The Run

24 09 2011

Overcast and cooler. High humidity. Husband at home with the kids. It is an almost perfect day for a run. Mostly perfect because I can. I can run out the front door alone, into the streets and trails near our house and run. I can let my mind soar and my feet move. I can solve the world’s problems. I can blow of steam. I can run….

Mornings like this are rare. It has been some three months since my last run. I must admit, I am a sucker for the open road. The treadmill, while replicating the physical experience, cannot make up for the mental and emotional experience that venturing into the great wide open is. Perhaps a sanctuary of sorts for an introvert like me.

I put one foot in front of the other, the soft tread of my own steps echos on the pavement. I run without music, letting the distractions of my own brain be enough for me and the rhythm of life be the beat that keeps me moving. I wind my way through the streets near our home. It is not too early. The day is in full swing for many. Yard salers are out and about. There is football practice at the high school. This is a far cry from those 6 am runs of my younger, working years. Yet there is more joy in my step, more smiles in my heart. This is a gift, this run. Every one of them.

I turn the corner onto the trail. It is my feet that worry me. I have left new shoes behind today in favor or older ones that I am willing to sacrifice to the muds of the recent rains. As I plod along, I think of the line of saucony motion control shoes I have worn through the years – these no exception. Miles upon miles put upon them on roads, trails, tracks in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan.

As I turn the corner and head downhill near the one mile mark, I finally began to feel the stiffness lifting from my quads, leftover soreness from other exercise this week. Yet, my right knee begins to ache as it has of late during any type of cardio activity. It has been such a stalwart these years, as my left knee’s weakness have needed its strength, but now it is stiff and sore at times. Old age creeping in, I guess. It does not deter my purpose. I have four more miles to cover before this run is complete, and onward I go.

I see my first runner on the next corner beyond the “little bridge”. She is young and fast, moving with lightness and music. She crosses me with a smile. Behind her, a walker in pajamas – interesting attire for the trail. I pull past them with waves, crest a hill to find two deer in a nearby meadow. They are unbothered by my movement. I leave the to their dinner. It is nothing new to see deer on this run. They are here, there and everywhere, pushed out of their environs by community expansion. I move past them and see a group gathered on the “big bridge”. It is the Saturday morning bird watchers club, here to observe the avian life of the swamp. I slither through the crowd with a delicate silence and continue down the bridge, following the line of nails in its planks.

I pass two love bird walkers and move on to the field section of the run. Here I will run over a mile to my turn around point near the 4h camp. A field runs on one side of the trail, and a busy road on the other. Many bikers and walkers dot this section of my run. Mostly biker whizzing by, some telling of their presence, some not. I push forward. I am not stopping, I think, until the turnaround. My leg is aching, but the out is the push, the back is the cruise. My plans are foiled by a errant shoe lace. But my stop is quick as I push forth that final quarter mile to my mark, crossing a group of runners near the turn. One of them is pushing a snazzy running stroller with toddler intact. I momentarily reminisce about the days with the boys in the stroller. 80 lbs. worth of kids and 20 lbs. of stroller…pushed by me three times a week. Sometimes a dog in tow, too. I was more hardcore then. Younger with more determination. That was before weight training and yoga gave me a different perspective on fitness, when running seemed to be my best option.

I stop at the turn and retie my other lace. It seemed unbalanced, one tighter than the other. I do a few yoga stretches and give the other runners a bit of room. I like solitude on my runs. No distractions. I head back the way I have come, stopping at the historical marker that recounts the tale of the Battle of Greensprings. I am momentarily puzzled as I look at it, thinking it was the Civil War, not the Revolutionary War. I look up, expecting to see the ghosts of soldier dot the field across the road, where the skirmish took place. I wonder what they would think today of those they see before them, the horses in the farm on the other side of the road. A road that is not a dirty path, but paved with bright lines painted on it. What would they think of cars?

I start up again. This is the cruise back, the hard part. I have it fixed in my mind what I want to run, but there are other trails I could take – shorter trails to ease my pain. As my leg throbs, I briefly consider it. But I have run many, many miles. I concentrate on the rhythm of my feet. I sit back in my pace. I know this. It is familiar and comforting. I think instead of training for the marathon those many years ago. The cold winter mornings where I would trek to the local gym for a 1 mile warmup on a treadmill, then run back and forth across the back of the parking lot – a 1/4 mile “lap” of sorts, until I had 4 or 5 miles in. The trails were dark, too dark for me, but the lot was lighted and people were about. The temperatures were in the 20s, and I was layered up with all of my best winter running clothes – double socks, double gloves, earband and hat. The indoor warm up helped, but I was still a popsicle when I was done. And I did it day after day during that month of January, until the days lengthened enough to hit the trails in the semi light. I smiled at the memory.

I was never the victor in any running event. I remembered that, too. Sure I won a few age group trophies here and there. But I never had that killer drive to be the best. I always felt there was someone else better, faster, smarter. I had victory snatched from me so many times. But now as I am older, I realize this. The run is in fact the victory and it has always been. It has never been about anyone else. And this day, it is the same. I am slow and in pain, but I am alive and pushing myself. My heartrate is up. My pace is steady. I am winning.

And finally I turn the corner to the gravel trail, the one I walk on quite often with dogs and kids. I find the trail harder, the turns more sever. The unevenness of the trail puts more pressure on my aches and pains. I even gasp a bit as I top a small hill. There are more runners in this part. One dressed in a long sleeved fleece, one bare chested with sunglasses on. There are a few dogs. I dodge them with ease despite my aches and pains. I notice, for the first time, the damage in the forest here from Irene. Lots of downed trees and branches. The trail is clear, but there are many roots in the air.

I move on, on and on. To the main trail where only last night I walked Sparky and Aspen. I run down to the end of the trail and up out of the woods, through the mud and in the rivets carved by running water in these places. I break out onto the road. It’s a quarter mile to my stop sign. And I run. I push. My leg seizes up a bit, but I still move faster, as fast as I can. I limp down the road, swing my arms. Turn the corner and throw my hands in the air as I cross my finish line. 5 miles.

Two men walking further down the road see me and laugh. But they don’t understand that I’ve won. For the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. They don’t know the many victories I have overcome to get here – the knee surgeries, the miles, the races, the days of pushing the stroller, the joy in the freedom of the trail. Perhaps I am a little crazy, but I got to run today!!!!

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2 responses

25 09 2011
Craig

Shelly,

I really enjoyed the description of your run. I can really identify with the description of your run, and not really been able to capture it. I like the way you faded in and out of the run and your own thoughts.

Thanks for sharing,
Craig

25 09 2011
Shelly

Thanks Craig! Good to hear from you. I bet the boys are practically grown up now!!!! Well, except the little one.

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