A crisp Friday morning. Delaware Canal towpath at Blackrock Road, Yardley, Pennsylvania. 5:58 a.m.: Gulp down two bottles of water. Goal, run 10 miles. Moon is brilliant and stars are visible. Pitch dark. Northbound. Click the stopwatch. Refrain, “on the road again.” Mist is hovering over the canal — can only see a few feet ahead.
Only hear my footsteps and breathing. Clinched fists at my sides, the brisk air tingles my fingers. The morning chill fades as my body warms. A duck with her ducklings flaps her feathers and quacks her disapproval of my presence as they scatter from beneath my feet.
Past mile 1. At the railroad trestle the familiar gray crane is wading for fish. Street light at Letchworth Avenue bridge illuminates the cars passing overhead. Echoes of my footsteps reverberate in the dark underpass.
Sighting the Afton Avenue bridge in Yardley, dawn breaks. On bike rides here as a child, the bridge seemed higher.
Approaching mile 2, it’s too dark to see my stopwatch until I pass under the lamppost at Maple Avenue. 21 minutes 17 seconds. Doing well — 10 minute 15 second per mile pace.
The towpath bridge brings back the vivid memory of August 20, 1955. As a seven-year-old my Daddy (still alive age 92, mom age 87) hoisted me onto it from a canoe in the middle of a raging flood. We witnessed houses smashing into the Yardley Bridge hours before its collapse. The most frightening moments of my life. To my right, the ball park I shared with my neighborhood pals, especially the three White boys (surname) whom I consider my brothers. Most of the field now is taken up by electric generators.
The yards adjacent to the canal no longer post the silhouettes of a fox. I’m reminded that the geese have departed. The moon is still quite bright, but the stars have faded. There is a crack of light from my right. Reflectively, I strain to see the old homestead where I spent 1950 to 1965. Sight of the pond or the river always provokes reminiscences of an idyllic childhood enjoying the innocence of waterskiing on the Delaware. Doesn’t get much better than a boy with a boat at age 14.
Reminded of how lucky we were to grow up in a pre-technology, pre-pampered world. While biking through the developments, I see moms in SUVs parked next to the bus stop once the temperature falls below 50 degrees or even a drizzle falls. Jump out with their umbrella hovering over a typically plump teenager lest, God forbid, a drop of water touch their child’s sacred head. Patti, Jane, and I crossing the towpath bridge walking over a mile to catch a bus on Main Street. headed for Holy Trinity in Morrisville. Unthinkable today.
Approaching the I-95 Scudder’s Falls bridge. The sound of cars and trucks rumbling above echo loudly as I pass under.
Marking mile 3, the Woodside Road street light allows me to see my time: 31 minutes 15 seconds. Hit my runner’s high. Feeling good.
Beyond the locks the canal is mysteriously drained — nothing but mud. What became of the fish and the turtles? Daylight is now blooming behind the trees before Mount Airy Road. The sight of the first person running towards me is welcoming. He’s serious, tall, two bottles of water around his waist, iPod taped to his arm, earphones dangling, wearing a GPS watch — running on his toes with long strides. I’m jealous. Can’t do that. Exchange warm greetings.
At mile 4: Bright enough to see my time: 43 minutes 12 seconds. Still under 11-minute mile but slowing down.
Approaching mile 5, see a runner, Jim, who runs from Washington Crossing to Blackrock (5.7 miles) and back. Three years ago when I first started running (then happy to do 2 miles at a 12 minute/mile pace), we chatted. Maybe early 40s. Does his 11.4 miles at a pace of under a nine-minute mile. Always inquires about my progress. Came to a dead stop to ask me how I was doing. Excitedly told him about running the Atlantic City half marathon. Added he was my inspiration. Asked me how old I was. “66 next month.” Big smile: “Hope I’m still running at that age — good luck.” Runners are always gracious and encouraging. Maybe I’ll join a runners club. Nope, no time.
