The God of the iPod

This story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners.

I don’t like to complain, but I’m going to anyway.

This winter has been pretty crappy. I can handle running in the cold, but ice is something altogether more filled with suck. The stuff is treacherous, especially for a guy with a couple of bulging discs in his low back that don’t respond well to wipeouts. Needless to say, I was thrilled when it finally started to melt.

It took until the second week of April before spring finally made an appearance in Calgary, Alberta, and it was a most welcome event because not only did it clear away the ice, it opened up my favourite running route that I had not accessed since the previous November. Because of the buildup of snow and ice the run up Shaganappi Trail to Nose Hill Park had been impassable on foot, so I had altered my course to travelling around my local neighbourhood. Admittedly, it is a nice neighbourhood, but nothing beats Nose Hill for the view, trails, and wide-open spaces, so I was understandably excited to be lacing up my runners this past Good Friday.

The temperature was around ten degrees Celsius, but there was a brisk wind as I headed out the door, which made me wish I’d worn a thin hat—not to keep my ears warm, but to keep my stupid iPod headphones from being ripped out of my ears. I’ve heard other people make this same complaint about the headphones that come with iPods, and either our earholes are too big or they make their earbuds too small. Whatever the case may be, a stiff breeze will cause them to fall out. I crammed them in tighter to the point where it felt like they were pushing on my brain and ran towards the intersection of Country Hills Boulevard and Shaganappi Trail.

There has been much road construction in this area lately and the median has yet to be covered with sod, so I pranced from dry dirt patch to dry dirt patch avoiding the mud bogs as much as possible. Mud is the only thing I hate more than ice for running; at least ice doesn’t stick to your shoes. I was almost through the minefield when I blew my right foot off, metaphorically speaking. I missed a step and sank into a pit of goo that crazy-glued its contents to the sole of my shoe. I hate that.

I looked down in disgust and missed the light to cross the eight lanes of traffic, so I took advantage of the several minutes it takes for it to turn green again by scraping the gunk off my shoe against the curb. Then I dragged my foot through some leftover snow much like a dog with worms will drag his butt across the carpet. It took the entire time that the light was red to get my shoe clean enough so that I wouldn’t be unbalanced and running like a drunken Quasimodo.

I handled that little setback, so it was time to resume running up the monster hill I affectionately refer to as “The Bugger.” It’s two kilometres long and heavy with traffic, but it’s the only way for me to get to Nose Hill, so it’s worth it. Also, the nice people who built the road when it was twinned the previous year gave me an eight-foot-wide shoulder to keep me a safe distance from the motoring public.

The shoulder was covered in gravel that was a necessary evil to keep people from sliding sideways down the hill during the previous months, and within half a kilometre a small rock had found its way into my shoe, so I stopped to remove it. Two hundred metres later another rock got in my shoe and I removed that one too. A few hundred metres more and there was a third rock and I just said to hell with it and let it stay.

Then a car sped through a large puddle that splashed me right in the face. I’ve run in pounding rain before, so this wasn’t exactly a big deal, but what annoyed me was that it coated my sunglasses with mud and I was wearing one of those silver-impregnated anti-stink shirts that wouldn’t exactly work for cleaning the lenses, so I would have to settle for an obscured view of the Rocky Mountains when I reached the park. Le sigh.

Finally I made it to the park and the wind was so brutal that, no matter how much I crammed, my left headphone would not stay put. What’s more, although it was a sunny day overhead, the western horizon was obscured, meaning no view of the Rockies. Oh well, there was still a nice view of the city.

The trails were still too muddy, so I stuck to the paved bike path but soon had to detour around a newly formed lake of melted snow. Unfortunately, I stepped onto some grass that was more like swampland and let’s just say that all the remaining mud got washed off my right shoe.

I sloshed and squished the next kilometre and then spotted a group of people standing and chatting. They were too involved in their conversation to notice their Rottweiler leave them to charge toward me, upper and lower teeth bared, a menacing growl escaping its throat.

My first reaction was to blurt out a blasphemous phrase that wasn’t at all appropriate on Good Friday. Then I yelled at the owners, “Call him off!”

I don’t want to get into the conversation that resulted, but the dog was very reluctant to return to its owner, and the guy acted like I had just spat in his soup by being concerned over his dog biting me. The woman with him, who professed to be a “radio personality dog trainer,” said I was giving off too much energy and the dog was reacting to that. Uh, hello? Out for a run here. Expending energy is the whole point. If I stopped and calmly waited for every dog that crossed my path to come and sniff my various places then my runs would take a lot longer. Besides, the owner obviously missed the sign that said the pathway is an on-leash area. The whole exchange left me aggravated and I started thinking about carrying pepper spray so I could blast some irresponsible owner in the face the next time his dog came at me.

I left them behind and futilely tried to keep my left headphone in place. When I reached my turnaround point I opted to tackle a muddy trail rather than risk facing Cujo and his brain-dead owner again, and while on said trail a cute chocolate lab puppy charged toward me, tongue, tail, and entire body wagging. Obviously he posed no threat, or so I thought, until the forty-pound bundle of joy leapt off the ground, turned sideways in midair, and slammed his torso right into my chest, almost knocking the wind out of me. The woman who owned him chuckled and said, “Oops, sorry. He’s just a puppy.”

No kidding.

I was almost out of the park when a puffy, partially domesticated rat creature on about forty feet more leash than was warranted got it in its head that my ankles were the enemy. I was so miffed at this point that I just leapt over top of the sorry excuse for a canine and kept running.

I started running down The Bugger towards home and was rewarded with having survived thus far with a decreasing of wind that allowed me to listen to music in stereo for a change. After the frustration of the run I wanted to just let gravity take over and fly down the hill at a high rate of speed. I always found this good for an adrenaline rush, but with all the gravel I worried about a wipeout that would turn me into a giant, throbbing scab, so I kept my pace moderate.

As I neared the traffic light I judged the timing and saw that there wasn’t much hope of making it through and opted to slow my pace and wait it out. I was annoyed with the entire outing and just didn’t feel like going for it.

Then fate intervened.

I’m not sure if there is a specific god that controls the randomness factor of an iPod Shuffle. (Has Steve Jobs achieved deity status yet? I may have missed the memo.) Anyway, “He” decided that the next song that came up at that precise moment in time was one that would not allow me to choose anything other than going for it.

“Gimme fuel. Gimme fire. Gimme that which I desire.”

Metallica exploded into my head, and without even thinking about it my legs started pumping at full throttle. I was going to make that stupid light or get creamed by a car in the process.

It was a hundred metres away, and I sprinted like a teenage boy whose girlfriend’s parents came home unexpectedly. The light turned yellow before I reached the first curb, but I pressed on across the eight lanes with a heartbeat that would be considered at maximum were I twenty years younger. I made it to the other side just as it turned red and celebrated my triumph by leaping over a construction barricade rather than choosing to go around it.

And I landed in a hole and my ankle turned on its side.

Did I mention that I broke both my ankles when I was a teenager? No? Well, now you’re informed.

Then something amazing happened: My ankle snapped back into place as my momentum carried me forward. I barely paused as I realized that no damage had been done. I kept sprinting toward home, Metallica egging me on.

“Quench my thirst, with gas-oh-leeeen-UH!”

I ran across the field that took me to my cul-de-sac, leapt a fence, made a clean landing, and sprinted down the road and up the stairs of my house, bursting through the front door, dripping with sweat, heart pounding, lungs burning, and Metallica still blaring.

I read my wife’s lips as she said, “How was the run?”

I smiled and between ragged breaths said to her, “Awesome.”