This past Saturday, I decided that I was indeed training for a half-marathon for the third time in my 40s. I ran five miles that day, and felt that deep satisfaction that goes with pushing my muscles deeper and deeper for about an hour. When I run like that, I feel my core, both physically and mentally. I am aware of my center. I am living in my body, and for the rest of the day, I live in the calm of having dug deep to find something hidden in myself.
That long run was like coming home, as I realized that if I could run five miles, I could probably keep adding a mile to the long runs each week to get up to 13.2. I could envision myself back in a training schedule, and I remembered fondly what adding that structure to what is already a well-established running routine did for me. Among the benefits were the ones I felt the next day, on my “recovery run,” the one you do the day after your long run. I ran with the idea of an “easy” run, broken up by walking whenever I felt like it, just moving for 30 or 40 minutes, resting, so to speak, on my laurels earned the previous day.
This particular recovery run happened on one of the hottest days of the summer. I brought a plastic bottle of ice water with me and squirted myself frequently, first on my neck and back, and as the fire in my body grew, onto my blazing scalp, letting it fall through my hair and sometimes right onto my red face. With that little bit of relief, I was able to embrace something I usually organize my summer life around avoiding: deep, intense, humidity-soaked, heat, the kind of heat that weighed down the world, made the ducks in the marsh sit quietly in still water, not paddling at all, as I ran past them in the peak of the day’s heat, in slow motion. The goldenrod looked burdened with its own weight, the birds were quiet; everything around me felt thick. And yet I ran through it all with that gentleness toward myself and all difficult, hot, painful and arduous things, that gentleness that came with the simple structure imposed by my training plan: it was to be an easy run, and an easy run it would be.
I run regularly through this lovely marsh, but in my usual, non-training routine, I don’t pause to walk. There’s something in me that’s always afraid that if I slow down, I’ll stop, I’ll get “off track” somehow, I’ll not be able to pick my feet back up and run again at the regular clip at which I live my life. Somehow, when I run my usual four days a week, two and a half to three miles at a time, I feel like I need to check this responsibility off my list, and to do so, it has to be a run, a complete run.
But when I accept a different structure, one suggested by the collective wisdom of running trainers, one that connects me to all those people who have moved their bodies and their minds through the effort of going longer, going deeper, then I find a little room, a little place to pause. On this run, I walked through that summer air right in the middle of the run, gazing down tiny trails into the woods, breathing in the humidity, feeling at one with the quiet ducks and the still trees. Then I picked up my feet and gently ran some more, being sure to cool myself at intervals, being sure to walk again, and to take the time at the end of the run to enjoy even more walking.
It was, after all, the only interlude in an otherwise packed day, the only place I was to inhabit that entire day that didn’t have a to do list staring me in the face. I was doing one of the things I needed to, for sure, staying contained within structure, because that’s kind of how I live. But it was also a time to thank my body for its fortitude, to experience the intensity of a late summer about to fade into another season, and to be a friend to my self.