I stepped out of my front door the other morning and the rain from the previous night was still fresh on the bushes. It immediately reminded me of the smell of the dew that was on so many golf course and park greens where most of the cross country events began in high school and college. It sends a tinge of energy and excitement through me and I start running down the road.
Equally familiar come the nerves. One of my biggest problems when I ran was going out too fast and not having enough energy for the hills and final sprint that came at the end of a race. However, the excitement of running and the desire to really push a hard run pulls at me as well. I give myself a quick "diagnostic check" and find that I need to taper of just a smidge since I haven't been running in several months and I know the hill that is coming at the end.
After I get about three quarters of a mile in, I'm into my groove. There's a point where your breathing goes from the anaerobic "sprint" type breathing to a deeper and more paced "aerobic" breathing, and that's when the run really starts to get good. My bones and muscles are complaining a little. They complain a bit that they're getting sore a little too fast, and also that they need to get out and do this more often because they miss this. I do another "diagnostic check" since I'm reaching a downhill portion and don't want to stretch out too far since the uphill will be much steeper in another half mile. I've run this course enough times to get a feel when each of the major markers should show up, regardless of the GPS program on my phone that is keeping time, pace, and letting me know when I reach certain points.
This is usually the point when I have some good open talks with God. My body is starting to fatigue a bit (since I'm out of shape) and any inhibitions that I may have (good or bad) don't really mean much anymore. These are the times that I ask those tough questions. Why is there so much suffering in the world? How do I balance the head and the heart? Am I doing enough to instill virtue into my children? Am I doing all that I can to nurture, cherish, and support my wife? What do I ultimately want to do with the computer skills I've been given anyway? I don't get any definitive answers to these questions, but I find that as I talk and struggle and ponder these issues, I discover one more small nugget of wisdom as a reward. It gives me something to continue to ponder as the day goes by.
I'm about a mile and a quarter in now. The hill is starting. I'm not at the steepest part yet and my body is already starting to shut down. This is always one of the pivotal points in the run. Do you continue to push through, or do you let your body ease up? Especially with hills, easing up now will compound on itself and by the time you hit a flat or downhill again, your pace will be shot. This doesn't mean you have to sprint into the hill, but you gotta put a mental stake in the ground and commit to conquering the hill. I'll admit that there are a lot of days where I haven't committed, but today is different. I shake out my arms and legs a little, lean forward a bit more, shorten my stride a bit, and push on.
I'm given a small reprieve by moving from the road to the trail now. The hill has gotten steeper, but I'm on dirt now. A trail that is jagged due to the recent rains that have carved out their own paths. But it is dirt and rocks and bushes and grass and trees! I start to feel at home with everything. There is this simultaneous balance between the aching of my lungs and muscles and the joy of being out on the trail and continuing to move forward, step by step, when my body wants to say otherwise. My old cross country coached always joked "Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good." It's not the pain that I enjoy, it's the mastery of self that is exhilarating.
I've made it to the top of the hill now. There's a small flat straightaway that finishes my run. Even when all seems to be spent, there's that competitor deep down inside that still finds a bit of hidden reserves. It's no sprint from my "glory days", but I feel myself give that last little bit of strength in to increase my pace and finish the run strong.
Completion. Success. 2.04 miles in 17 minutes and 49 seconds, according to my app. By far it's not my best run, but it was a worthwhile run. There's so much that happened in such a short amount of time: connection with self, connection with God, mastery of the trail, insights to life. My lungs and muscles are yelling at me that I'm crazy and it's not doing this for a long, long time.
I can't wait until Monday.