The Ten Percent Solution 31Jul11

Running injuries may vex the addicted runner, but returning to action can also pose problems. Marathon schedules must be updated. Running contacts must be reestablished. Shoe inventory alone could take hours.

But the proverbial pickle in this sandwich is the post-traumatic training regimen. One emerges from the forced hibernation of a running injury, knocking on wood and throwing salt in all directions, decidedly paranoid about every bodily signal. Injury purgatory is bad enough. No one wants to descend to the inferno of reinjury.

Like me, you may have heard that it’s wise to increase mileage slowly, by no more than ten percent a week. This sounds reasonable. Certainly, if it’s written in Runner’s World, it must be true.

But it all depends on your starting mileage, doesn’t it?

Let’s start with a nice, round number like ten miles per week. With this base, you can expect a nice, steady progression in your training:

Week 1: 11 miles
Week 2: 12.1 miles
Week 3: 13.3 miles
Week 4: 14.6 miles
Week 5: 16.1 miles
Week 6: 17.7 miles
Week 7: 19.5 miles
Week 8: 21.4 miles
Week 9: 23.6 miles
Week 10: 25.9 miles
Week 11: 28.5 miles
Week 12: 31.4 miles
Week 13: 34.5 miles
Week 14: 37.9 miles
Week 15: 41.7 miles

The odd mileage and slow initial progress would be annoying, but just four tolerable months into training, you’d be running over forty miles per week. That’s more than adequate mileage for the typical marathoner. Add a couple more weeks and you’ll plateau at fifty miles: red meat territory.

Naturally, things can get out of hand. For instance, you should never get to the point where you can actually add ten full miles to your weekly tally. In order to “safely” do this, you would already have to be running one hundred miles per week (ten percent of one hundred is ten). That’s a boatload of presumed miles.

I’ve heard of people who run this much, I’ve just never met them. It’s said they live in remote Mexican canyons, wear homemade rubber sandals and hang out with a chap called Caballo Blanco. You may or may not fit this description.

What if you haven’t run a step in months? What if you’re starting from nothing? My eight year old son tells me that ten percent of zero is zero. He says we should avoid the practice of multiplying by zero altogether. I believe him since I haven’t studied math since Reagan was President. We can’t start with zero.

Let’s be reasonable and begin with two laps around the average high school track; about a half mile. At this meager distance, you’ll need a precision Swiss timepiece and help from a non-corrupt I.O.C. course official to run precisely 0.05 miles further in your second week.

It doesn’t get any easier. Goodness knows how you’ll run 1.43 miles in week eleven and follow it up with exactly 1.57 miles in week twelve. This would elevate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to an art form.

Will you risk injury in week twenty-six by running 5.97 instead of 5.96 miles? If the extra 0.01 miles causes a DEFCON 1 calf injury, can you sue running publications?

Certainly, I wouldn’t follow this regimen if you lack patience. Starting with a half mile, you’d need two entire months to build up your endurance sufficiently to run just one full mile per week (or to be precise, 0.97 miles). After four complete months of training, you’ll be running an astounding two miles per week. Prefontaine, give us patience.

Adding infinitesimal miles to a training run may be maddening. But remember, we’re talking about cumulative weekly miles. If you’d like the pleasure of running, say, three times a week, you’ll have to follow a rather meticulous regimen:

Monday: 1.495 miles (Hills)

Wednesday: 1.216 miles (.2519 miles at 5k pace)

Saturday: 3.249 miles (Long Slow Distance)

Let me add a bit more sugar to the Gatorade. The average sedentary person walks 0.473 to 1.42 miles each day. That’s a non-insignificant 3.31 to 9.94 miles a week.

Dustin Hoffman’s Rainmain would tell you that, by your forth week of ten percent progression, you wouldn’t be close to matching the slowest sluggard’s daily output. But cheer up! You’ll reach weekly maximum coach potato distance within eight months. Definitely 32.5 weeks to Wapner.

