For more than 20 years, I ran alone on the back roads of New England, on country streets in Connecticut, on campuses in Massachusetts. Then in Vermont and Maine. I was a daily road runner for half my life.
But five years ago, I wanted a softer, leafy footing. So I headed into the woods. This time I took my teenage daughter with me. As poet Robert Frost once said, choosing the less-traveled path can make "all the difference." And it has.
Violets were at my feet now, instead of potholes. And at a sleepy 7 o'clock in the morning, I no longer worried about dodging a car or having to outrun a dog.
The best part was that now I had a running partner ... and a conversationalist. As the veteran jogger, I set the pace. My daughter set the agenda. And at 15 years old, she had a lot to talk about.
At my leisurely stride, Lara and I would cover exams and the school prom in the first wooded mile. Our conversation spilled into love and friendship by the time we reached the end of the property. There were no buses or street lights to hold up our pace or our thoughts. We covered a lot of territory in three years, along with miles of pine needles and spruce boughs.
But over time, our ambitions changed. Nowadays, when my daughter returns home from college, we still "woods-run" together. But she "trains." I try to keep up.
We start out side by side for about 500 uphill yards, exchanging pleasantries and saving more serious conversation for when I can stay with her over a level distance.
Inevitably, I lose her in the first half-mile. But somehow we always remember where we've left off in our talk, as breathless as it may be, and when we pass each other at leafy intersections, we fill in the details.
"I don't think they're even dating anymore," she'll announce to me as she rounds a corner. Then she'll toss over her shoulder the name of a new paramour or a good test grade she forgot to disclose last night but now must exclaim to every softwood in yelling distance.
Fortunately, the only distance between us is in yards, not in understanding. Our roles have changed, however: She sets the pace now, even at the end.
"It sure feels good to stop, doesn't it?" I pant, my head dropping to my knees.
"Oh, let's run that loop again!" she pleads.
I look her way quickly. She's grinning. We go. I used to urge her on five years ago.
As my fleet-footed daughter is busy clocking more time, my pace lets my mind wander. I think about how I'll write this story, what I'm going to cook for dinner, and how much we have left in the bank account. These thoughts run easily with me in the woods. They turn up at corners unannounced.
"Meet you at the bottom of the hill!" she yells.
My memory is jogged by haste. I desperately want to share something.
BY the time the early-morning sun has lifted the dew off the lawns, Lara is stretching out at our customary rendezvous. I emerge from the woods and head down the hill to join her. I can hardly wait to tell her what I remembered.
"You'll never guess who I met in town!" I blurt out.
Our talk runs fluidly again. We want to stretch it out for miles.