A life in running shoes

There was my 5k last weekend. A wonderful morning to be out running. The course went right through downtown, starting and ending right around the city center. Running down the middle of streets, right through red lights surrounded by hordes of like-minded people. There were 3.1 miles of pushing forward with three mile splits within 10 seconds of each other. And not much left for a kick at the end. There was the wait for my official time, just 5 seconds off a PR.

There were track workouts this spring. In both warm and cold weather, thanks to a whiplash of a Michigan spring as the mercury jumps up and falls back over the course of a few days. 800 at 3k pace, 400 at mile pace, 200 sprinting. Repeat. There was hitting double digits, 10 miles, for the first time since last summer.

On runs before that, there was 14 miles, where I got out to the 6 mile add station and some distance running friends did a double-take and asked, surprised, “What are you doing on this far?” And I went out another mile before turning back, my normal running partner matches my strides. And on the way back, as we crossed that 12 mile line, there was my math brain calculating and comparing paces and probable finish times and how many breakfasts I could eat after this many miles and how each footstep took me further than I’d ever gone before.

There was the 5k as the end of my first triathlon. I ran it with so much joy and exaltation that it was instantly the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. A big smile on my face, beautiful, cool weather and cheering on my fellow runners as I passed them by.

I’m still learning to overcome that anticipation of fatigue. Some races, some training runs I can run with strong resolve and effort and leave myself worn and ragged at the end. Some I finish knowing I slowed too much in the middle. That mental part of the sport will always be a work in progress.

I remember years where I barely ran, mileage for a month being single digits, maybe a long run of two miles. Somewhere in there I had thoughts, -Was I still a runner? When did I last run?-

I remember running a 5k in my hometown with my then girlfriend/now wife. She’d never run in a race before. We drove over from the city we live in to run it, getting up so early to make the drive it seemed nuts at the time. I remember a few years after that when we both ran the 15k race at that same race and how my wife went by asking if I was okay. I waved her on, done in a little by the heat and constant sun of the morning. I remember my brother who had run the 5k, jumped in and jogged with me for a bit to get me through the last couple miles. And how my mother did for a few steps as well.

I remember the crazy, crab-legged march (it definitely didn’t feel like running) when I did my first brick workout last year in preparation for that first triathlon; bike ride then immediately go on a run. And the amused laughter from my friends, many of which had been doing triathlons for years. Their words of encouragement between laughs, “I know that run. Just give it a mile and it’ll start to feel like running again.”

I remember a late autumn run through a state park, on a cold, rainy day, dashing between pines and around sand dunes, for some reason still in shorts. My legs a glowing red of coldness by the time I jumped back into the car. So many runs through that park, not far from my parent’s house. Looping around the trails I learned so well. I remember getting lost on those trails once in the evening before I knew them well, missing a turn and coming out on a road wondering where I’d ended up.

High school cross country was a defining part of my running career, two plus decades ago now. I always love running trails. Dashing through spiderwebs and swarms of gnats that show up in the deep, humidity of summer isn’t the most wonderful thing, but I remember those times too. I love the cool, crispness and smells of autumn. The quickness of step you seem to gain after the searing heat and humidity of August passes by. The teammates and long bus rides to XC meets and Saturday morning invitationals. I remember the sadness after my last race knowing that cross country was done for good this year.

There was a four mile run around a lake with my brother and sister one time when we were all in the same state again. Explaining to my brother that the big hill on the route was coming up. Naturally he looked upon it as a challenge and sprinted up it and then turned and met us halfway back down it. “That wasn’t so big of a hill!”

I remember training for one of my first non-cross country races, that same 5k I ran years later with my wife. I did loops around my parent’s neighborhood trying to solve the whodunit of a mystery novel that I was reading; Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

I know I’ve never beaten my brother in race. He’s always been much faster. I think maybe I beat my sister a time or two, but she was probably sick or injured since she too has always been faster. I can beat my wife in a race, on those rare occasions that we both do the same race, but I’m primarily a short distance guy and she loves her marathons.

I remember doing the mile in junior high track. I never ran track in high school, just cross country. I always went out for the baseball team instead.

I’ve even put in a few miles on a treadmill on those bitterly cold, single-digit days we’ve have too many of these past few winters.

I have triathlons to train for this year. Maybe I’ll even do a half-marathon some day. But there will always be 5k’s and 10k’s on the schedule. I love the training, the effort and the pain and the exhaustion that comes from it. I love getting up on race morning. I’m not such a fan of the antsy, fidgety nerves of race morning, but somehow getting into the starting crowd everything smooths out and while my mind is still a turmoil, the rest of me has calmed down and prepared.

I remember running.

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