We’re no longer talking about training schedules, we’re talking about the aging process. If you begin with a half-mile jog, you’d be nearly a year older before breaking the forty mile barrier. That’s one whole circuit around the sun, measuring hundredths of a mile on every training run. The real risk here isn’t reinjury, it’s early-onset dementia.

Increasing mileage in painstakingly slight increments is, practically speaking, impossible. It has nothing to do with ability, let alone doping. It’s about the numbers. Even if you’re in the Goldilocks Zone (not starting with too few or too many base miles) the early weeks of training offer astoundingly laughable increases in mileage.

You simply have never met a runner who has followed the ten percent rule. Not one.

I don’t deny the basic wisdom here. We shouldn’t add miles too rapidly. We’re asking for further injury if we do. But reality has an annoying way of foisting itself upon theory. If you’re on the comeback trail (as I am) you will break the sacred ten percent rule, guaranteed.

If it makes you feel better, call it a loose metaphorical guideline. It helps me.

Just don’t tell the folks at Runner’s World.

– Dean

Pubalgia’s Revenge 05Jul10

Medieval Hernia Surgery courtesy of Medscape.

You may not know this, but I’ve been injured for a while. It’s been a trying twenty-two months (so far). As one Twitteronian put it, “Man, that’s the longest groin pull in history.” I took this as a compliment. To those who have endured my interminably personal posts, comments, tweets and updates, I thank you from the bottom of my, well, you know.

Alas, my nether-regional monomania has alienated at least one woman. A long-lost friend resurfaced on Facebook to write, “Why are all your status updates about your groin? I know we haven’t talked since 1988, but I have to tell you point blank, I’ve had enough!”

Such are the vagaries of human perspective. I feel as if I’ve shown remarkable restraint on the subject. I’ll spare you the specific details of my reply. Suffice it to say, groin jokes tend to write themselves.

Obviously, I haven’t yet recovered. I run a bit, but nothing like I used to. Recently, I was sent into a near apoplectic tizzy at the prospect of an honest-to-goodness diagnosis (a sign of how far I’ve lowered my expectations). Apparently, I suffer from something called Athletic Pubalgia. Think of this as a sports hernia equipped with a Romulan Cloaking Device. For some time, I have described pain, and sophisticated medical instruments have revealed no cause.

Only through careful process of elimination and diligent reflection have my medical team (yes, team) come to the conclusion that I have the dreaded, nebulous AP. It seems surgery is the only solution. This doesn’t bother me, but can a man truly embrace a procedure called Pelvic Floor Repair?

This sounds suspiciously like home improvement. “The lateral support in these joists are shot. You need a full pelvic floor repair. Yup.”

Next thing you know, you’re constantly at Lowe’s, spending more money than Lady Gaga spends on translucent acrylic undergarments. Nothing goes as expected. Midway through the repair job, an improbable, ancient sarcophagus is found in the subfloor, necessitating a visit by the Smithsonian Institution’s artifact recovery team. The extraction causes so much damage that the contractor tells you, with no hint of empathy, that the wiring and plumbing for the entire house must now be replaced. You’ve become the manic-depressive speculator in an exceedingly disturbing, highly personal episode of Flip This House.

Yes, it’s fair to say I’m nervous about groin surgery.

But I’ll do nearly anything to solve this problem. Fellow runners understand this implicitly. Assuming my insurance company agrees that the solution to two years of chronic pain is something they might consider covering, I’ll give it a go; even if it means being strapped upside down to a medieval operating rack.

I just want to run again.

– Dean

OUTRAGE! Only 99.9992% of Marathon Participants Live to Run Another Day! 07Dec09

Marathon Death Pie Chart

Winston Smith, gangly father of three, staggered across the finish line, his breath coming in wisps of labored wheezing. Streaked with grotesque rivulets of dried salt, he struck an image of one who had endured terrible hardship and emerged decidedly worse for the wear. Smith had just miraculously survived the 2009 New York City Marathon.

