This is why I run:
It’s still daylight — I got off work on time for once, and the latest crushing deadline is at last behind me — but in the park under the sequoia canopy it’s almost cold. Running is required just to keep my toes warm, and Trudeau won’t stand for anything less than a jog, so we trot down the paved road, then off onto a side trail, and then onto another trail and another. I haven’t run so long and tirelessly since I was a child, and I can’t stop running. The trails are that particular vibrant earthy red that cradles old-growth trees, and a bed of fallen pine needles makes a surprisingly comfortable cushion underfoot. Trudeau splashes into a clear-running stream and gulps down water, and then splashes out again, his tongue lolling; he leaps, twists, grabs the leash in his teeth and tries to tow me along, to keep inertia from slowing our dash through the woods. We scramble up slopes like mountain goats, bound over fallen logs, clatter over bridges and back onto the thoroughfare again, looking for the next side trail to conquer. I’m warm, and I’m not tired, and I feel for the first time like I can run all day and never stop, so when we find ourselves at the park entrance, we turn around and plunge back into the trees, splash in the fountain, dig in our toes, run like some part of us has already flung itself ahead, and there is nothing else for us to do but set off in joyous pursuit of our own happiness.
This is why I run:
The road is suggested more than real, delineated only by the moonlight that pools pale and shimmering in the gutters. I know the route by memory anyway, and I claim the center of the road, because there is hardly ever traffic to yield to. There are lights on in the windows of the houses we pass by, but no sign of the people inside, and it is as if we are the only ones left in the world. I breathe easy for the first time all day.
The air is cool and tastes like rain, though none has fallen since yesterday. I’ve never appreciated air before the way I do now, but that’s just because I’ve never been quite so desperate for it: I’m pushing myself, maybe a little too hard, but there’s little place in my world for a stroll anymore, when a run will get me there just as well. I won’t be sore tomorrow, and I feel as if there are only empty spaces now where my limitations used to be; the only trouble with this road, these days, is that it isn’t long enough to satisfy us. Trudeau’s tags jangle and his LED collar blinks, but he’s still just a vague shape in the dark: long legs and swaying tail and rhythmically bobbing ears. Mostly he’s content just to trot along; he knows the route as well as I do, but there’s nothing boring about it. While this road is nothing terribly special by daylight, it’s a whole other beast at night.
The wetlands are picturesque pools of silver water, and they come complete with their own soundtrack: the chorus of frogs is deafeningly loud, and it drowns out the music piping through my headphones. Nothing can make them stop singing, not even the vague shape of a bird drifting overhead, the clacking of Trudeau’s claws or the slap of my feet on the pavement. There’s a pasture further up the road with its own little pond, and a group of ducks mutter a harmony to the frog song; they don’t stir the first time Trudeau and I pass by, but on the return trip, they grow uneasy and take explosive flight. They do that every night, but Trudeau never seems to realize they’ll come back again; he watches them go like he’s just lost something, though whether he’s mourning the loss of potential friends or potential meals, I can never say. I comfort him with an excursion up a side road, where a shape in the dark always leaves him transfixed and fascinated; it could be a horse, but we choose to believe it’s something more exotic, the pale shadow of a rare rhinoceros or a graceful oryx. Trudeau whines and yowls, and I have to drag him away before he really embarrasses himself. We run back down the hill again, walk a little while, then get impatient and run the rest of the way back to the main road, around the corner, on past the wetlands and away until the frog song grows fainter and finally disappears.
Trudeau runs like he’s never forgotten how: years and obligations and disappointments and a lack of time have never stood between him and his boundless joy for the outdoors, for running, for being what he’s made to be. He’s the only reason I know these routes, these places, these moments that otherwise would have been lost to me, along with my childish enthusiasm and my remembrance of running barefoot on summer-warm earth. I might have let my happiness just hurtle away, watching it outstrip me each year until I forgot that it was there to be caught. I might have done that, except that Trudeau has a talent for chasing things, and he’s a willing teacher.
This is why I run.