Thursday, December 14, 2006

Running in the Dark

5:00 am - the alarm rings. Husband moans, dog stirs, I get up. My routine gets me through the next few minutes and into my running clothes. The weather channel says its 45 degrees out. Warm. I stick with my shorts and my New Balance running top I got for my birthday. The thing is amazing - I swear it has a thermostat. If its 40, it feels warm but not too hot - if its 20, still warm. Good stuff. Plus its hot pink. Keeps me feeling like a girl. Today's run was four miles of hills with five sets of intervals in the first couple of miles. The intervals were hard - they inevitably come when I reach a hill and I gasp to the top listening desperately for the beep of my watch telling me to relax, telling me to rest two whole minutes before we do it all again. Still, I enjoy them in a sadistic kind of way, feeling my breath rip through my lungs, feeling my legs give as much juice as they think they can muster (I think there's more in there they're not telling about). The last miles were cruise time. My favorite kind of miles. I glanced at my heart rate monitor a couple of times - this is a new element in my training, one I'm not so happy about, but more on that another day - noted my heart rate was too high for "aerobic" range and kept right on going. My running partner, Dudley (my dog), loping easily at my side. Doing what we do.

I truly love to run. Not because I'm fast. Not because it doesn't hurt a little sometimes. Not because its easy. I just love it. Remember, why is not important. Why gets in the way. There is no why, most of the time. I just love it.

I first started running, at least regularly, when my son was about six months old. We got a jogging stroller and off I went. Those first miles were agonizing. "Run"(jog-shuffle) 30 seconds, gasp until you can breath, "Run"(jog-shuffle) 30 seconds, etc., etc., and on and on until I could run a minute then five then ten then twenty then three miles then five. It was a miracle to me that my body could progress that much. I ran steadily for two years and then something happened. I started to obsess about numbers - how fast, how far, how many calories, how many miles a week. The numbers were the badge I was determined to wear - and my badge was not that impressive compared to other runners - my then husband included- so I obsessed. I eventually increased my long run to ten miles - two greuling hours of pavement pounding. Then I started to get sick - all the time. In my two years of regular running I had been surprised by how infrequently I got colds - and by how quickly I could get over them. Suddenly, I was being felled at least once a month with sore throats, raspy lungs, infections. And my joy was gone. I didn't smell the air anymore when I ran, I didn't smile at people or make up stories about them in my head as I ran passed. I didn't notice what color the leaves were anymore or the way the air felt in my face. So I quit.

I started running again sporadically a few months after but I shied away from obsession by avoiding any semblance of routine or regularity in my running. I'd run once one week, three times the next, whenever I felt like it. The joy was back but the fitness was less than optimal. Still, that sort of running got me through a divorce, a couple of years of single motherhood, a new romance, and finally, marriage to a man more wonderful than I could have imagined. Then married life hit, migraines began, suddenly I was mom in a house of five instead of only two - excuses, excuses - and running went by the wayside for almost a year. Long story short (too late) - I got tired of being tired, tired of not being able to fit into my jeans and so I began the journey again. It started just like it had seven years before - 30 seconds "run"(jog shuggle) gasp, repeat. But so far I haven't lost the joy. Sometimes, the numbers creep in on me, chanting in my head, threatening to break me. But I can usually chase them away. And if I can't, I can be happy enough saying that the numbers today are better than the numbers a year ago - or five years ago.

Along the way, I've discovered I have exercise induced asthma - conquered first by an inhaler and later and more effectively by diet (read Dr. Joel Furhman's Eat to Live - it will change your life). I've lost twelve pounds and, as I said before, fallen out of love with what I thought was my lifelong passion. And I'm still here. And I'm still running. Most of the time, I run in the dark. But all of the time, I run because it makes me happy - even if I can't see where I'm going.

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