I put one foot forward, then another, and another.
Just keep moving.
My older children nervously chatter behind me.
This is the first time any of us had ran this far.
My wife lay in bed with the five-month-old. Our seven- and five-year-old also remain in their slumber. The older boys and I decided before we walked out the door, Momma isn’t coming to get us, unless we break a bone or a snake bites us.
We press into the night.
We slink our way down a country road, headlamps bobbing in the night air, switching lanes multiple times to make sure none of the drunk drivers returning home from their first Friday night since Quarantine doesn’t smear us across the asphalt. In the distance, the neighborhood dogs wish us good luck. After two miles, we reach the highway; it’s busier than normal. We tighten into the narrow section between the white line and soft shoulder, occasionally jumping down to avoid cars.
We can see downtown below us. This is the first time my oldest son has ran to the city, his younger brother, and I have done it once. Coming down the hill into the city, I slip on the edge of the asphalt and twist my knee. My IT Band flips me the bird (which feels like being stung by a wasp, but not quite to the level of a Japanese Murder Hornet). A quarter mile later, my leg is fried. I stop every hundred yards to beat the side of my thigh with the corner of my cell phone. I find brief relief.
We stop at a Krystal parking lot to rest; it’s almost midnight and we’re halfway. I stretch my hamstrings while pressing my foot against the curb. It helps little. I’d slowed my pace to keep the pain within my comfort zone, and when we start again, my legs feel stronger. Then we reach a steep downhill. I have to walk halfway down it; in most cases, descending hills is the catalyst to my running woes. We run the back roads on our return journey. My stride isn’t as painful now, the ole’ IT Band slips back into its pain cave.
My feet are asleep.
As we cross the land-bridge over the lake, I can’t stop thinking about the massive hill that stands between me and my bed. 300 feet of ascent stretched across a brutal one-and-a-half mile climb.
The cold dew kisses our bare legs; I regret wearing gym shorts.
The Hill crescendos. Until now, the boys and I have been regular Chatty-Cathy’s; but as the hill progresses, enthusiasms fade and we get to work. Mile twelve clicks over on the odometer. The sound of labored breathing and the clicks of my trekking poles against the asphalt, and The Killer’s song, “Smile Like You Mean It” engulf us.
Four miles to go. My bed beckonings me. Hopelessness cascades my mind. At the top of the hill, we can see far into the community and can make out our home’s general location; It feels 50 miles away. Fatigue arrests my brain; I shuffle on in a zombie-like daze. The next mile is downhill, my IT Band awakens. I step off the road and beat it like Travis Barker on a fast-break. My watch alerts me; we just finished our first half-marathon distance.
We slog through a neighborhood full of dogs. None of them come out to shake our hand, but the barks are deafening. I’m sure their owners enjoy waking to the sight of headlamps bobbing down the street and Queens of the Stone Age blaring on a portable speaker. As we leave the cluster of dogs, I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to lie down in this ditch and take a nap.
We reach our road and have only one-an-a-half miles to go before ending our sixteen-mile journey. The way home is a constant uphill with an only an occasional steep downhill to only reset into another long uphill (x3). I want nothing more than a bowl of Captain Crunch and to lie down in my soft, warm bed. With our mailbox in sight, almost a quarter mile away, my fourteen-year-old suggests we sprint the final distance. I go first but stop after 20 yards, my sailor knee cusses me for the last time tonight. The boys race each other to the mailbox.
Suddenly, I’m hit with a blinding beam of light, it’s coming from our neighbor’s house. A man yells something at me, or maybe he’s talking to their yellow Labrador; I’m not sure. I wave his direction and walk on. It’s hard to explain to strangers why anyone would run sixteen miles to Walmart and back at two in the morning. After we arrive home, I make myself a bowl of cereal and then body slam onto the bed.