Trails and an old running friend

dennyandjohn

Why are Denny and I grinning like fools?

1) We’re feeling a nice buzz from a morning run on the Akron towpath.

2) It’s our first run together in more than three years.

3) In my case, I’m just glad Denny ran slow so I could keep up.

The answer is All Of The Above. And those are good reasons, if you ask me.

Denny and I used to run together three or four times a week when I lived in Akron. Over the years, we probably ran this trail together more than 500 times — along with every other trail and road in town.

But now we live about 300 miles apart and see each only once in a blue moon.

The moon turned blue this week, and Denny and I were able to get together for a few miles. It was a fun little reunion, just the two of us, clumping out the miles and chattering like Trappist monks on a holiday.

We met at Cascade Valley Parkway and pushed north on the trail.

park sign

towpath sign

I was nervous. Just a week earlier, my IT band had given me a bad scare, with a series of twinges and flare-ups. For hours, I was limping around like a war veteran.

So I decided to get serious about stretching and strengthening exercises. I started doing them for 20 minutes, twice a day. And my leg has behaved itself.

On top of that, I was pushing the distance. Denny and I were planning to run 4 1/2 miles and my longest run in the past month has been 3 1/2 miles. Could the old man take it without crumpling to the ground?

I just hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my old running partner, who has been listening to my injury hard-luck stories for too many years.

It was time to find out what I was made of.

We trotted down the trail at an easy pace, past the Mustill Store, the riverside and a few other runners.

mustill

river

runner

Denny told me about a bunch of races he has done this year, including the Akron Half Marathon, and a few more he plans to do in the next year or two, including the famous Dipsea Race in California, the oldest trail race in America.

Then we hit the turnaround. At my suggestion, we stopped for a few minutes so I could stretch and take stock of my legs.

All good, so we turned around and began retracing our steps.

We traded stories and jokes and caught up on our lives. Around us, the birds were singing and the river was babbling. It was a glorious morning.

Of course, at one point, we nearly got flattened by a dump truck that was hauling sand down the trail in a resurfacing project. (OK, maybe not “flattened,” but the truck was on our heels and we had to step off the trail to let it pass.)

We trotted on.

We pushed up the final hill to the parking lot and felt the endorphins wash over us. I’m happy to say I made it to the end with no strains or scuff marks.

Yay, a new milestone — a whopping 4 1/2 miles.

But no, we weren’t through. After we stopped for water, Denny offered to show me something I hadn’t seen before. It was an extension of the trail into downtown.  He said it continued south all the way to Stark County.

We crossed the street and walked up a few slopes and maybe some steps. Then we got to a long 5% uphill grade that stretched for about a quarter mile, running alongside a canal lock.

lock

“This will take forever to walk,” I said, and broke into a trot.

So just like that, I was pushing myself again.

Running with Denny will do that. For the four years we ran together, he helped me build speed, strength, endurance and intensity. We trained and raced together and had a blast.

Now it was like old times. For about an hour.

So that’s why we were grinning like fools.

I can’t wait to do it again. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait for another blue moon.

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