The Inside Rail

I started running again in Saratoga this summer. Well, running might be overstating it. More like slogging, plodding, bumbling.

Joe and Tom revved me up the first Sunday, three papers down, our first night off, we hit the 5-mile trail at the state park. Not having run in months, I pleaded for them to slow down (they didn’t) as I took short cuts through the woods, turning squares into bends, walking for moments when I was out of sight, trying to quiet the pain of my old friends. Spiral fracture in my right ankle, plate, seven screws – Beetleman, Saratoga, 2000. Torn lateral collateral ligament in my right knee – Abacus, Morven Park, 1992. And other ailments. I know how old horses feel, the injuries never go away, they are the first things to nag. I survived that first run, that’s all, just survived. There was no runner’s high.

The second run came quickly, the next day at the  old Boy Scout camp in Wilton, in a 5K put on by the Saratoga Stryders. A born coach, Tom said it would be fun, “Come on, it’s great, social, camaraderie, fun run in the woods, scenic. You’ll love it.” I saw Joe and Tom at the start, actually saw lots of runners at the start, it was social, almost felt like camaraderie, then it didn’t.

After a furlong, I was alone in the woods. I passed one runner during the entire 5K, I actually passed her six times as she fiddled with her iPhone, stopping and spinning dials, she passed me seven times. That was rough. When I feel anxiety – every once in a while on a plane, every time in the tube of an MRI or when I can’t sleep, I try to recite my 152 career winners. I know, I know, it sounds self absorbed and pathetic, but it’s my way of counting sheep, the only way I can will myself through anxiety, stress or pain. That night, I battled all three as I got to 149 on the list. I’ve never made it to 152. Yeah, that was great, Tom.

With the pain of two runs in the books, I kept going, figuring why waste those two and slogged around town the following day. Pavement is tough, my hips making sparks, but I managed to find the Spring Run Trail that runs along the bottom of Saratoga, it provides some respite as an up and back loop, around dogs, past strollers, through people mesmerized by their phones (I run to get away from my phone) and past the man sitting on the bridge playing a clarinet, or what sounded like a clarinet. When you’re running, anything sounds good.

Tom and I hit the Saratoga Battlefield the following Sunday. Driving past the lake, past the broodmares at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, out into the country. Since my first summer here in 1989, I’ve been out of the city limits, oh, maybe 10 times. I don’t swim in Lake George, I don’t shop in the outlets of Vermont and I don’t go home, driving out to the battlefield felt like escaping.

Then we hit the Wilkinson Trail at the Battlefield, a long, sweeping, fields-to-woods-to-fields 4.2 mile loop, it was no escape. Bucolic and refreshing at the beginning, it turned faster than a Stephen King novel. Tom knew it was coming, it didn’t dawn on me until we came out of the woods and saw the building where we started in the far-off distance, sitting at the top of the hill like an eagle sits on the top of a nest. I spit, cursed and stared at the back of Tom’s half-marathon shirt, the words searing into my brain, as we slogged to the top.

Passing the cannons, drifting to a walk, drinking from the mineral-warning fountain, I was spent. I guess that’s why I love running, nothing could feel so bad and so good in a shorter amount of time. A couple of IPAs and fish tacos at Lake Local served as the reward.

Sales week derailed any team running but we managed a few short ones and then began another binge of Sunday-Monday-Tuesday runs. Battlefield, Wilton, 5-Mile Trail. A coach would be banned for this schedule but that’s what The Special allows. Joe’s youngest son, Nolan, reminded us of the beauty of youth, fading in the distance like yesterday’s dreams. Joe and Tom ran another Wilton 5K while I bailed because my family was in town. Joe climbed a mountain before the 5K, that seemed to help at the start but not at the finish as Tom won again.

Tuesday, after a quick jaunt to Delaware Park, I hooked up with my running partners again for a spin around the 5-mile trail at the park. We ran it backward for a change but Joe and Tom still dragged me, West Coast and Gun Runner loping away.

I snuck in a quick run around town Wednesday, past the kids in the fountain, past the teenager dribbling a basketball, past the man drinking from a paper bag, past Peter Thomas Fornatale on his way to the races for the first.

Saturday, we’ll run the Run for the Horses 5K at Saratoga Spa State Park. Joe and Tom will beat me again. Key me underneath in the trifecta, it’s a sure thing.

And get out there with us.