He was one of the lucky ones.

Death by Marathon
The marathon is a relentless killer, extinguishing the lives of spirited weekend warriors at an ever-alarming rate. Runners expect to achieve glory. Instead, legions meet their sudden demise on the course.

The numbers are sobering. With the savage appetite of a celestial black hole, the marathon devours nearly eight millionths of all participants, a figure containing plenty of zeros. Specifically, .000008 of all marathoners die during this grisly race.

Such exceptionally high numbers give mathematicians pause. According to one concerned set theorist, “It doesn’t take Pythagoras to see that average deaths have reached the 6th significant figure to the right of the decimal. I’m no alarmist, but I calculate the chances of death during the marathon as dangerously far above zero, infinitesimally speaking.”

As shocking as these numbers are, they merely reflect races held in the United States. Worldwide fatalities are surely much higher. Details are sketchy. We literally have no idea how many marathoners have joined the choir invisible under Moldova’s Vladimir Voronin or Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa. We may never know.

One thing is certain, ever more naïve, casual athletes attempt the marathon each year. In 2008, an estimated 425,000 runners (in the U.S. alone) made the fateful decision to entrust their lives to the cold embrace of statistics. In 2009, 465,000 people tempted the grim reaper. If these stunning numbers continue to spiral, the marathon may become one of the deadliest activities known to man, rivaling only encounters with a cow, falling down, and daring to exist during the month of January for sheer morbid lethality.

Fortunately, most runners fall prey to debilitating injuries that prevent them from running the marathon in the first place.

Smith’s Feat Warrants Investigation
The extraordinary Winston Smith somehow avoided injuries, survived training and astonishingly escaped the 2009 New York City Marathon with his life. Were other runners as mysteriously fortunate? How many died in their quest to scratch an item off of the definitive bourgeoisie bucket list?

Available records indicate that, inexplicably, of the 43,741 people who ran the five-borough death trap, precisely none died.

This improbable wellspring of life can only be attributed to gross error, statistical oddity or, more ominously, sinister cover-up. For the sake of all involved, the startling lack of fatality in New York must be investigated immediately.

Given the overwhelming odds against living through the marathon, how could Smith have possibly lived to tell his tale? Does he even exist? What did race officials know, and when did they know it?

The public demand answers.

– Dean

Running USA provides and excellent look at marathon participation statistics.

The most often quoted study for marathon fatalities (Redelmeier and Greenwald – BMJ 2007) concluded that on average, .8 marathoners per 100,000 die during the race. This is apparently the most recent, detailed and oft-quoted study related to marathon mortality. It forms the basis for the figures in this post.

Some feel that 1 of every 50,000 participants die during the marathon. Even if this lower figure is entirely correct, just .00002 of all runners die during the marathon. This is a very low number.

However, neither figure is so low that it escapes the eyes of sensationalists.

Thanks to The Bigger Design for the lovely Pie Chart, and to Mr. Davidson for mathematical fact-checking.

The Jackass Kick 02Jul09

JackassKickIndirectly relevant photo by QuietDelusions courtesy of Flickr.

A burst of speed at the end of a marathon is exceedingly rare, but it happened to me once. Usually, one can’t summon late race heroics from weary muscles. But there I was at the Myrtle Beach Marathon feeling relatively fresh at mile 24. As I passed fading runners, I began to sense an excellent finish. You’ll just have to trust me. This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

Positively ebullient, I passed the 26-mile marker, primed for excessive celebration. That’s when I saw her. As I rounded the final corner, twenty yards ahead, mercilessly taunting me by her very presence, was a white haired old woman in Asics and a singlet.

She was going to beat me.

Defiance rose from deep within the arcane recesses of my masculinity. Flush with what I assure you were entirely natural performance enhancing intoxicants, I surged forward, determined to finish before this usurping senior citizen. I remember literally screaming to myself, “No way grandma!”

