September 30, 2011

Keep Running

Ed: I apologize for the date confusion here -- I fell asleep in the final stages of this post last night and just didn't have the patience to change all the time references this morning.

For several months now, Wednesday nights have meant medium length runs (anywhere from 6-9 miles) around my local university campus. I am so used to doing long runs on this course that knowing I'm only out for half that distance is comforting and feels almost easy. Some weeks are harder than others (especially in August when it was about a billion degrees and at least 116% humidity at 5:30), and recently between working late and earlier sunsets I've struggled to get out before dark (which forces a significantly slower pace), and yet this is consistently my favorite run of the week. Something about the neighborhoods I pass through at sunset, the balance of busy streets and calmer paths, the increasingly cooler breeze and the familiarity of my steps puts me at ease.
From the very beginning last night, though, this seemed like the run-that-wasn't-meant-to-be. 
I ended up working later than I expected, trying to get several projects wrapped up just so that they wouldn't still be sitting on my desk this morning. I figured if I left around 6, I'd be able to get through most of my run while the sun was still up, so right around that time my eyes glazed over and I shut down my computer and headed to change clothes. In my rush to get out of the house on time yesterday morning, I had just thrown all of my running stuff into a bag... everything except socks. Strike 1.
So half an hour later, after a quick detour by home to pick up socks, I made it to my normal parking spot. As soon as got started, though, the shin pain that had begun as barely a whisper that morning progressed to a shrill howl in seconds flat. I had noticed that my legs were a bit tight after a short run two nights ago, but these days, something is always tight, so I sort of brushed it off. When I started to run, though, the pain hit quickly and each step started to feel like a knife blade slicing through my lower leg. I tried slowing down and even walking a few times, but this only made things worse, so I bit my lower lip to keep from yelping and just tried to outrun the pain. Strike 2.
Almost a mile into the run, I glanced down at my Garmin.... and saw nothing but zeros staring back at me. I had forgotten to start the timer, and so I had no record of my time or pace. Lovely. Strike 3.
Since I got started much later than I wanted to, I was barely two miles in before the sun went down and I was left in varying degrees of darkness. Some of my route is charmingly lit by street lamps, trees with christmas lights, and storefronts, but other sidewalks are left treacherously shadowy. I've never felt unsafe in these areas, even after dark, but I know that it's only a matter of time before I trip on an unseen acorn and land on my head. Strike 4.
By mile 3-ish, my leg pain had settled to a dull roar, still frustrating but tolerable. My stomach, however, had other ideas. I have a tough time keeping that part of my body happy on the best of days, and my new running addiction certainly has not helped matters. A combination of stress, heat, and the (decent) food that I had eaten during the day started to slosh around and leave me wondering how many people I would offend if I tossed my cookies (to put it politely) on the side of the road somewhere. I was too scared to stop running, though, because I didn't want my shins to tighten up again -- if I was going to get sick, it was going to be at a sub-9:00 pace. Thankfully it never came to that, but I did struggle through the next several miles battling waves of nausea. Strike 5.
Towards the end of my regular route, I hit an intersection. Left goes towards the car, right allows me to polish off a little bit more mileage before turning around and heading back. Recently, as much as I've wanted to turn right and get that extra time in, my legs have overruled my brain and taken a sharp left. As I approached the intersection last night, I knew that today of all days, I should give in and wrap it up before anything got worse. Before I knew it though, some sort of inspiration/craziness (call it what you will) had kicked in, and I found myself headed right. I made it through almost another mile before giving in and setting course for my favorite finish line, and I was so glad that I did: that last stretch was by far the best part of my run and truly redeemed the whole night.
 So there you have it, real live proof that no matter how much the first 6 miles make you want to flop down in the middle of the sidewalk and cry, the last one can make it all worth it. Sometimes it just takes a few awful, miserable runs to appreciate an great one. And this (plus those stubborn five pounds) is why I keep running. I am motivated to get through the tough miles because I believe that there are easier ones ahead. Sometimes it takes longer to get to them, but I always know they are coming... around the corner, down the next block, somewhere up ahead, it will get better, it will come naturally, it will feel right. So I keep running...



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