Every now and then I think back to the days I would run monotonous laps around the flat, paved cul-de-sacs of my neighborhood in South Carolina. Back when I was a “runner”; when accumulating mileage and planning specific workouts based on Vo2 max or race pace intervals absolutely consumed me. A proud Marathon Maniac, I analyzed my Garmin 305 stats like it was my job, and then wrote near daily on my blog about how it was never quite fast enough. It feels like a lifetime ago.
No, it feels like more than a lifetime ago.
I joke that these days the running community now views me as the red headed step child. When I find myself at strictly road racing functions as a guest blogger, I always stumble through my introductions. “Hi, my name is Heather, formerly ‘Run Faster, Mommy‘. These days I’m mainly a trail runner and (grits teeth) obstacle racer.” The reaction is always polite, though I can see the complete lack of understanding on their faces. “Oh, you mean like those Tough Mudder things? How…fun.” The attention immediately turns to the next person and their current attempts at a Boston Qualifying time. And I’ll never forget the time a Google alert led me to a thread where I was being anonymously trashed on a public forum, because among other apparent “train wreck” aspects of my life, I’ve resorted to those “ridiculous mud runs”.
Yes, I’ve clearly betrayed my dedicated, strict, running roots. I didn’t mean to fall in love with the mountains and the dirt and the art of putting a giant 12 foot wall in the middle of my half marathon, it just happened.
And I don’t regret it for a second.
These days, finding a GPS watch in our house is a chore. Sure, they’re around. But are they charged? Is the memory full? I don’t know. More importantly, I don’t care. Instead I base my efforts on the fact that I can run to the top of the mountain and back down again before dark. I consider my run a success each time I make it out of the woods without tripping over a root, or face-planting on a rocky trail. I can’t remember the last time I logged into dailymile or even tracked mileage, period. But I know I’m faster. I know I’m stronger. And I love what I do; it’s been years since I’ve felt burnt out or that dreaded sense of “I have to train” that I used to constantly carry on about. Needless to say, I haven’t necessarily missed road running.
Yesterday. Yesterday was a whirlwind of product reviews and house work other necessary “work”. 9 hours flew by in the blink of an eye. When the family came tearing into the house around 5:30 pm, it seemed as though everyone else was in a hurry to get somewhere or do something. “What are you going to do, Heather?” I was asked more than once. With the Spartan World Championships over and the OCR season slowing to a crawl, I didn’t feel the need to go out and destroy my quads on some ridiculously steep incline, work on my technical footing on the trails, or do a hundred burpees while carrying massive rocks around the yard. This of course is incredibly unusual as of late. I eyed the shiny pair of Newtons that I have been putting off reviewing since they are clearly road shoes, and I suddenly felt the urge to hit the pavement.
I think…I’ll run.
I momentarily thought about digging out the GPS and iPod, but quickly dismissed the idea. Instead I laced up those Newtons and took off. Running from my house is an interesting event indeed. The first quarter mile includes dodging 18 wheelers on a narrow dirt road full of blind corners. The next quarter mile is a long, unforgiving hill steep enough that it begs you to stop and walk, but not quite steep enough to actually stop and do so. The next half mile covers a busy road full of people turning, including an interstate on/off ramp, and a busy gas station with not one, not two, but three entrances. At the end of that mile, I cross the busy road at a blind corner (really the only option, so I sprint) so I can take my run to a quieter area. Then…I can relax
I settle into the run, my breath falling in line with the pounding of the Newtons on the pavement. I’m amazed at the thousand directions my brain starts to take, and I wonder why anyone would ever want to purposely distract themselves with music (though I too am guilty).
I think about work.
I think about my kids.
I think about my shoes.
I think about how beautiful Vermont is, and shun my much younger self for having ever moved away.
I think about how I really need to figure out how to move away again, I’m running out of time.
I think so loudly I can’t help but wonder if I’m actually speaking, or simply narrating the entire run in my head.
I wonder if narrating a run in my head is a side effect of writing for a living, or if I write because I think so loudly in the first place.
I see another runner up ahead, coming down the hill towards me. I certainly wasn’t planning on walking up this hill in the first place, but now I most certainly can’t even consider slowing down. I remind myself that I’m in competition with no one but myself, of course, but still…look strong Heather!
This other runner is struggling, running at a jaunty angle that makes me wonder if he’s approaching mile 19 or a 20 miler. But it’s 5:45 pm, an odd time of day for a long run. Maybe he’s pushing hard. Lactic threshold training. No one looks that pained on a downhill. I give the obligatory smile and wave once we’ve come within 8 feet of each other. I find myself glad I’m not pushing that hard. I wonder how many years he’s been running. I wonder if he’s training for a race, or just life.
Training for life. Aren’t we all.
I’m suddenly aware of my own breath and realize that I had picked up the pace while passing this other runner. That inner competitive voice cannot be tamed, even subconsciously. I laugh as I slow down my pace.
I crest the hill and see the changing colors of the leaves. I admire their beauty while simultaneously being pissed that they signal the end of the summer. I stop dead in my tracks and take a picture. Despite all of the ugly out there, the world is so beautiful.
I realize how absolutely in the moment I am at that very moment, and I realize that this is it, this is why I LOVE to run. Not because of medals, or PR’s, or badass barbed wire crawls, or mountain summits. But because running is the only thing I’ve ever found that can bring me to this place, the place where I can see clearer than ever before, the place where good outweighs bad, the place where, at least for those fleeting moments, everything wrong in my world feels like it will eventually be OK.
I take off running again, thankful for that moment. A thousand pained training runs are worth it just for moments like this. I count my blessings for strong legs and a healthy heart; for all of the opportunities running has brought me in the past. I silently forgive those who will never understand. And I thank my lucky stars for those in my life who do.
I finish my run, vowing to get back to this standard road running stuff more often. I eyeball the pile of muddy trail gear hanging off of our front porch and know deep down I probably won’t.
Either way, it was really nice to catch up with you, old friend.