Stranger Pacer


I went for a four-mile run in the very early morning. I didn’t want to. Our kettlebells instructor had to miss last night and I guided the class in alternating circuits and bikes. It wasn’t the challenge, but I was sore this morning.

The temperature hovered around 55 degrees. The air sat still as if posing for a picture. I scared bugs as I ran by fences and streetlights. They flew into the sky. This was supposed to be a pacer run, as in, race pace. Right, I thought as I churned up the hill. Tell my legs that.

As I rounded a loop, I spied movement. A couple of young men were camped out around a bench. I watched them. One with a white baseball cap packed up their stuff. The other one, a bearded guy, stared at me. His mouth curled up into a smile, eyes glittering. I ran faster. He got up and staggered towards his bicycle. No way would he be able to ride that, drunk or high as he was. I listened to see if anyone was following me. Then I shrugged it off. They couldn’t run a straight line, let alone catch anyone. Protect me, Lord, I prayed.

Somehow, I found a rhythm and kept going. I ran up past McDonald’s and to the highway interchange. I thought, Surely those guys will be gone by the time I run past again. See, there’s only one way back into town once you’ve taken this road. I would have to go far out of my way to get to another inland route, and in the dark, I doubt I’d find it.

I chugged down hill, passing my gym and somebody cooking bacon. Really? You’re killing me, I thought. Nobody should be making bacon at 5 a.m. Or at the very least, give out free samples.

Then I saw them again, the two men, moving into the woods. They held their backpacks and pushed the bike in front of them. But weakened by chemicals, they stopped just off the paved path. The bearded man stared at me again while propped on his elbow in the grass. This time, he said something, his face a snarl. My music drowned out his words. I kept mum and ran on. His companion walked farther into the woods.

I pushed for home. Then I checked my Garmin. Just over nine minute miles. I guess I hit race pace after all.





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