The other day as we wended our way down the hill towards our house, wrapping up a walk that, for some reason, had caused Katy-the-Wonder-Dog many fearful pauses, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds, and we had something more than a walk.
I wanted to step up the pace for the last quarter mile and burn some calories. Katy decided sunny dirt was more worth sniffing than cloudy dirt. We trotted and paused a few times and then as the sun sank closer to the mountain across the way from us, she stopped and sniffed the air.
“Katy, ” I coaxed. She ignored me, closing her eyes and turning her face to the sun and the mountain. I noted the line of light highlighting her and sank down to take a picture, but before I could tap the shutter button, I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes for a moment too.
The walk had been cross training. It had been a bathroom break. It had been huffing and puffing. Now, in the slightly warmer sunny air, it was something better. I opened my eyes to see Katy still meditating (if dogs meditate) on the sun and the sounds of the dozens of seasonal streams that were flowing down the mountains.
It was as if someone had gently said, “Stop.” Stop, for just a moment, worrying about being able to run 3 miles or pay bills tonight or find time for everything on your list and get centered.
A dog down the hill barked, and Katy’s head turned in that direction. I started the trot toward home and to-do’s again utterly unperturbed by the length of my list and committed to finding time to get centered more often.
Forgive me scale for I have really sinned. It’s been at least a week since my last confession.
Before I step on, however, I just want to say that even though my sins are too numerous to list within the next hour – the last week has been a nutritional blur – I have stuck to my fitness plan like a champion (the running part that is). With that in mind, I hope you’ll agree with me that you shouldn’t raise the numbers too high and that maybe you can give me a pass for listing maple syrup as a serving of vegetables (it comes from a plant, after all).
I’m ready to do some penance, and I really appreciate you keeping the pounds even. I promise I’ll lay off the crisps and pies for the next few weeks, but I just have to say that while the running rules, dieting sucks.
A few months ago I got on the Pill. Not the one that keeps little surprises from happening in a marriage but the one that was supposed to help keep my demons away. After a few weeks of trading the demons I’d known all my life and gotten used to (even if I don’t really like them) for a terrifying set of new demons I didn’t know, I went off the pill.
The move wasn’t just bravado, although there was some involved. A summer return to a regular fitness routine power a good part of my swagger, and for the last few months I’ve been on a more even keel. My demons have been relegated to the periphery.
They never stay there, however. When I tire, they get stronger, as they did Sunday. From their darkness, they beckoned me to stay home from my run and retreat to my fantasy world – just for a short while. There were seven miles ahead of me, and the temptation was strong. Ultimately, I got out of bed, deciding this was the perfect time to test the effect of endorphins on depression.
It always takes me a mile or two to get warmed up and start enjoying the exercise. It’s the point where the world melts away. Stories are written on those runs. Problems are solved. At the three mile mark, however, my demons were right beside me, and every muscle was exhausted.
At the fourth mile, Boogie Wonderland came on the mp3 player. My stories were interrupted by images of seven-year-old Thing2 be-bopping in his rainbow wig and cape, and my pace quickened. As the air cut around me, I could feel the wind unfurling my own cape. For the rest of the run, every step took me into the stories I’m writing and away from the darkness.
Looking back, I’m still not sure if the endorphins were the causes or the effects.
I woke up a few Fridays ago determined to get my ‘down’ time in on the trail before the workday started. I got it. I also got a lesson from Mother Nature down time management.
I got the kids to the bus, miraculously in time for the first stop. Then I headed to the trail at the park. It had been raining all night, and there were still drips and drops, but there were also peeks of sunshine. By the time I stopped at the park, it was drizzling, but I wasn’t too worried. It was about to clear up.
Wrapping my mp3 player in a plastic sandwich baggie and then into my belt, I pushed play and headed down the trail. Five hundred feet into the park, the sky opened up. Instantly, I was drenched from head to toe and supremely grateful that, in my now-soaked shirt and running pants and looking like a jelly donut entering a wet T-shirt contest, I was the only person in the park. I thought seriously about turning back.
It wasn’t fortitude or courage that kept me going. It was the knowledge that I had a To-Do list a mile long. Work was next on the agenda, then (hopefully) blog posts, getting ready for a class I was about to help teach, laundry (always laundry), vacuuming, dinner and writing before bed. I knew this was the only time to get my down time.
I took refuge under a shelter when the rain was too blindingly-heavy to navigate the path. When the rain slowed, I restarted my run from the beginning, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any wetter. Mother Nature laughed and let out another sprinkle. As I got to the end of the third mile and started the fourth, it had stopped feeling like work and begun feeling like down time – without and with the rain.
That’s when it struck me that the rain was just part of the game. The weather is going to do nothing but get worse over the next few months. As I write, it’s still dark this morning. Weather and time changes close in with their excuses not to run, but the dark is also part of the game. Winning that game and getting that down time – on the trail or the keyboard – is ignoring those excuses and getting it anyway.
I’ve been getting pretty good at getting up at 6 or 6:30 on Sundays to have enough time to get in a longer-than-a-weekday run and still get back to the cave before the kids or the Big Guy are ready to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet in Cambridge, NY. Sunday wasn’t much different. It was raining, but I’d tackled the rain issue, and decided to go anyway.
I planned to go to the park since my usual route was about to be the scene of a 5k and 12k to support our local community day care center. But as I got to the turn for the park, I pulled the steering wheel the opposite direction and headed toward the covered bridge in West Arlington – a stone’s throw from Norman Rockwell’s studio. When I drove through the covered bridge, I saw several cars parked at the grange building on the other side.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to support the day care center – both my kids went there for preschool. But I have my first 10k coming up at the end of October, and I knew I needed both Sundays to get the longer routes in. I was also keenly aware that this race would be longer than anything I’d planned or done. I wasn’t thinking clearly because somehow I ended up getting out of the car and squishing through the muddy field to register for the 12k part of the race.
My boys were still at home with their aunt, and the Big Guy had gone in to work to cover a shift for a friend, so I was feeling a little lonely, but it had been a spur of the moment decision. I’d be busy for an hour and a half, but I knew six-year-old Thing2 wouldn’t tolerate an hour in the damp.
The rain stopped by the time the kids’ 1k fun run began. By the time the 5k and 12k participants began assembling, I’d waved to moms and dads I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the school year.
Fiddling with my music player and zipping it into its Ziploc baggie in my belt, I started dead last. I was to be happier for it.
I started slowly, determined to run the entire thing one way or another. The only person I passed on the entire race was another runner with a music player malfunction.
As I got close to the first turn around, other runners began passing me the other direction. I started yelling “Good Job” and “Way to Go”, and they did the same. I began passing friends. Sometimes we waved, other times we slowed to high five each other. Everyone – walking or running – was smiling.
The 12k continued past the starting gate for another lap out and back the other direction, and for a while, I was very alone. I settled into my Sunday pace, meditating and enjoying the saturated fall colors against the grey sky and dirt road. Then the front runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish line. Again we cheered each other.
Typically (for me) I got close to the turn around point, and promptly got confused. After running back and forth few times until my app said I’d gone 6.25 miles, I decided I was far enough out to get back and get all 7.45 miles in. Except for a car making sure the last runner hadn’t collapsed, I finished the rest of the route alone.
At the end, there were a few people still waiting to cheer the slow pokes. I got my 3rd place souvenir (out of 3 in my 40-something age group). I gave pats on the back to a few people and got a few myself and then went home to get cereal on the table for my boys.
I was soaked. I was sore. I was freezing. And I couldn’t stop smiling, even when I snuggled on the recliner for a nap. Some Sundays, the best plans are the ones that get rained out.