But then, my practical sense emerged from the biochemical fog. Was I really racing an older woman? To be sure, she was fit and quite capable. A 3:30 marathon is nothing to sneeze at. But let’s face it, she could collect social security and something had to be done about that.

As we jostled for position, I heard two distinct sounds rising from the crowd. Wild cheering overflowed for the white haired woman. Malevolent boos and derisive insults were hurled at me. No amount of hormones could save me now.

Consider the unmanageable difficulty of my situation.

Anyone who would pass an old woman in sight of a marathon finish is, by definition, a jackass. There’s just no way around this. However, anyone beaten by an old woman in an endurance race must be hopelessly feeble. This horrible realization makes one want to pass old women in the first place. To pass or not to pass; both options are wholly untenable. Worse, the consequence of one choice makes the other choice totally necessary, so there’s simply no way to win. It’s Heller’s Catch-22 for runners.


I had only a split second to make my choice. Like any red-blooded, hyper-competitive marathoner within sight of the immortal finish line, I bolted. Grandma ate my testosterone-laced dust.

In Chariot’s of Fire, Eric Liddell ran and felt God’s pleasure. That must have been nice. As I dashed forward, I could feel the mordant stares and quiet disgust of outraged spectators. As I crossed the finish line, the enormity of my blunder became clear. I had blatantly, unashamedly run down kindly Carole Findley, 66 of Raleigh, North Carolina. I felt like the devil incarnate.

Carole of course, finished to thunderous applause despite struggling through the final hundred yards (I suspect she may have been playing to the crowd, but I can’t prove this.) In the finisher’s chute, I sheepishly received my ill-gotten medal. I finished the marathon with rare strength and couldn’t enjoy it, even slightly. Avoiding eye contact with the masses, I skulked away.

Since then, I’ve cultivated a healthy grasp of competitive etiquette. I wish I had shown greater maturity at Myrtle, particularly in light of one painfully salient fact: Carole ran the half rather than the full marathon that day. Had I known this at the time, her 3:30 would have seemed a tad less threateningly impressive and the whole day might have gone differently. As it stood, I beat down an older woman who ran 16-minute miles (probably a personal best) in an entirely different race. And I had to kick into high gear to pass her. Even my act of strength revealed weakness.

So Carole, I apologize for my callow buffoonery. I’d like to make it up to you someday; perhaps we can meet for dinner at the Piccadilly Cafeteria and enjoy Bingo afterward… my treat.

– Dean


2007 Myrtle Beach Half Marathon
Carole Findley – Age 66 (Really, not old at all)

2007 Myrtle Beach Marathon
Dean Schuster – Age 36
3:28:52 (PR at the time)

Sylvia Collins – Age 65
3:31:21 (Whew, I’m glad I beat the amazing Sylvia.)

Brimstone Motivation 12Jun09

Photo by annette62 courtesy of Flickr.

I run with some hilarious characters.

There’s this one chap, well read and possessed of a keen wit, who regularly and zealously rouses the locals for the weekend trail-running binge. He’s become a sort of town crier. Every Friday, he announces the training run, reports on our latest trail ultra results, and offers a succinct weather report. We’ve come to expect and enjoy it.

With the advent of summer in South Carolina, his job has become much tougher. You try convincing people to run eighteen to twenty miles in the oppressive June heat. In the South, one feels the robust heat index and heady dew point at dawn. It can break the willpower of the most determined runners.

Undaunted, our intrepid motivator has offered up a clarion call to our group and to runners everywhere. Today, he sent out a singularly amazing note. If this doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, I don’t know what will…

Brothers & Sisters,

This week I’d like to talk about sin. Not gluttony; not sins of the flesh like coveting your neighbor’s wife; not using your mouth to blaspheme instead of raising a joyful noise. No brothers & sisters, I am here to save you from the sin of sloth.

