Leavin' On That Midnight Run to Georgia

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Apr 13, 2006 11:08 AM

I went for a run last night for the first time in months.

I forgot I really enjoy that. There was a time when I could almost have been called a runner. I was never one of those people who simply had to run for their mental well-being-- for whom two days without a run would necessitate a trip to the therapist. There are people like that.

I was different. I was just one of those people who is friends with people who have to run for their mental well-being and who consequently gets sucked into 3 to 5-mile daily jaunts in the lung-bursting, knee-cap-bashing-- or, as the Georgia Department of Tourism would say, "gentle, gracefully sloping"-- foothills of Georgia.

One impossibly hot Georgia summer, I was in my friend Meghan's wedding-- one of my runner friends. She was the anti-Bridezilla (does that make her Bride-Mothra or something?). She was a laid-back tomboy with a bunch of laid-back bridesmaids.

She and I would sit around in Athens and think aloud, "I wonder how that whole wedding planning thing is going." She was peripherally involved, but her mother was taking care of everything and Meghan was more than happy to hand over everything but the big calls to her.

Of course, the hands-off approach can have consequences. Like, when she and I finally got around to having me try on my bridesmaid dress about three weeks before the wedding. And, what can I tell you? It fit in the store.

After we realized that my dress just wasn't all that big and satin ain't all that stretchy, Meghan looked at me and her eyes lit up.

"More running," she said, grinning wickedly and gazing out at the shimmery heat waves rising off the parking lot pavement.

Runners are weird.

So, we ran more. Every day, longer distances. The ozone advisory guy on Channel 4 said stay inside. I put my hand on a telephone pole to stretch a quad and brought it down stained with the gloopy black of melting tar.

We ran through the rose garden in the Georgia Botanical Gardens, past every glorious Southern gothic mansion-turned-frat-house on campus, under the Arch (because we had graduated, and it was safe), under the potentially decapitatory frisbees of the hippies on the intramural fields.

Through the odd, sour smell of Bradford pear trees, the sharp, acrid scent of sun-baked kudzu. Past honeysuckle, wisteria, and magnolia--the sweetness of whose names suggest whoever bestowed them was in the act of smelling as he did it.

We were cheered on, of course, by the signature sound of a Southern summer. The katydids screamed and droned in cycles, the pitch ever-rising, rising, rising until you just wanted to pluck one of the little buggers out of the air and try to reason with it-- "Seriously, you and your friends have got to quit that." But they don't listen, and after a period of adjusting to it every summer, it always sounded like humming, and I was surprised I ever noticed it at all.

We stopped for blackberries every day. We reached and stretched into the tangle of a blackberry patch taller than both of us, trying to find the good ones, the ones the birds hadn't picked at yet. The temperature inside the patch was always cooler by a shocking degree, so reaching for a berry instantly brought two kinds of refreshment.

In the end, that dress zipped up, though I did have hip flexors the size of hamstrings. Them thar hills, you know? But Meghan paid for her support during my dress-squeezing endeavor.

Meghan was always the faller. In my experience, some runners fall-- a lot. Meghan did. It was not unusal. So, one day, less than a week before the wedding, I didn't think much of it when I heard her typical brush-thrashing and thump behind me. Yes, it sounds insensitive, but she's a rough-and-tumble girl.

I ran a couple steps, expecting her to jump up, dust off, and join me again. When she didn't, I turned around to see her still on the ground, clutching her foot. I ran back and our other friend and I picked her up and carried her the half-mile or so out of the woods, so we could get her in the car.

Her foot was broken. One new break, and a couple stress fractures brought on by years of marathoning and pushing. She wore an air cast down the aisle. Her wedding planner almost killed me.

Meghan just said, "well, at least it matches the dress!" And, "when can I run again?"

Runners are weird.

These days, I could barely go for a walk in the Georgia hills without my hip flexors crying out for relief in that shrill voice they use (worse than the katydids, I tell you). But I'm trying to get better. Hence, the running.

And, hence, my telling you about it, so maybe I can remember why I used to like it so much.