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The highs and lows of distance running

Published March 14, 2004

People sometimes ask me why I run.

I like all kinds of running, but mostly I like long runs. Runs that last three to six hours, sometimes through the woods alone on rough trails, other times along paved paths at recreation parks, joined by scores of inline skaters, bicyclists, walkers and runners.

It's hard to explain, but there's a feeling you get from running.

A feeling that's more than just exhaustion and, ewww chafing.

On the trail, I've come across beautiful birds, snakes, deer and my favorite, dull-witted armadillos.

I was charged one morning in Trilby by two stampeding, riderless horses that burst out of the fog. I found a $5 bill once. And once, on my birthday, I was chased by a dog that ended up dashing out in front of a car and getting killed.

Last week, I ventured onto Hernando County's Croom Forest trail for a run through the woods. It was going to be a full day.

I had my special running shorts, made of special fibers that wick away sweat; special socks that cradle each toe in its own compartment; and each toe was wrapped in duct tape to combat blisters.

I had my special water pouch, wrapped around my back like a fanny pack. I had packets of special running fuel called "Gu," as well as licorice, nutrition bars, and little packages of salt. Some runners ingest expensive electrolyte pills. I use the little packets of salt I swipe from fast-food joints.

I saw a wild turkey and a deer, and came upon a pair of bobcats, just a few feet from the trail.

The cats and I startled one another. I came around a bend, and there they were. They blended so well into the woods that at first I hardly noticed them, although we were only 6 feet from one another.

When the smaller bobcat dashed deeper into the woods, I focused on the larger one. I stared at it. It stared at me.

Somewhere in my mind I weighed whether I could take it. You know, in a fight.

I weigh about 150 pounds and was nearly naked in thin shorts and a tank top. The bobcat probably weighed about 35 pounds, completely naked, and apparently made of mostly claws and teeth.

That's the kind of thing guys think about sometimes. "Hmm, I wonder if I could take him."

All of this passed in maybe a second. I slowed to a walk, and when it looked like the bobcat was as frozen as I was, I picked up the pace, moving over a ridge and shuffling down the sandy path toward the ranger station 2 miles down the trail.

A colleague more familiar with wildcats later suggested that turning and running from an animal that makes its living chasing its food probably wasn't the best idea.

At the time I thought, "Heck, bobcats don't attack deer."

I don't know why that comforted me. For all I know, bobcats routinely mug wandering deer.

Halfway through the run, the trail took me back to my car. I noticed a tire was low. I was miles from town, and a low tire promised to be a headache. The other tires were low, too.

Some moron had knifed all four and left me stranded on a rural road in the middle of eastern Hernando County.

No apparent reason. Just meanness.

I continued with my run.

Thirty miles on sandy trails takes me about six hours. As I sometimes do, I pushed too hard early on. By the end, in the heat, I dehydrated like a slug on salt. The last miles were a desperate stagger to the finish, knowing I still had four flat tires to deal with.

Withlacoochee Forestry Center recreation supervisor Tami Leonard happened by and told me random tire-knifings were becoming common in the forest.

She called a Hernando County sheriff's deputy and a tow truck. Including new tires, it cost me $350. I got home about 7 p.m., 12 hours after I left.

People sometimes ask me why I run.

There's a feeling you get from running.

Sometimes the feeling is like meeting a bobcat in the woods. It leaves you excited, amazed and invigorated.

And sometimes, that feeling is just a big pain in the, uhh, back of the upper legs.

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