Papists called it “Acedia,” and they numbered it among the Seven Deadly Sins—the worst of the lot. You may know them as the Cardinal Sins. Maybe your grandpappy called them the Mortal Sins. Regardless brethren, I’m here to remind you that idleness and listlessness are the handmaidens of the Devil—the tools of Beelzebub himself.

So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. First we’re going to congregate. Then we’re going to motivate. We’re going to ambulate. And I can guarantee we will perspirate. We are going to cast that demon Sloth right out of our temple! Are you with me brothers and sisters? Hallelujah!

Yes, mighty temptations face us. We are tempted to stay in bed. We are tempted to put things off until tomorrow. Some say the forest is too big, the trail too long, the weather too unbearable. But it is not so. The forest is not too big when you run with your friends. The trail is never too long when others are there to encourage you. The weather is not too unbearable when you meet it with the joy of the Holy Ghost!

No burden will be placed on you that you cannot overcome. I can testify before each of you, the first step out of bed is the hardest step you will take. If you take that leap of faith, you’ll find yourself helping carry the burden of others and discover the load you carry yourself lighter because of it.

Look to the Good Book for guidance; the book of Hebrews in the New Testament:

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” [Hebrews 12:1] “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what has promised.” [Hebrews 10:36]

Can I get an Amen?

Sunrise service will be held at the outdoor tabernacle of Harbison Forest at 5:40 a.m. The forecast calls for heat: 74 degrees and 84% humidity at dawn. Hot? Yes, my friends that is hot— but not as hot as the eternal fires of damnation.

– Deacon Rick (The Other White Meat)

I expect to see everyone in church this weekend, full of the sorrow that leads to repentance.

– Dean

Abe Vigoda’s Bloody Nipples 29May09

Photo by TravISU courtesy of Flickr.

If you’ve run a road marathon, you’ve probably heard an encouraging word from a volunteer or spectator. These folk mean well. Full of enthusiasm and wholeheartedly devoted to your cause, they shout, “You’re almost there!” and “It’s right around the corner!” If you’re seriously lucky, they’ll boldly proclaim, “You look great!”

These are all lies.

You’re not almost there. The finish line is not right around the corner, and you look far, far from great.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate lusty support. But what if marathon fans couldn’t use standard catchphrases? What if they were restricted to the raw, brutal truth? If so, somewhere around mile 22, unsuspecting runners would find themselves absolutely blitzed by excessive honesty. Imagine the wide-ranging, rather bizarre cheers:

“You can keep that vomit down for another mile, I know it!”

“You have no chance of catching the senior citizen in front of you.”

“You’re the only runner in sight. I offer half-hearted, token applause.”

“Your bloody nipple shirt offends us, sir.”

“Hey look, it’s Abe Vigoda!”

“Can you hurry things up a bit? The police need to pick up these traffic cones.”

How are you still upright?

“All this effort for a cheesy, cotton T-shirt?”

“You appear to be running dangerously low on hope.”

“The Salt Vampire from the original Star Trek has nothing on you!”

“You know, I really just don’t see the point.”

“Hey sweatipotimus! Five dollars says you get a class-A dehydration cramp before the next aid station.”

“From the comfort of my curbside lawn chair, it’s exceedingly easy for me to tell you to run faster.”

“We need an ambulance at mile 22, STAT!”

“The winner finished like, two hours ago.”

Now then Intrepid runner, wouldn’t you prefer lies? Who wants the truth when you’ve got four or five oppressive miles to go?

At least fans care enough to show support. Goodness knows they’ve probably got more constructive things to do. Most just don’t know any better. If they truly understood the unending, quasi-hallucinogenic misery of the last few miles of the marathon, they’d add subtle nuance to their spin doctoring. They’d avoid exaggeration altogether.

But, I don’t want that.

Fans, you keep right on telling me I look great. I know it’s a lie. You know it’s a lie. It will be our little secret, the proverbial elephant on the course. We’ll be as comfortable together as politicians and voters.

