When I said goodbye to living in the city, I also had to say goodbye to my favorite running routes.
We had been living in the same house, on the east side of Colorado Springs, for 18 years. So, as a longtime runner, I had a wealth of established routes. There were the shorter neighborhood runs. The Rock Island Trail was nearby, which could take me many miles east or west. There were a couple of schools within running distance with tracks for speed work. Palmer Park, one of my favorite places to run, was just a few minutes' drive away. Heck, work was only six or so miles away, so once in a while my wife would drop me off on her way to work in the morning, then I'd stuff my work clothes into my runner's pack at the end of the day and trot home under the setting sun, any work-related stress fading away with each mile.
Where, I wondered, would I run out in the country? There was no trail system that I was aware of. I was a bit concerned about running along the main roads, with no paved shoulders and no sidewalks. And work was now nearly 20 miles away, so no jogs home.
The city has traffic, stop lights, pollution, curbs to trip over. The country? Not so much, just mostly peace and quiet. Running in the city meant waiting for lights to turn green. And, when they did, you still had to keep a wary eye on motorists ignoring the lights or turning into your path. In the country, I can run mile after mile with no need to stop. (Though admittedly, as I get older, I kind of enjoy having a reason to stop every once in a while.)
In the countryside, I initially worried that I would be constantly stepping off the side of the road into weeds and rocks and hidden dangers to avoid traffic. But there aren't that many cars traveling the roads I'm running. And, by and large, drivers steer far around me. (I always run facing traffic; the tricky part is cresting a hill, when I could take a driver coming my way by surprise. So then I either move off the road or head briefly to the other side.)
I always take my phone along with me on runs, since there are few motorists who could come to my aid if I had a problem. And I always wear a hat: not a lot of shade in eastern El Paso County.
While I've seen many cyclists out in the country, runners seem more scarce. There is a woman who regularly runs a loop through my neighborhood. And a couple of months ago, I finally spotted a fellow runner on one of the main roads; if I hadn't already slowed to a survival shuffle by then, I would have caught up to him and exchanged a few words.
I have had, though, a few interesting running partners out in the country. In addition to some loose dogs that have tagged along, there have been:
- A covey of quail in front of me kept running ahead as I approached. Every time I got close, they'd take off again, then take another break. After perhaps a quarter-mile, the quail got tired of this and flew off.
- Similarly, on a long run along the shoulder of Highway 24 from Falcon to Colorado Springs (a run I likely won't repeat because of the deafening noise from traffic), several pronghorn to the east seemed to monitor my progress. They'd run ahead, wait for me to catch up, then take off again.
- And my favorite: There's a road four or so miles from my house with cattle guards at each end (metal grids that cars can drive over, but cows won't cross). In between, cows can roam freely from one side of the road to the other. Last August, I went on a dawn run in honor of my running brethren who were racing up Barr Trail that morning for the Pikes Peak Ascent. I went on that dirt road and, about halfway along it, cattle were milling about in the middle. Worried about the possibility of triggering a running of the bulls, I stopped running and walked my way carefully through the group. They started following me - I felt like the Pied Piper, with cattle instead of rats. It wasn't long, though, before the cows seemed to lose interest and I resumed running.
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.