In training to run a marathon, I found myself facing the prospect of an 18-mile run. Being a freshman, I had no clue of where to go for long runs around Princeton. Upperclassmen informed me that the Princeton Towpath was “the place to go.” The towpath was “scenic and beautiful” and filled with other “encouraging” runners.
I was intrigued and, as is my wont when intrigued, I called my mother on the phone. Her immediate reaction: “You’re going to get raped.” After all, Princeton University is simply full of rapists and other sketchy characters. Little did I realize that once again, my mother might have not been all that far from the truth (thanks Mom).
It was Saturday morning. Early. I grudgingly dug out my fuel belt and put Gatorade and GU gels in it. First of all, I hate GU gels. Their texture is reminiscent of swallowing your own boogers. Secondly, for those of you that have never had the pleasure of sporting a fuel belt – they are extremely attractive.
I mention this only so that you understand that I was not in a particularly good mood when I began this run. My judgments of the events that occurred thereafter may be somewhat skewed.
Washington Road to Alexander Road – .6 miles
I begin my run and immediately pass a thirty-something-year-old woman out for a morning jog. I always feel better about myself when I pass someone. Even if the person I pass is warming down or is over eighty years old, I know that at that moment I am superior. Period.
Within four seconds of passing the woman, the entire boys cross-country team proceeds to leave me in the dust. Now I feel like a toad. Not only do they put my running to shame, but also they make me feel like a wimp in the cold. I have on two long sleeved shirts, gloves, and a hat. They are wearing shorts. Short shorts.
Once they are out of sight I stop to take off my layers and hide them in a bush. I leave my fuel belt there too. I figure it can’t be that hard to run for eighteen miles without food or drink – I had gone 12 miles before without the fuel belt – and it was only another 6 after that.
Alexander Road to US Route1 – 5 miles
The endorphins start to kick in and I cheer up considerably. Adding to my euphoria are the highly entertaining people I encounter. I jog past a couple in their sixties in matching jogging outfits. You could tell that the wife dragged her husband into her power-walking session, as the she pumps her arms in youthful zest while the husband drags his feet in morose decrepitude. Whoosh. Some Lance Armstrong Wannabes zip by on my left.
Tangentially, I think I’m destined to die by being run over by an insane bicyclist.
I run through the golf course in the middle of a golfer’s backswing. I realize my rudeness when I hear someone curse rather loudly and then see a golf ball skip off of the path in front of me. My bad.
All of a sudden I hear quick footsteps behind me. I move over to the side of the path to let the faster runner pass, which she quickly does. And then slows down. So, I speed up and pass her. She speeds up and passes me. The back of her shirt reads, “Mother of three – Cheer for me!” Sure. I’ll cheer at your funeral. I pass her. The woman is clearly one of those fanatic running-mothers who works out all day. She doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her body and apparently finds joy in racing some college freshman who has over 15 miles left in her run. The woman passes me. I do not consider myself a competitive person, but at this point I’m annoyed. I get up on my toes and sprint for half a mile.
In the midst of my sprint I pass two sketchy workmen on their bikes. One of them whistles. GROSS. Pedophile. Seriously, I know that I’m 18 but I look like I’m 12 so shame on you. I wish I had the pepper spray my mother suggested I bring. I speed up. I don’t slow down until I come to the US Route 1 overpass.
US Route 1 to Carnegie Road – 6.1 miles
The overpass gives me pause. As I cross it, I can feel myself crossing the state border into… SOUTH JERSEY. As any North Jersey resident will tell you, South Jersey is in fact a separate – state?… country?… world – than North Jersey. When I descend from the overpass I receive my first indication that I am south of the border – a red pickup truck. I feel faint. The intense runners and bikers of the towpath are replaced by fishermen and napping men with beards at the bases of trees. The towpath appears to narrow after I cross a one-lane road, so I ask a woman, who is sitting in the parking lot with her six small children, where the towpath goes. She vaguely points me across a bridge to the other side of the canal.
Carnegie Road to Mulberry Road, Trenton – 9 miles
Up ahead under the next overpass there is a group of five rebellious youths spray-painting. I’m tired. And annoyed. And paranoid. A very scattered, stereotypical and frantic logic takes over my mind – who graffitis on a Saturday morning? Shouldn’t these hooded upstanding citizens have been asleep? I am a little girl considerably weaker after running 8 some miles by myself wearing a $248 iPod. What if they want my iPod? How am I going to make it all the way back to Princeton without music? Maybe I can beg… darn it, why didn’t I bring a cell phone?! So anyway, I hold my breath, pass them and cheerily wave. And they smile and wave back. More polite than those Princetonian runners…
Mulberry Road – Carnegie Road – 11.9 miles
HALFWAY!!!! I reach the end of the towpath – there is indeed an end. It doesn’t have a grand ending – just a warehouse with broken windows in view of a billboard for a candidate for some political office. At this point, I’m starting to think that a drink would be really nice. I lick my lips. Yum. Salty.
Carnegie Road to Basin Road – 12.5 miles
As I fantasize about Gatorade, I fail to cross over to the other side of the canal. I could turn back, but I don’t want to run an extra few feet, and I figure both sides must get to the same place. Bad idea. The path narrows and disappears, and soon I am in a dense thicket of thorns. I can’t run anymore – I just try to pick my way through the prickers. I start crying and yelling at God. “I went to church last week! How could you do this to me?!” I see nothing that God could be doing aside from helping me as I pick my way through prickers.
Basin Road to US Route 1 – 13 miles
I finally make it out. I’m so stressed out. And when I get stressed out, I need to pee. Really badly. Should I pee on the side of the path? At the same time, I’m still thirsty. Is there some mechanism that will reabsorb my pee into my body so I can stop being dehydrated? There should be. That would be useful.
US Route 1 to Alexander Road – 17.4 miles
Phew – I’m back in Northern Jersey. I’m really starting to feel the pee-pain. I start cursing with the beat of my footfalls – !@#$ – !@#$ – !@#$. Then I feel guilty. It’s now getting towards midday, and the hardcore workout people have been replaced with families. So I switch to Italian. Ma – na – ga. Some little kids skipping rocks stop dead when they see me and run away back to their babysitter.
I start to get really crabby. I just want water. Can’t anyone read my mind and offer me water?
Alexander Road to Washington Road – 18 miles (phew.)
Point six miles to water. Almost there – I stop noticing everything around me – All my life energy is focused on getting to that one bush and chugging my Gatorade. I make it. I raise my arms up to the heavens and thank the Lord that I am alive. I stumble to my bush.
My water bottle isn’t there. What sort of sick, sick person steals a fuel belt? My clothes are untouched. My Gatorade is GONE. GONE. Do they realize what they have done? Do they realize that the only thing sustaining me for nine miles was the fantasy of quenching my thirst? I sink to the dirt in a dry sob. I spend a half hour pacing the path checking all the bushes and asking everyone who passes – hikers in safari gear, kayakers stuck in the plant growth, old ladies walking with parasols – if they have seen a fuel belt. Of course, no one has.
I give up and drag myself back to my dorm. Every inch of me is throbbing. I catch a glance in the mirror and my mouth drops. Dried blood encrusts my legs. My eyes bulge slightly out of my ghostly pale face. There are visible white patches of salt on my face. In short, I could pass for having escaped from the state prison. I realize that I myself have become a towpath maniac. My mother should warn others to watch out for me.