I started running the winter of my freshman year of high school. Our indoor track team was entering its second year of existence and one of my friends wanted to run to stay in shape before crew season. (This same friend roped me into a season of crew later that year, which is a story for another time). Most of the girls on the track team were doing track to stay in shape before softball/lacrosse/crew. I just joined the team because it meant I didn’t have to take PE.
Since the vast majority of the team was just there to maintain fitness before spring sports, it goes without saying that we were pretty dreadful. It didn’t help that we didn’t have a track (indoor or outdoor). Literally the only times we set foot on a track were at meets. During practices the sprinters would run up and down the hallways after school to approximate sprinting. The distance runners (i.e. anyone who could run over 400m) would be sent out to run a few miles in the vicinity of the school while the coaches chain smoked behind the gym. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up). Most of the team would actually just jog over to Starbucks and reappear at the end of practice.
I never did that. It wasn’t because I felt morally superior or was too scared to challenge authority. (My 9th grade Latin teacher can attest to the fact that I could be pretty mouthy at that age). It was because I realized a few weeks into the track season that I liked running. And I also liked that I was faster than a lot of the varsity softball/lacrosse/crew team members. (“Fast” is very relative here because I went to a tiny all-girls school that is known in the local area for having good academics and not so good sports teams. But I was faster than some of our more renowned athletes and I didn’t have to dribble/kick/hit/catch any balls or do anything else that tested my very poor coordination. So that was cool.)
One of the places where we did a lot of track and cross-country running was the Haverford College nature trail. It’s a 2.2 mile loop with a few stretches of uneven surface but it’s what always comes to mind when I think about pure, simple running. Some of my fondest high school memories are of running around there in blistering cold with a few other brave classmates. We didn’t have stop watches or Garmins and most of us didn’t even have cell phones, so we never knew exactly how far we’d gone or how fast we were running. My high school was a hypercompetitive academic environment and those years were generally very, very stressful for me. Being out on the trail and just running with no sense of pace or distance may not have made me a good track performer but it was a welcome respite from everything else.
I had a 14 mile run on my schedule for today. I was dreading it because I hadn’t run 14 miles since early January and my long run last week was a disaster. It didn’t help that it was cold and rainy this morning and I was trying to coordinate my schedule with a Craigslist person interested in our Blu Ray player. (We are trying to minimize the amount of stuff we have to move next week and are selling/donating everything that doesn’t get much use. If you are in Austin and want a 32″ TV, email me!).
Anyway, I briefly thought about postponing my long run but then came to my senses because seriously, when have I ever wanted to run 14 miles on a week day?! So, today was the day: 14 miles. Since I am 100% certain at this point that I’m not racing the Decker Challenge next week, I told myself that I just needed to get through the distance. No need to worry about race pace miles. In an effort to really stick to an easy pace, I left my iPod at home. I wore my Garmin but only looked at it a few times to check on my distance since I was running an improvised route that kept me within a few miles of my car in case the weather or my cranky foot took a turn for the worse. I also brought 2 gels with me and took one around mile 5 and one at mile 10. I think that second gel helped me avoid the horrible mile 12 meltdown I had last week.
I had no idea what pace I was running until I got home but this was about what I expected. I was running mostly on a dirt trail, which will hopefully help with the issues I’ve had in my arches off and on this year. My right foot actually felt better and better the further I ran.
Being out in the cold and rain with no music and no sense of my pace really brought me back to those days on the nature trail when I first started running. Yes, I run to race and to set PRs and to offset some of my beer and cookie consumption. But, as in high school, I also run because it’s time when I can zone out and not think about work or moving or whatever else is stressing me out. And today’s run was a really good reminder of that.