but I don’t hear; the words are lost under her scarf.

I think she said we’re baaadddd. Who needs a bike path, anyway?

Jennifer Nicholson Graham is a freelance journalist who lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Jennifer GrahamJennifer Graham writes for the Boston Globe and Equus, and is the author of Honey Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner.

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