Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Running for My Life (and I'm NOT Talking About Exercise)

The other day I was complaining that my runs have gotten boring. I mostly run after work, after it has gotten dark, and because of this my routes are mostly out-and-back affairs: 1.5 miles out (or two, depending on how much I’m slated to do that day) out, then turn around and come back home. In the Valley I run on sidewalks and on flat streets, and after a while these routes become tiring. Lately I’ve been looking forward to running on hills and trails, and the only place I’ve found to do that at night is Pierce College.

Pierce College started out as an agricultural college years ago in the Valley, and even now a part of the campus is dedicated to that curriculum. The west side of campus has fields where corn, tomatoes, and other crops are grown, an orange grove, and an aread where cows graze. It even has trails in the back where high schools compete during the Cross Country racing season. One night I decided to run a loop around campus, which is almost exactly three miles.

I had run the same trail with Rene the night before: the trail started at the school’s east entrance, followed the trail up to the stadium, down the hill and around a dirt trail in the back where a new road is being constructed, and back out into the streets of Woodland Hills, finishing at the same entrance where it started. That first night it was pretty uneventful – we ran at a relaxed pace and I made sure to pick up my feet while running through the dirt trail (I tend to shuffle, so I trip on anything – gravel, rocks, dirt – you name it). At one point Rene mentioned that wild animals lived in the orange groves and back trails. To me that likelihood seemed so far-off – I mean, I've heard of mountain lion attacks in the Santa Monica Mountains but we were running in the Valley and nothing like that ever happens in the Valley. Or so I thought.

The following night I followed the same exact route. Everything seemed to be going fine until I reached the other side of the hill, where the asphalt turned into dirt and tractors were parked on the side. This was the dirt trail, and that night I was rolling along, grooving to the music on my headphones and watching out for big rocks. A minute into it I heard a faint sound: aaawoooooo. At first I thought it was my music – I thought that maybe may have been an animal sound on the soundtrack that I never noticed before. Huh. I kept running, and not ten seconds later I heard the same sound again: Aaaawoooo, only a little louder this time. Panicked, I turned the sound down and listened for the sound again. Sure enough, I heard it again a few seconds later and it was coming closer: AAWooooooo. It meant only one thing – a coyote was nearby. AWWOOOOOOO. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was what the howling meant: was it warning me to stay away or was it telling me that it was hot on my tail and ready to pounce on me in the darkness?!

Fearing the worst, I stepped up my pace to the point where I was running all out but careful with my footing lest I twist an ankle and end up as the main course for a coyote. In my frenzy my thoughts were going a million directions: did the coyote smell fear in me? Was I making too much noise? Maybe I should be lighter on my feet! What if it jumped on me, what weapon could I find nearby? What about a rock? I need a big rock, a really BIG rock, in case that bad boy started nipping at my heels! And why are my lungs and legs burning? Where is the exit? Is it around the corner? How long will I take to get there? It can’t come soon enough! Where is my phone when I need it? Oh great, I am going to die out here and no one will find my body for weeks, not until they come to move the tractors out and find my ripped clothes or shoes near the brush.

So, yeah, I ran for my life! And when I finally did see the exit to De Soto Avenue (which felt like an ETERNITY), I had never been so glad to see a sidewalk, cars, and street lamps in my life. I had to keep running to get to my car, which was on the other side of the campus, but once I got there I gulped down the water I had in my car, stretched my sore legs, and drove home. The next day my calves were so sore that I didn’t run the next day. I figure running away from a coyote was such a good workout that surely I deserved a day of rest.

On Sunday I came back to Pierce College to run mile repeats, and after the workout Rene and I cooled down by jogging on the trail behind campus. I had a view of the construction area and from there the scene didn’t look so menacing. Of course, it was a bright Sunday morning, and it’s only scary when you’re running by yourself at night, with coyotes providing the soundtrack to your workout.

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