Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not a typical Sunday run

Running is often labeled a selfish sport.  I will admit that at time for me, it is a bit selfish - it's time away from my family and partner, it's time that could be spent doing a house project or cleaning the bathroom more regularly, and it's certainly time not spent furthering my career.  In the past, I would argue that it is time spent with friends (as running as become one of my main social outlets), it is my therapy (I can only imagine how I would be if I didn't have running friends to help me process life, calm me down, or help me run out my frustrations), and it is a shared bond I have with Brian - even if we aren't running together, we both share stories of our runs and support each other's running.  It may be a stretch to say that any tangible good has come of my running - this weekend changed that.

I went out for a run on Sunday to test out the Inov8 Orocs - an orienteering shoe that I have been contemplating using for my next upcoming race.  I've never run in the Orocs, but it occurred to me that the beefy tread and the small carbide spikes would be great for the potentially icy/snowy course, as well as good to help gain traction in the often slippery leaves.  But, would my feet feel comfy in them for hour after hour running?  Only way to know is to take them out for a long run.  That was my thoughts for Sunday's group run on mixed surface 'great, I can test the shoes out on road, dirt road, trail, leaves, and snow'.  So at 7am, I met up with some friends as we collected on the edge of civilization for our run. 

We passed the first few miles easily, ribbing each other about recent races, sharing stories, and enjoying the cold day (15F with wind chill of 0F!) and our first run on snow of the year.  After cresting Rattlesnake Gutter (a dirt road) and running around the closed gate, we started to skirt around a white truck parked there, assuming it was another hunter parked out in the wilderness.  The guy in the truck stopped us to ask a question, to be honest I can't remember what he asked.  But, in the matter of a few words exchanged, it became apparent that this guy was in rough shape and likely needed some help.  His words were slurred, his thoughts were disjointed and confused.  He couldn't find his car keys, his hand was bleeding, he had no cell phone reception to call for help.  I asked him if he was ok, and how he cut his hand - his response was nonsensicle.

We got him out of his truck, pulled his hood over his head, and one of the guys in my group selflessly offered up his gloves to cover this guys hands.  We pointed him in the direction of the nearest phone at the local co-op (1/2 mile down the road), figuring he could call for a spare set of car keys, and spend some time there warming up and sobering up (honestly, our first assumption was that he was drunk).  However, we re-evaluated quickly as we watched him stumble out of his car, take the hood off his head, continue to hold the gloves in his hands, and look confused as soon as we weren't immediately there to direct him where to go and what to do. 

It dawned on us one by one - there were no tread marks in the snow on the road, and it had stopped snowing at 7:30pm the previous night, over 12 hours earlier.  He couldn't really comprehend what we were saying, he couldn't even really walk on his own.  Immediately, a plan was formed as a few folks ran ahead to call for help while the rest of us walked with the guy (who was obviously hypothermic, once we thought about it), holding him up by both shoulders on his coat, entertaining him with stories, and (as is my practice in any ultra event) keeping him moving with relentless forward progress.  He stumbled a few times, he lurched forward as he fell asleep for a moment (we made sure he stayed awake), and he was slow to respond to anything - but we kept him moving until the local police chief pulled up and put him in a car to drive him to help.

Us runners, not fully understanding the gravity of the situation, turned around to resume our run and rewarm our chilled bodies.  My hands were numb and my core temperature was low, but luckily I was warmed again by the time I finished the run.  While finding the guy was on our minds, we did our best to return to typical running chatter as we logged the remaining miles of our route.

On Monday morning, I found in my email that one of the folks I was running with checked up on the guy we had found - when he arrived at the hospital, they found that his core temperature was down to 85 degrees, and estimated that he had only hours to live if he hadn't been found.  It was frightening to think of what might have happened if our group didn't decide to run up that lonely road, and if the guy didn't reach out to us to ask a question.  I was further horrified that my initial thoughts were to assume that the guy might be drunk...and was ashamed to admit that I was a little frightened by the situation.

My selfish run with friends, intending to test out shoes for an upcoming race, turned into a life-saving effort by the group.  It makes me proud to be in a community whose first reaction is to help, and who collectively can do some good.  It's also great to know that each of us did a little something for the collective good - whether offering up gloves, running ahead to call for an ambulance, or asking the guy if he was ok - we all contributed to the cause and helped out.  It was a very vivid reminder to be aware of my surroundings, and to keep an open mind when evaluating a situation.

My thoughts and prayers are with the guy we found - hopefully he will return in good health and find some peace and closure in whatever brought him up to the end of Rattlesnake Gutter on that cold and lonely night. 

Article on the incident: http://mobile.gazettenet.com/news/9510805-108/belchertown-man-found-in-leverett-woods-treated-for-hypothermia

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