Stonehenge is the water tower in the woods at the top of the hill above the marsh. It is a regular feature of our runs, a place that draws you in for no good reason at all.
I have become aware that, maybe even subconsciously, I’m opting for flatter terrain lately. A thing in my reptile brain rejects going up. It remembers being short on oxygen. It remembers the thudding of my heart in my ears as I crested that last rise and stumbled onward, trying to get myself back together.
So I made a conscious decision to go up more. Hill repeats. It has to be done. I’m not getting stronger always running flat.
There are four ways up to Stonehenge.
First I choose the steep-but-not-steepest way. I’m not even a mile into this run yet, so I bound about halfway up this second-steepest route before I recognize I’m over-torqueing it. I back off a little and make the top not quite on the verge of blowing the engine. Then I leg it down the back of the hill, the soft, flowy way, and everything comes together. I’m rolling. I’m determined. I feel good.
That’ll change, I think.
At the bottom I swing wide around the hill’s base and navigate back to the steepest way up, what used to be the only way, decades ago, before some enterprising mountain bikers cut the other trails. I learn the lesson of my first ascent and go half-gas on this climb, trying to remember where to put my feet. I seldom come this way anymore. I’ve forgotten where the rocks are, which turns out to be a good distraction as my heart rate spikes. I hit the top and take the switchbacks down, the long way, the fun way.
Then I skirt back around the base of the hill and come up the backside. This is steep too, but it cuts across the hill. At this point, I’m resolved to climb all the ways, and descend all the ways. I hadn’t committed yet, but by now I’ve got three of the four done, and I only have to go down twice and up once more. I’m trying to figure that out, as I run, the math, the route. It’s hard. I’m hypoxic, deep in the orange now, my breathing hard and heavy.
I feel great.
I take the steepest way down, to cross it off the descent list, and then turn directly back onto the switchbacks to complete the set of four ascents. This is the most forgiving way, the most fun, but also the longest. The dog cuts straight across to save his steps, so I meet him once in the middle of every zig-zag stretch. “He’s smart,” I think.” What does that make me?
It makes me almost done, just down the front side, where I started, and then back out to the meadow and the parking lot and the car. The dog is lagging behind me now, drinking from puddles where he can.
The druids were the leaders in Celtic society, priests, doctors, historians, and they attended the sacrifices at holy places, like Stonehenge, as intermediaries between the people and the gods. In this scenario, my water tower is the temple, the dog is the druid, and I am the sacrifice.