This afternoon, while the sun was still high in the clear blue sky and the windchill was still in the high teens(!), I set out to do a quick three-miler. I’d taken the past three days off, one for recovery and two for lethargy (laziness + cold), and spent the five and a bit hours I’d been awake mostly just watching Friends. A good Saturday. After walking the dog woke me up, I got myself out the door. Just three miles, I told myself, then you can go back to bed and eat chocolate.
Two hours later, I came back.
You see, the planets aligned for my run today. Three and a half rest days, loads of carbs, and nice weather had me feeling great. By the end of the first mile, I knew I’d be running more than three. I felt six, at least, easy. I felt smooth and fast and fresh. Fresh legs do wonders. The miles began to tick by as my mind wandered in a way that it hasn’t been able to in months, and as they did, I noticed that this was indeed a Very Good Run. I wasn’t checking my watch, but I felt that my pace was good. I continued down the same dirt road and ventured into uncharted territories – no mile markers here. It was all by feel.
The sinking sun at my back cast cold golden light over an otherwise blue and brown landscape, fields and fences and closed woods. It was quiet, just the crunch of my feet on scattered dirt and snow. Herds of deer peered out at me between trees, nervous, silent, still. Curious? Scared? Mourning doves and possibly owls cooed out, resounding weirdly through the empty forest. I slid around on ice-sheeted sections of road; I flew over the rest.
Though I was still in the zone, I eventually realized I couldn’t just keep running out – I had to turn back at some point. (Well, I didn’t have to, but I didn’t have a phone, so my other options were hitchhiking back or a slow-freeze death overnight.) I turned around at what I thought was around 5. Keeping pace on the return, I ran off into the sunset, pastel streaks above the shadowed ground giving way to dusty blues and purples of the night sky. The sun finally dropped and, as I turned east, the moon rose low and orange, gradually turning yellow to silver as the sky around it darkened and stars emerged – Orion’s belt, the dippers big and small, the North Star. I kept running. I had glanced at my watch and based on what I thought my pace was, and how I felt, I figured I could probably make it 13, or an even two hours. I passed my apartment and added an out-and-back section of paved road, then passed it again to round out the final ten minutes. One hour and fifty-five minutes after I’d left, I opened the door and greeted my (rightfully) concerned roommate and her ever-energetic corgi. My knees hurt, my back hurt, and my breathing was still a little ragged, but I was happy. I took the dog out for a little cooldown walk and, after some stretching, crashed on the couch. Amazingly, I managed to not only make dinner and shower, but I scavenged up the energy to shave. What a champ.
While today’s run was definitely not a wise move, it came naturally to me. It wasn’t planned at all, and I didn’t question it for one minute. I felt good during the run and surprisingly not sore afterwards (muscularly, anyway – joints are another issue entirely). Most importantly, for me, was the motivation behind it. I wasn’t dragging myself through a slog of a long run because I had to, or for any number of weird guilt reasons. I was just back in the zone, and boy have I missed it there. For so long – years – I’ve worried that I would never be able to run long again, or want to. Running had become such a powerful part of my identity that that questioning led to some issues. Over the past few months, even with all my other health issues, I’ve felt that intrinsic motivation so necessary for long distance creeping back. I began remembering my goals and how good it felt to be working towards them – to be able to work towards them – with all the ups and downs that come with it. I’m not going to let running take over my identity again, but I certainly welcome it back into the mix.
Now the trick will be to not run stupid and get injured… and that’s where my friends come in, always ready to talk me down from signing up for races I’m not ready for and reminding me to rest. It’s hard to do those things on your own, and I’m glad I have them.
That being said: I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. It’s arbitrary and it doesn’t work for me. But I feel like this is the year in which I will be able to do an ultra again, even just a 50k. I need to be smart about it, but I’d like to do it before grad school starts (assuming I get in somewhere). Today’s 13 actually felt pretty easy, but I’m not going to take that and run with it – it was most likely an exception to the rule, given the rest and carbs. So I’ll stick with building base miles, probably 30-35 miles a week, and go from there. (All my crazy inflammatory issues will likely keep me in check, anyway – blessing in disguise?)
So that’s where I’m at. And now – SLEEP.
peace love and running,