Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Last Night in the Woods

So last night my (re-)scheduled long-steady-distance run was down to 10 miles, as a sort of recovery period. I had intended to go on Sunday night, as scheduled, but then did homework and stayed late at a party instead. Anyhow, I decided to run on the C & O Canal Trail. It's really beautiful, and also a very easy run on packed gravel at a very slight incline, laden with beautiful scenery. I aimed to get there about 7 p.m., and calculated that if I got running pretty quickly, I'd finish before the park closed at dark. Since the distance was shorter and the path easier, I decided to run it a little faster and budgeted 80 minutes for the run. I putzed around though, and got there a few minutes late. While I was stretching, a friend of mine walked up out of the blue (well, actually off of the Canal Trail) and so we had to catch up a bit. Long story short, it was almost 7:30 when I started my run. That meant it would be darker when I finished, and on top of that, since the park closes at dark, I would officially be an outlaw. It sounded enticing, so off I went, first running north 2.5 miles, then back to the start where I picked up a pack of calorie gel I had planted for myself, and then south 2.5 miles, and then back to the beginning again.

It tasted tolerable, and didn't seem to give me any stomach problems (my main concern), but at a mere 100 calories (about enough for 1 mile) I couldn't imagine how it could keep me from "hitting the wall." Maybe eating a pack every few miles on a longer run, but for just ten miles. Well, the experiment was to test the effects it would have on my stomach, acid reflux, cramping, etc. Happily it seems to have had none.

Now, running at night in a closed park was a new experience for me. The gravel path is white, which was literally the difference between running on the path and running off a cliff into the Potomac or into the Canal. For the first quarter of my run, it was dusk. The middle half, it was progressively more twighlight. During the darker part of this stage, as I moved into the second half of the run, I passed a utility road turnoff from the trail, at the end of which there was some vehicle with its lights on. The vehicle itself was too buried in the dark and woods to be visible, but the headlights were very clear. Seeing them through the trees as I ran by created the illusion that it was moving slowly, almost in circles. Then it occured to me, "Might I not be the only person in this park illegally?" The thought was, as you can imagine, a bit unnerving.

The last quarter, even though I was running northwest toward where the sun had been, at 8:30 p.m. in September, it was just plain dark. Signs standing on double posts looked like sturdy men at the path's side until I was very close. Dark spots in my field of vision looked like strangers in the shadows up ahead. A number of times I became suddenly unsure of my footing and slowed down to reorient myself. I took my headphones out of my ears so I could "run aware." The soothing sounds of folk music or my favorite quirky bands gave way to the rhythmic sounds of my feet scraping the gravel, and to the woodland noises I've grown up with, but that now sounded menacing and eerie for the first time since my childhood. Prayers for protection floated into my heart. Even the white gravel path melted into the river and the woods only four or five yards ahead of my feet. I found myself running faster and faster, developing self-defense plans. As I passed by the utility road again, I saw the headlights still down at the bottom of the hill, through the trees that were themselves now blotted out by night. "What are they DOING down there?" Faster and faster, until suddenly a new thought entered into my mind. "I went to confession yesterday. What am I worried about?"

Immediately, even unintentionally, my pace relaxed again. The earphones found their way back into my ears, and were singing one of my favorite songs. Within a few more minutes I came back to my starting point, ten miles done. I stretched for a few minutes and ate a bagel and drank the liter of water I'd left for myself in the car. A milkshake pit-stop at McDonald's kicked things up another notch on the pleasantness scale. After getting home I made myself dinner - chicken on Spanish rice, and while eating I studied for my Syriac class.

Last night, I learned to write the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Ancient Syriac, one of the first scripts to write those names in the Christian era. That made me immensely happy. After studying, a warm shower and my rosary made things even better. I conked out and, as you will imagine, slept very, very well.

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