Beyond turning a deaf ear to alluring half truths, I have a practical solution. Fans, position yourselves after the 25-mile mark. Then you’ll be free to say whatever you please about distance. At that point, even the most morose, pessimistic runners will concede they’re “almost done.” Fans aren’t censored. Runners are too buoyant to care. Everyone wins.

Better yet, cheer during the final .2-mile stretch run. There, you’ll have carte blanche to say damn near anything to me. Nothing can offend when I can see the finish line. Call me Abe Vigoda. Insult my beatific grandmother. Heck, announce to the crowd that I heartily enjoy kicking puppies. Knock yourselves out.

But before this remember, I look fabulous.

– Dean

Maddening Tale of the Adductor Longus 06Oct08

Creepy Green Giant, circa 1954

In effort to keep physicians, physical therapists and makers of anti-inflamatory medication in the black, I proudly announce my latest running injury: the dreaded groin pull. It’s as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Worse, it’s completely disrupting my marathon schedule. I should be in the visceral, red meat section of my training regimen; the part where Burgess Meredith proclaims through grimy, clenched teeth that I eat lightning and crap thunder. Instead, I’ve been laid low by a deceptively nasty injury not easily described in mixed company.

Where to begin.

A groin pull is very much like a taffy pull, except you’re the taffy. Or, if you prefer vegetables; Imagine the Jolly Green Giant holds you aloft by your feet intent on slowly making a wishbone out of you. Distracted by his diminutive sidekick Sprout, he fails to finish the job. Sure, you may be alive but running is now out of the question.

One typically does not hear the word “groin” in polite conversation, unless of course you happen to know a runner. Then it’s mentioned frequently, without a hint of embarrassment.

“Hey runner friend, what do you think of the new Asics Gel Nimbus 10?”

“The heel support is excellent fellow running aficionado, but there’s not enough cushioning to help with my groin.”

“That groin still bothering you? Provide exhaustive detail during our 10 mile training run.”

Things are different for non-runners, where references to the “groin” are uncommon. It’s a lonely word; too vulgar for high speech, and not offensive enough for low speech. The higher classes simply employ euphemisms like “nether regions” or “down there.” Lower classes proceed directly to the sterner, more colorful expletives. Neither are helpful.

Unless you’ve signed up for an Ancient Roman architecture class, you probably won’t read much about the groin, either. Even romance novelists avoid it. Why write wildly of burning groins, when burning loins will do nicely?

So we must turn to proper terminology. Medically speaking, I appear to have a strained, pulled or otherwise damaged adductor longus; one of the important muscles attaching the leg to the abdomen. Science then, has given us the ideal expression. A pulled adductor longus sounds vaguely alluring. Nobody wants a groin pull.

But if for some reason you’d like one, I suggest running incessant, high-mileage weeks with little or no breaks. When you feel the first twinge in your lower abdomen, by all means continue running, competitively if possible. In no time, you’ll be on the sidelines as your companions train in the gloriously autumnal weather.

For serious entertainment, return from the injury quickly, ignoring the sage advice of physicians, spouses, or runners with similar experience. Schedule a marathon immediately.

On that note, I hope to see you at the Lewis & Clark Siouxland Marathon on October 18th. Assuming I’m still in one piece, do flag me down at the Des Moines Marathon the next day.

– Dean

11.5 and all is well. 15Apr08

Feet are quite peculiar, and typically ugly. Like the ear, they are prone to bulbous, odd shapes that remind me of my least favorite vegetables (cauliflower and green squash).

They can also cause problems, especially for runners. But I’ve never had any noteworthy problems with my feet. I’ve had no black toenails or lost toenails. I’ve avoided plantar fasciitis, calluses, infections, arch pain and unsightly fungus. I’m even a neutral pronator.

The occasional blisters appear, but only after a marathon or ultra, and only on my left little toe. They clear up right away. Since I’ve shifted from roads to trails, I can’t even remember the last time my feet were sore.

