This week, I visited the alma mater of my No. 1 all-time running hero.
Can my No. 1 all-time running hero be a fictional character? Yes? Ok, good.
Like most well-rounded athletes, my running idol wasn’t just a runner – he was also a student, a soldier, a ping pong ambassador, a shrimp boat captain, an accidental peace activist, a millionaire, a father and the title character of a 1994 historical blockbuster. That’s right – my favorite runner of all times is Forrest Gump.
In addition to being the best movie ever, full of tear jerker moments like (spoiler alert!) when Lt. Dan and his magic legs make a surprise appearance at Forrest and Jenny’s wedding, Forrest Gump is also the original source of my own personal running mantra:
“From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running.”
I may not be planning to cross the United States on foot three times over after Robin Wright walks out on me, but like Mr. Gump, now that I’ve discovered running, I see little reason to travel any other way. Take a scary subway/bus combination through Harlem to get to a Randalls Island soccer game OR run five miles directly to the field? I’m going with the latter every single time. If I’m going somewhere – and if it’s not totally socially inappropriate to show up sweat-drenched – you can bet your weight in shrimp gumbo I’ll be running there.
Inspired by my afternoon in Tuscaloosa (whose impetus was actually work-related and not solely an excuse to blog about an 18-year old movie), I returned to my hotel in Birmingham last night ready for a run. But as nice as Alabamans may be with their “sirs” and “ma’ams” and “have a good day now, y’alls,” when I asked the front desk if there was anywhere to run in the neighborhood that I didn’t need a car to get to, they looked at me like I had two heads and/or voted for Obama. “We don’t have those newfangled sidewalks in Birmingham, ma’am,” my biased recollection of the hotel receptionist told me. “It’s best if you just work out in the hotel fitness center. Have a good day now, y’all.”
The hotel fitness center comprised one occupied treadmill and an exercise bike from the 60s, and since I couldn’t bear to pass up an evening run in the southern spring weather, I ignored her well-intended advice and ventured outside for a sidewalk-free run anyways.
And it was terrifying. Not only do they not have sidewalks in Birmingham, but they don’t have shoulders (the street kind, not the attach-your-neck-to-your-body kind), meaning I was literally running on the main street as Ricky Bobby and friends zoomed around me. Fearing for my life, I darted into a commercial park and resigned myself to just run laps of a giant parking lot when out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a trail head.
It turned out to be a man-made trail that looped around a man-made lake that backed up to a dozen man-made office buildings, but it more than got the job done. I ran the loop three times for a total of 3.5 miles, only stopping (three times) to tiptoe around a very hostile goose and his hissing goose girlfriend.
I survived their attacks, but only barely and perhaps by trudging through a patch of poison oak. Well played, Alabama geese.
And that’s all I have to say about that.