Late Miles (Is It a Nickname? A Life Aim?)

Late summer afternoon on the verge of Maine’s Bowdoin College playing fields, which, in COVID-19-times, are empty and eerily kempt. The day has been a closet of heat. Even out here, the air’s still thick and any slats of sun jack up the temperature five or so degrees; I’m walking to warm my legs and shake off an interior afternoon, and I’m keeping to the shade, either on the nearby trails or beneath the fringe woods. From a couple hundred yards away I see a figure headed my way, something we all track more closely in these masked days. It looks as if he’s running, and he’s out on the fresh-cut grass in the sun, trading, it appears, thermal comfort for soft footing. I say “looks as if” because even as his arms are crooked at right angles in runner’s position and his stride is clear, it looks also as if he is moving in deep water. Everything he does t a k e s t i m e.

As we draw near, it becomes clear that my three-plus-mile-per-hour warm-up walk is a good deal faster than his “running.” He’s wearing a ragged, knee-length maroon shirt that would be a singlet, if the gravity of its long use hadn’t dragged it down; his baggy shorts are a faded satiny scarlet that clashes with the maroon. His gaze is set on the turf 10 feet ahead, and though I wave, it never turns my way or falters. His stained, manilla-colored hat eases along in a straight line as he passes; it has a certain majesty, as ships do when they pass you on the open ocean. When I look down, I notice that he is barefoot, his ankles and feet the underbelly white of ground-hidden animals.

I turn to watch him go: the whole slow ensemble recedes gradually, and then a good minute later he reaches the west end of the field and turns south. Seen from the side, it’s again clear he is running; it’s also clear that he has just redefined running for me—his pace can’t be faster than two miles per hour. But he is running. There is rhythm, without pause; it must be so. That we can go so slow… and still, run.

I turn back to my day’s footwork, shift into my run energized, enlivened by possibility. Which, when we consider it, is what we run toward across our days.

I am in awe; I am elated. Here, as I work and live through my own deceleration but still aspire, is what I may aspire to—these late miles and their oh-so-slow unfurling.

It can’t be, I think as I enter the woods, much farther to wisdom.

Call for Comments 

  • What elements of life, idea, or desire do you run toward? What’s out there that compels you to move forward?
  • And, those goals, have or do they change as you age?
Sandy Stott

lives and runs in Brunswick, Maine, where he chairs the town’s Conservation Commission. He writes for a variety of publications and has a book, 'Critical Hours—Search and Rescue in the White Mountains', which published in April of 2018, is now in its second printing, and was selected by Outside Online as one of its best books for Spring of 2018. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com.

There are 10 comments

  1. Paul Wiesner

    Thank you, Sandy. I’m old – 73, and slow – 15+ min/mile. But my times running on the trails here in Fredericksburg VA are the high points of my week. There’s nothing better than getting dirty with my dog in the woods

  2. Andy M

    ” … it has a certain majesty, as ships do when they pass you on the open ocean.” Love your writing, Sandy. And the “underbelly white” of this piece, for those of us in the 6th decade of life and beyond, is poignant and moving– slowly, but moving! Hope to bump into you on my next sojourn up from southern New England.

    1. Sandy Stott

      Thanks, Andy.. Strange how far apart northern and southern NE seem now. I haven’t been to my favorite Connecticut trails on the Sleeping Giant for some time now, even as a lot of family lives “down south.” Here’s to the day’s motion.

  3. Graham

    A great piece. My running fell off a cliff a couple of years ago, from winning my age group to a series of injuries that have stubbornly refused to go away. During a month of enforced inactivity I wished that I could run again, no matter how slow. Well, I am running again, slowly, and when I get frustrated at my lack of speed I have to remind myself that I am moving and it’s far better than the alternative. When I go out running with my dogs, it’s a salutary lesson: they’re not bothered what the time is on the watch, they don’t care about the pace, if you want to stop and sniff or look at the view or jump into a stream that’s OK and running is good too.

    1. Sandy Stott

      Thanks, Graham. We share having dogs as tutors; they are always so glad to be out there, and there’s so much to sniff out. Glad too to have your story of returning to motion.

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