Lost in thought wishing I had started running 30 years ago. Ran past my five-mile marker — didn’t realize it until I got to the next bridge. Damn it, 1 hour 1 minutes. Hmmm. How far past did I go? Turned around. Well, let’s see how long it takes to get back to the five mile marker: 3 minutes 20 seconds. Okay — that’s 0.3 miles. It’s now a 10.6 mile run. Not a problem.
Southbound, canal is again filled with water and mist has been burned off. Moon is still faintly visible. Know the runner’s high will be short lived.
Near mile 6, an elderly man (80s) is standing on the towpath staring over the canal. A big buck with newly sprouted antlers is staring back at him. I quip, “looks like a staring contest. Those antlers will be a lot bigger in a month or so.” Never looks at me. “Yeah, wish I had a rifle.” Didn’t respond, but thought how differently people see the world. Wished I had a camera.
Mile 7. Checklist my status. Thirsty, sweating profusely, headband and clothing are soaked but temperature is now quite comfortable, lungs feel fine but legs are getting heavy. have slowed to a 12 minute per mile pace.
Mile 8, three girls in uniforms are walking towards me. All are staring at their mobile devices or texting. Ponder why it is more fun to text someone from afar than to speak to someone standing two feet away.
Mile 9: Being passed by a guy who appears in his late 50s, he is tooling. Competitive juices kicks in. Try to keep up but he is running faster than a nine minute pace. after a few hundred yards my lungs are burning. Accept that I don’t have his cardiovascular ability. Oh well, I rationalize, he probably isn’t running as far as I am.
Now in moderate pain. mile 10. Legs are almost numb. Back aches, need to start taking long deep inhales and deliberate complete exhales. Runner’s high is long gone. Want to run the last mile in less than 11 minutes. Try to pick up the pace, but can’t. Matter over mind.
Sun now is brilliant on the horizon. Alone with my pain. half mile marker, time to speed it up. No point doing all of this work without exhaustion — maximizes the benefit. Need something to think about, but can’t concentrate. Resort to counting every fourth step.
Last hundred yards, pretend that I am running a football kickoff return. Give it my all. Can’t really feel my legs and taking shallow and quick breaths. Struggle for air. pump arms. odd slow motion feeling. Mind is traveling faster than legs.
The finish: Anaerobic. Snap the stopwatch: 2 hours, 3 minutes for 10.6 miles. Do the math: 11.6 minutes per mile. I’ll take it!
Totally spent. Sit on the fence to recover with eyes closed. Sweat engulfs my entire body. Note blood pulsating through my arteries. Need a moment of solitude to savor satisfaction. Leg muscles starting to freeze up. Stiffly, I walk like an old man to the car.
8:08 a.m. Turn on Bloomberg. Wonder how the stock market futures are reacting to Fed comments. Back to reality.
Bill Sheehy runs an asset management and employee benefits firm on Quakerbridge Road. www.sheehyassociatesinc.com.
The carcass of a squirrel hangs from the top of the wire. Zapped.
[An electric wire rims the inside of the fence. Curious if it’s active. Suppose the horses have already learned their lesson. One way to find out — drift over and lightly tab my finger on it. Just what I thought. Why waste electricity. The horses know what they know even if it is no longer true.many people (including me) think that way.explains a lot.]
[Three deer are ahead, two adults and a fawn.]
[Attempting to cross the canal. always wondered how they got across. Last year saw the carcass of a deer caught in the mud. these are clever. A tributary swept rocks into the canal so the footing was firm, and the water was shallow. Checking me out, then one deer broke to my left into the woods. The doe (I assume) and the fawn leaped onto the rock bed, scampered across the canal.] Struck by the fact that as a child I seldom saw deer. Now hardly a day goes by that I don’t see one in my yard or travels. Not sure how I feel about that. Something is not right.]
A horse ranch with two brown and a beautiful white stallion are grazing in a mist filled pasture. Reminds me of how people live different lifestyles. Know nothing about horses but understand why many love them