Last year, I spent a lot of time on the Cape Cod Canal. During the months that lead up to the Myrtle Beach Marathon, I ran up and down the jogging path that runs alongside the water. From bridge to bridge, I put in the miles and sweated out my anxiety.
Most running experts recommend changing up your running route while training for a race. It exposes you to different terrain, allows you to get a feel for the mileage by how you feel (not where you are on the route) and breaks up the monotony. I considered this advice carefully before tossing it aside. All my long runs were done in the same place: the canal.
The canal had everything I needed for distance running: the mileage was marked out on the path in half mile increments. There were bathroom facilities and water fountains. There were lights along the path for later runs. Though there weren't any hills along the jogging path itself, there was a dirt path through the woods with one big hill and stairs to a campsite if I wanted to run stairs.
Moreover, there was something oddly comforting about knowing that every week, I would be in the same place, doing the same thing. Every Sunday, I knew where I would be. I would be spending time with my ipod and my canal, emptying my brain of all the worries that swam around and around in my mind. The canal became my friend.
There were others who shared my love of the canal. I had many almost-acquaintances who I saw every Sunday. There was the older couple who walked hand in hand on the Bourne side, from the parking lot to the bridge and back. There was crazy-fast-runner-dude. He usually lapped me twice. His jog was a sprint to me. He looked about 70. There was string-bean-girl-and-her-hyperkinetic-puppy. She was trying to teach him to walk on a leash. He was having none of it. He enjoyed running back and forth in front of her and pulling the leash in his mouth. I watched this golden retriever grow by the week and I watched his owner becoming more and more harried as he got bigger.
Then there were the fisherman. Lots of people had lobster traps set along the edge of the canal. They had to haul the traps in by hand, as the water rushed along, making the pulling that much harder. It hardly seemed worth the effort. There was an old patient of mine, who set up his lawn chair and fished one handed with his new electric reel. There was also a group of guys who I called the "fishing guys."
There were about 8 of them altogether. Sometimes they were all there, sometimes just two or three. They all looked to be in their mid to late 30's. They all dressed always in jeans and hooded sweatshirts with their places of employment on the back: Capeway Landscaping, South Shore Painting, It's Awl Good Handiman Services. We had a routine, the fishing guys and me.
"Hey runner girl!" they'd yell.
"Hey fishing guys!" I'd yell back.
"How far you going today?"
"What'd you catch today?"
We had an understanding. We only asked about running and fishing. There was something oddly comforting about knowing NOTHING about those people I saw every week on the canal.
One Sunday, there was only one fishing guy on the canal. That was the day he stepped over the imaginary boundary. "Hey runner girl!" he said "What are you training for?"
"Marathon" I responded.
"Boston?" he asked.
"No." I said. "I'm not that good. I'm doing Myrtle Beach. It's easier."
On the way back, he broke the understanding again. "Want some fish?"
"Oh, thanks, no. I'm a terrible cook"
Then he asked if I wanted to go out for a bite to eat sometime. I was a little torn on this. I liked having my almost-acquaintances. I didn't want to venture out of my comfort zone.
On the other hand, he seemed like a really nice guy. And unlike my other dates gone wrong, I actually kind of knew him. I figured that maybe this time, things would be different. If I took the leap and went out for a bite to eat with --let's call him Dave-- I might actually have a good time.
Unfortunately, once we moved out of canal acquaintance territory and into date territory, the inevitable happened: it all went downhill from there...