Sunday, November 18, 2007

For Ryan

I ran 5.5 miles this morning in memory of Ryan Shay. It's a running community thing.

I wanted the run to be memorable, so I set out at 3:30 am for old times sake. I haven't done a run in the wee hours of the morning in a while. I did quite a few during those interminable years not so long ago when implacable, crushing, financially ruinous and emotionally devastating divorce litigation was obliterating my life. (There, does that adequately sum up divorce for you?)

But this morning I remembered again the joy of running free in the absolute stillness and quiet of the early morning, after all the late-night people have gone home and before the early birds have arisen. There is a lack of other moving human things around that is profound between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. Otherwise us city-folk runners always have the bustle of human company out there in some form, a car driving by, a radio broadcasting, a person walking a dog.

You have to stick to streets with lights on them, traffic arteries of some sort, so you can see where your feet are landing. You have to be on the road and not the sidewalk because sidewalks are uneven.

This is not a time for headphones because you have to feel, hear and see cars coming up behind you. Cars make noises and approaching lights change the shadows around you. Also, you need to wear a baseball cap so you can tip your head down and use the brim to shield your eyes from the blinding headlights of cars coming at you.

Thoughts flowed through my mind. One of my children was an ADHD child. Until you have one of your own, you tend to think such children are either myths or the new-classification creations of psychologists. I thought about that son and how I doubt that he could feel, hear or see cars coming up behind him if he were running, like I can. I think there is a rush of other things going on in his mind constantly that keeps out new approaching stimuli. I tried to imagine what that would be like and I had no idea. I am so sorry for him. I have often wondered if a daily glass of wine during pregnancy could cause that.

I found a new foot trail between two lit roadways I run on a lot at night. I traversed this discovery in the dark, walking it, and discovered it went through.

I went into Arlington and ran by the house we moved into when we first came to the area. I stopped in the dark and listened for a moment of reverie to the faint sounds of three toddlers running around, two adults still acting to responsibly raise a family, and a grandmother coming to visit. The spectral images died away as the toddlers grew up and became judgmental, the adults grew to hate each other, and the grandmother passed on. I continued my run.

I went over to the Custis Trail and was surprised to see that it has lights, albeit low-powered ones. I loped along it for half a mile but I know it feeds into the W&OD Trail which doesn't have lights, so I ran back onto the streets of Arlington again.

A sea of flashing blue lights at 4:30 am attracted me. I diverted my course to run by the scene, a major intersection where signal lights control traffic exiting off the Interstate highway and traffic passing by on the six lanes of Lee Highway. Somebody had run a red light and two smashed cars were in the intersection. Firemen were still extricating one driver, with an ambulance standing by.

I am a former state trooper. I did traffic for years. I couldn't see the tell-tale skidmarks in the roadway in the dark, and I didn't think the four cops on the scene would appreciate me walking into their evidence scene to take a closer look. So I had a mental challenge, to figure out which way each wrecked car had been traveling, making the determination solely from their final resting positions and the damage each car showed. The cars were widely separated in the roadway, with one halfway onto the sidewalk below the exit ramp, pointing the wrong way for the exit ramp, and the other resting pointing SB in the NB lanes of Lee Highway.

I was reaching back twenty years with this stuff, to a time when I could do this easily with just a glance. It took a couple of minutes to process.

It had been a left front quarter panel (driver's side) to right front quarter panel high speed impact, that much was plain to see from the damage on the wrecks. All cars when they collide dispel their energy around a centerpoint and spin off or rotate from there. When they separate they travel off in the direction their spin has sent them, rotating to a greater or lesser degree. The more glancing the blow, the less rotation or spin.

The cops must have thought I was a weirder-than-usual lookey-lew as I started rotating my body with raised left arm (representing the point of impact). Perhaps they shrugged me off as a crazy early morning runner. I was getting my car spin down by circling in place, figuring out which of the two cars had been coming off the highway. It slowly came back to me.

I worked it out. The car on the sidewalk had been leaving the highway and struck the other car, pretty much quarter panel to quarter panel. The other car reached the point of impact a nano second earlier and had been knocked a glancing blow into the opposing lanes. The car on the sidewalk had done much more rotation, a full 180.

As to who ran the red light, well, I'd have to hear the drivers' stories to form an opinion versus merely being suspicious. The car exiting the highway was going a lot faster and had taken almost no evasive action, that much was clear to me. His visibility was more limited by the terrain. I imagined he might be unfamiliar with the signal light as he came off the Interstate if he was from elsewhere. The other guy was on a local road so maybe he was from around there and familiar with the intersection. I'd pencil in the guy on the sidewalk as at fault initially, easily subject to change.

Blame preliminarily assigned, I ran on. I was now back in my home town. A mile out, I kicked my lazy run into a much higher gear and ran home hard, for Ryan. I did a 7:39 for that mile, and elevens or twelves for the rest.

It was an interesting 3:30 am run, as many of them are.


Petraruns said...

I ran for Ryan too today and it was good to think there were more of us out there doing it. I run on trails and my headlight isn't strong enough for me to be safe on them in the dark but I love those night-time runs when I visit friends in towns and cities. I always feel so sharp somehow. I hope the memories weren't too overwhelming. Keep up the great blog!

Sunshine said...

A run in memory of Ryan; a lot of memories for the Spinster.
And an enthusiastic sprint on the neighorhood mile.
Appreciating your blog.

Rainmaker said...

I ran for Ryan as well during my race yesterday - the last 5.5 miles for him.

I love running at night. Since I have little desire to wake up early - I usually just stay up late and head out. Running at 12AM-1AM is probably similiar to 3AM, especially on a Sunday night. I love how quiet everything is.

Anonymous said...

You're nuts. I don't run until 5 am. I ran for Ryan, but since I'm in less than half the shape I was, I could only cover half the distance - 2.75 miles. Plodding along at a 10 min pace. Some things are worth swallowing your pride for...My pro marathoner friend lost a good friend that day. The rest of us lost a fellow runner. -A.

jeanne said...

I ran saturday for ryan, but because I'm shallow, i did NOT record my reflections.

I love that you do these 3:30 a.m. runs. I'm assuming you wear a headlamp, yes? I'd love to try this some day.

DawnB said...

another great post. Thank you for letting me think about all that I'm thankful for.

What a wondeful tribute to Ryan.

I really enjoy reading your Blog. thank you for sharing.

CewTwo said...

What an abvoiusly contemplative time for you. The final bit at higher speed was like a form of closure. I liked it. Thanks for sharing.