At the risk of sounding painfully shallow, I love my feet. This doesn’t mean that I spend all day thinking of my feet, or any other feet for that matter. But I do do buy running shoes at least partially based on fashion, and I have had a pedicure.

Does this make me a metrosexual runner?

– Dean

Daddy needs a quiet house! 12Apr08

Nothing stifles jovial, pre-Boston excitement like spending an afternoon wrangling with arcane tax forms. For me, the complexities of the modern tax code bring the minimalism of running into stark relief.

Running is wonderfully, refreshingly, delightfully simple.

Thank goodness.

– Dean

Eight Lives Left 07Apr08

As a trail runner, I’m not bored by long stretches of featureless road, my feet never ache, and I avoid recklessly inattentive teenagers who drive white pick-up trucks.

You should join me on the trails. Off road, you’ll experience varied terrain, often gorgeous scenery, and meet amazing runners who consider scaling wooded mountains an ideal way to spend the day. Ever freak out on the road when you can’t find a convenient restroom? Don’t give it a second though on the trails.

Train running offers a much needed respite from the techno-urban tornado. It’s like immersing yourself in those zen-like Alpine Lake or Bavarian Meadow ambient background CDs; just without the CD player, your bathrobe, or your living room. Admittedly, some people aren’t interested in relaxation. They’ve read Lord of the Flies once too often, and prefer to unleash the tribal primitivism of their inner Jack. We all run for different reasons.

Anyway, as you run, jump and swerve through the trails, you’ll work more leg muscles than exercised by ordinary road running. You’ll also greatly enhance something called proprioception; your body’s unconscious, non-visual knack for spatial orientation. Sorry, this doesn’t mean you’ll turn into Nostradamus.

Trail running has become my passion. I love the switch-backs, single tracks, stream crossings, and mud. I even enjoy tripping over roots and falling on my face.

Unsurprisingly, I also enjoy the wildlife. I’ve seen wild turkeys, squabbling raccoons, snakes, quail, foxes, coyotes, skunks, bunnies by the score, more squirrels than I can count, and of course spiders and their ubiquitous webs. I’ve also seen loads of deer. If I had a dollar for every doe, buck, or fawn I’ve seen on the trails, my servants would have written this post for me.

It all stands to reason. After all, I regularly cavort through their home. And deer are quite a jumpy lot. When runners come barreling through the trails, the herd scatters haphazardly like teenagers caught at an illicit bottle-spinning party. Deer literally hightail it away from humans. It’s quite a sight – in daylight.

But I also run the trails in the dark. Slapping a battery-powered light on your forehead for nighttime trail running is probably as foolish as it sounds. You can’t see anything more than a few feet ahead of your headlamp beam; except the sinister, reflected eyes of wild deer. Yeah, it’s creepy.

And I sometimes run alone in the dark. This can be somewhat unnerving, especially if you pause to consider its rank stupidity. But let’s not dwell on that. Recently, on a solo, pre-dawn trail run, I rounded a hairpin turn and was startled by the sudden appearance of two piercing, glowing eyes right in front of me. As I stood frozen in sheer terror, an enormous deer pounced straight up, bayed, and I can’t put this any other way, hissed at me.

At that moment, without benefit of calm recognition, I thought I was sushi.

The only thing that could have made this scarier would have been if the deer had burst into flames and announced in the deep distorted voice of the Dread Pirate Roberts, “I am the white-tailed viceroy of Mephistopeles, come to claim your soul!”

I swear it was pretty close to that. I was shaking for several minutes. Fortunately, I think the deer was more scared than me, and that’s saying something.

This might not be a rugged bear or cougar story, but encounters with large herbivores are quite enough for me, thanks. But consider the big picture. Regardless of the psychological trauma, I’ll take startled venison over close calls with speeding, two-ton vehicles any day of the week.

– Dean