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Ode to Common Lane
by Dave Sullivan
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BEVERLY, MA - Though I enjoy the camaraderie of the Sunday morning runs from the Anchor, I’m nothing if not creative in coming up with excuses for not being a regular attendee. If it’s not teaching Religious Education at our Unitarian church in Marblehead, it’s the forecast of inclement weather or the fear that I haven’t been running much of late. I seem to quickly forget the high I get finishing one of these long Sunday runs. Why else would I want to miss an opportunity to continue to surprise myself that, as I head into my fifth decade, I’m still able to run distances that we as runners may take for granted, but most of the population holds in awe?

My favorite route on Sunday is the one that I’ve run more often than any other, out to the Beverly Farms Fire Station along route 127


and back along Common Lane. Running it brings me back to my earliest days as a Strider and, in its familiarity, I lose track of the miles and concentrate instead on the scenery and the quiet conversation among my fellow runners. I’m reminded of the guidance we give to new runners: never run so hard as to not be able to chat with those you are running with. By the equal participation of everyone who runs this route, this is a lesson we practice as well as preach.

It’s the return trip that really makes this route one to cherish and remember, a long, winding road flanked by tall pines, where one is as likely to run into a wild animal as a moving vehicle. In fact, one quickly forgets this is a road built for cars instead of a wide paved path cut through the forest with runners in mind.

The route back begins by a turn to the right onto Thissell Street, just past the charming Victorian Prides Crossing


train depot and over a set of tracks demarking the edge of civilization as we know it. From there, Common Lane bends gently to the left and we encounter the rolling hills that set the up and down rhythm of the road to come. If there are more than a couple of us, we now spread out more or less abreast, ears perked in alert for the sound of a rare car that may be coming toward us from up ahead.

As the road opens up, so does our gait, our lungs, our joy in the efficient machines we have become, our bodies converting the oxygen we breathe and the food we have eaten into fuel for the muscles of our legs that stride together in unison. It’s this time of year, when our breath turns to fog and the blanket of snow brings a quiet hush to the forest on either side of us, that the sheer beauty of this setting sinks deep into our souls.


We think that it must have been this way since the beginning of time itself.

Though there are many estate homes built along this road (the newer ones we have watched grow from foundation to frame to artificially landscaped home from week to week), they are set back far enough from the road not to interfere with the primitive feeling of wilderness the road projects. It’s not until we reach Cross Lane and Lothrop Street, after we’ve crossed back over the railroad tracks, that more modest homes, closer to the road and each other, replace the trees that I imagine were used in their construction.

But I’m running ahead of myself. Before we return to civilization, let us not so quickly leave the woods, lost in thoughts that only stir when most of our brain is engaged in maintaining the complex systems which support a human being in motion. It is here that the conversations we runners have range far and wide, from recent events in our families and work weeks, to more philosophical questions of life and existence.


As we are as likely to have someone in their early 20s among us as another approaching 70, many different perspectives are shared and considered. There are also periods of a comfortable silence, when the sounds of our breathing and shoes against pavement do little to disturb the slumber of the forest about us.

We must finally leave the wild and return to tamed, and so, all too soon, find ourselves back at the Anchor’s parking lot, our bodies slick with sweat, our faces red from exertion and the bracing cold. We attempt to continue the conversation that seemed to flow so freely while we were running, but words now fail us, as we stand motionless, the cold sinking in, and aware that we are now “back.” A quick handshake, a sprint to our cars and we leave our separate ways. As I pull out of the lot in my car, waving to my co-conspirators in our recent escape from the world of business and responsibilities, I think, I really must do this more often.


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