I thought I'd come up with the perfect plan to run safely in the dark, early morning, but I didn't make a good escape plan.
After I fell and broke my nose running in the dark along the street, I had to take about three weeks off from running. My husband, my doctor, my parents, my non-running friends all urged me to stop running in the dark. My running friends, of course, understood the lunacy of running. It was only a matter of time before I started again -- like when the swelling went down in my knee and the bandages came off my nose.
So I made a plan to walk or ride my bike to the high school track. It's about a mile away. The track has no potholes and a rubberized surface. I've gone a couple of times this week, easing my body back into the routine of running.
This morning, with the thermometer hovering at 39 degrees, I pulled on running pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece, gloves and a headband to warm my ears. The one-mile walk was the coldest part at 5:30 a.m.
I pushed the turnstile and walked into the high school football stadium. Lights lit up the entrance, and the home side of stands, but the rest of the track was in darkness. Since I live in town, it's not pitch-black like it would be out in the country.
I stood for a minute scanning the track for any movement. Many times, other people are running on the track or doing sit ups in the middle of the football field or running up and down the steps of the stadium. I didn't see any movement, so I started around the track, taking some time to enjoy the brightness of the stars above me.
I hoped to run three miles, working my way back up to the five miles a day I was running before my fall.
I started in the outside lane -- number 6 -- and each time I rounded the quarter-mile track, I moved in a lane. After a mile, I started moving back out to the next lane.
I'd completed two and a half miles and was passing near the entrance to the track when I saw something moving along the concrete. The whiteness shown in the darkness and I immediately thought it must be an opossum with its pinkish-white chubby body meandering along. I decided to stamp my foot to scare it and send it away from the track, back toward the exit.
Then, as I got closer, I realized the bright white was bushy fur along the back of a pointy-nosed skunk.
I picked up my speed away from the entrance to the track. I tried to glance back to see if the skunk turned away from the track. I figured it was interested in the trash cans or maybe food that people had dropped under the stands, but if it followed the trajectory I'd seen, it would come onto the track.
As I rounded the corner headed back toward the entrance to the track, I pulled my phone out of its holster and turned on the flashlight app. I swept the light back and forth across the track, watching for a flash of glassy eyes or a stripe of white. I ran past the entrance for the final time, not spotting the skunk anywhere.
I thought about the fleece and the head band I'd taken off and hung on the fence near where I'd seen the skunk. If the skunk got scared, my fleece and headband would be so pungent, I'd have to throw them away.
I pictured tomato juice baths and needing to restraighten my hair over and over.
Even if I didn't need to return to the entrance to get my clothes, there was only one way in or out of the track. If the skunk stayed around the entrance, I was captured. I was a prisoner to the skunk.
I looked at the fence as I ran around the track. The fence was high all the way around. I could climb on something to get to the top of the fence, but the drop on the other side would probably give me knee or ankle injuries.
I slowed to a walk before the entrance. Still scanning with my phone flashlight, I saw no sign of the skunk. I peeked around the trash can by the fence, certain the crafy skunk could be hiding there. I grabbed my fleece and headband and cautiously walked forward -- my light swept back and forth across the blacktop and the turnstile. With no sign of the skunk, I raced out the gate and into the open parking lot.
I had escaped my near-brush with nature and another running mishap. I imagined for a minute that I'd disturbed the skunk and it had sprayed me. Upon hearing that story, I'm sure people would just shake their head and suggest I take up swimming at the YMCA instead.
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