So I had an incredible weekend of running. Not in the sense of "oh HELL yes I nailed that workout/race", but I had 3 runs in a row that were all like gifts given to me to remind me of how much I love running. It's easy for me to get caught up in times and races and analysis, but when it all comes down to it I wouldn't be a runner if I didn't love the sport...and sometimes that sport gives back when you least expect it. 3 days, 3 reasons to love running...
Friday - Competition
Most of my run Friday wasn't great - it was hot and I was dehydrated and my legs felt like sandbags. I had set out on the run with the intention of purposely taking it EASY, only to find that on this particular day "easy" felt remarkably difficult. So I slogged around the reservoir and finally, happily, made the turn onto Beacon Street towards home. I was briefly caught at a stoplight with a girl wearing blue Asics - who I have weirdly seen on the train and out running multiple times in the last two weeks. Well - when I heard her footsteps behind me shortly after crossing the street, something just clicked - I was not going to let this girl pass me! Probably unnecessary on an easy run, but I hadn't felt that competitive spark in so long that I just had to roll with it. I picked up the pace just slightly and focused on running strong, and strangely enough once I started thinking to myself "I am strong and I will not let this girl pass me", I FELT strong. The sandbag feeling evaporated and I coasted down the street with ease. And beat the girl to my turn onto Washington. In the back of my mind I was laughing at myself - like, oookay crazy, what was the point of THAT? But it was a gleeful sort of laughter. Because why not? Why not beat the girl down Beacon Street or pass the guy on the reservoir who is clearly not cool with a girl being faster than him, or try to lead a set of intervals at a track workout? I love to compete, that's why. And while I realize that no one wins a workout, if you can't race every weekend you have to find other ways to keep that competitive spark alive. As I've said before, I don't run to not be fat or because it's good for my health [wonderful benefits, yes, but not the point] - I run to be fast, to compete, to win. So remembering that reason in the middle of a stupid, hot, pointless run was a good thing indeed.
Saturday - Discovery
Saturday I worked a double and had planned on running to work until the clouds opened up and I decided that if I was going to spend 13 hours of my day working with dogs, I sure as hell wasn't going to do it soaking wet. So I just had to hope that I would finish up shift #1 early enough to get in a run before shift #2 [in the world of bathing dogs, the end time is different every day - it all depends on how many, how hairy, and how cooperative. Several uncooperative huskies means you are in for a very long day.] Thankfully my prayers were answered and at 3:30 I headed out with one goal in mind: trails. I knew there was an "urban wild" near my work that I had run past several times but never thought to go in, mainly because during marathon training knowing exact miles and times and paces was not something I would ever be willing to give up. But I'm not in marathon training right now and I wanted to run in the woods, damnit. So off I went. And oh my lord...it was absolutely heaven. There were paths covered in pine needles...hills and valleys and random side trails splitting off every which way....a stream...a waterfall...a pond...in other words, it was amazing.
In Once A Runner [or maybe it's Again To Carthage] Cassidy thinks something like "doing this thing you occasionally come to a rare overlook". I ran up this hill and came to the top of this ridge overlooking this pond - the water was perfectly still, the sky a hazy gray reflecting on the surface, a couple of ducks calmly cruising nearby - this random oasis in the middle of a forest in the middle of the city. And I just felt so appreciative of the beauty and the fact that doing this thing I love could bring me to an incredible place like this. And for once I couldn't care less about the time or the pace, I was just enjoying the freedom of running through the forest, scampering around rocks, flying down hills, leaping fallen trees...it was phenomenal. I returned to work in an absolutely giddy mood as my co-workers looked at my damp, sweaty, muddy self in awe. ["Are you...serious? You just worked all morning, then went on like, a 10 mile jog, and now you're coming back to work again? How do you do that??" - direct quote from a groomer lol] And I felt like I had this wonderful secret place that only I knew about, that I had DISCOVERED! And I had no clue how far/fast I had run and I didn't care, and it was amazing. I always like taking the time to stop and look at interesting/pretty things I have the opportunity to see while running - sunset at the reservoir, cool buildings/houses, whatever - but in the middle of the city finding this oasis of trails! forests! nature! was pretty much a magical experience.
Sunday - Joy
And finally we reach the coup de grace of the weekend, my Sunday run. Which was just a beautiful experience [and gosh, are you guys sick of my blathering over 3 fairly run of the mill runs yet? Lol] Anyway I wasn't really that excited about the run, I'd been kind of a bum all day, but I headed out anyway. It was pretty cool actually and windy, so in my mind basically perfect for a run. I was headed to to my usual reservoir loop but instead kept heading straight on, out onto the Newton Hills. Ahh, those Newton Hills. Things look entirely different when the crowds are gone, the runners are gone, the Gatorade stations and music and signs are gone, and it's just you and the darkness and the road. And for me going back there after the disaster that was my last experience on those hills - well, it was about time I exorcised those demons. Anyway, let's just say the magic fairy dust was back...because this run was absolute, pure, joy. I felt like I was flying. And the whole time I was thinking to myself - yes, THIS is what it's supposed to feel like. It may not have felt this way on race day, but it can feel this way. And it will again. I cruised up Heartbreak with nothing weighing me down, nothing holding me back, all of the memories of the pain and struggle replaced with joy. No one saw me crest the top of the hill and throw a victory fist into the air. But it was, in its own small way, a victory. And maybe sometimes that's the way it's meant to be - that those purest, most perfect moments of running aren't on the racecourse with fans cheering, thousands of other runners at your side. They are the moments when it is just you, transcending a bad race, a bad day at work, all of the problems that weigh on your mind - you break free. All that's left is the pure, wonderful joy of running.
I know that in these descriptions, I tend to make running out to be so much more than is necessary - like it's some kind of amazing spiritual experience or something. But for me, sometimes, it truly is. Running gives me something that I find nowhere else in my life, something I can hardly explain. And runs like these just serve as a reminder of the reasons why. And no matter how many tough races I endure, whatever else life throws my way....if I go back to the road, I'll never forget those reasons.
And on a final non-philosophical rambling note, I'm racing a 5K this Sunday!! What do you get when you cross a hard marathon and a month of lazy recovery runs with a 5K where I might have a shot at running for some hardware [depending on who shows up this year, of course]? Guess we'll find out soon enough...=)