This morning, before I started my run, I saw something that’s a sure sign of fall. Something that without a doubt means summer is over and my absolute favorite time of the year — for running and otherwise — is finally here. It wasn’t a swath of colorful leaves or a pumpkin on a doorstep. It’s much more subtle, and I almost missed it because I was in such a hurry to get going. As I stood in the morning sunlight, pulling my long-sleeves down over my hands, there it was, right in front of my face…my breath.
Bird-in-Hand, Pa. is a bit of a paradox. Cars and horse-drawn buggies share the road. Farms and factories intermingle. Amish people talk on cell phones. Even the annual half marathon is a cross between modern and old-fashion.
There are bib numbers with timing chips embedded in the back, but there are also water cups filled from hoses, and fiddle players and guitarists (all unplugged, of course) entertaining participant at various mile markers. Runners with ipods and fancy hydration belts run along side others donning straw hats and bonnets.
The locals run the race in their everyday Amish garb — women in long skirts and dresses and men in their black pants and suspenders. Some substitute their button-down shirt for the race’s tech tee and swap their black shoes for running shoes. But some don’t…even if the humidity is 95%.
The course is a very hilly tour through Pennsylvania Dutch Country with equal parts human and animal spectators. Some cheer, some moo, and some sit on the side of the road quietly observing. It takes a few miles to get accustomed to the smell of the course, and there are definitely a lot of “road apples” to dodge. But the sounds, smells, and amazing scenery are all part of the experience. And the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon is definitely an experience…one that I highly recommend to every runner.
My first run on the C&O Canal trail was awesome. I felt as if I’d been transported down South as I ran past the marshes and rows of wispy, willowy trees. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to run the trail. It’s less than a half hour from my house, and the scenery alone makes it worth the drive. Add in the amazing solitude and the fact that it’s mostly shaded from the sun, and it’s just about as perfect a trail as a runner could ask for. Well, that is except for one thing…the turtles.
Don’t get me wrong, I like turtles. Carrying a shell on your back at all times seems like a lot of hard work, so I admire the turtles’ toughness. It’s this admiration, and the fact that I don’t believe in injuring harmless creatures, that I have a problem when one almost gets squashed under my foot. I make a point not to intentionally squash anything when I run — even creepy crawler bugs. I’ve had run-ins with a lot of ants, worms, and even lizards (when I lived in Florida), but this was the first time I almost ran over a turtle.
It was practically impossible to see him camped out in the middle of the trail. He blended in with the dirt, rocks, and gravel quite nicely. My shoe was inches from kicking the poor thing when I finally saw the faint orange streaks on its shell and realized it was not a rock. I managed to dodge the little guy just as he tucked his head into his shell. Given that he didn’t have enough time to get his legs in, I suspect he hadn’t seen me either.
I felt guilty for scaring him…and for almost crushing him under my Nikes. (After all, I was his neighborhood, not mine.) So guilty that I spent the rest of my run on the look out for other turtles crossing the trail. Fortunately, I didn’t have anymore close encounters of the shelled kind. I may wait until winter to run the C&O Canal again, though. I just don’t think I can handle having turtle-slaughter on my conscious.