At precisely five AM, my alarm clock begins spitting out the beats of some obscure wind chime, “Da Da Dum, Da Da Dum”. Immediately, my hand reaches out in the darkness, dragging my previously limp body along with it. I grab my phone just in time to silence the sound before it gets any ideas about waking up the other parties in the bed. My wife sleeps soundly, along with our three boys, who had all found their way under the warmth of our covers during the night. I pull the blanket back over one of them who had been stirred by my sudden wake up call. As his head settles deep down into the pillow, I slip out the bedroom door.
It is five am, on a Friday, its freezing outside (literally), and it is my last training session for the week. An eight-mile easy run. I battle the self-doubt, but only for a moment, “Do I really want to go out there in this cold or do I want to sleep in an extra hour.” I squash the doubt by telling myself, “All you have to do, is to get outside and run, no pace goals, no expectations, just run.” I slip on my running clothes that I had set out the night before, chug down a few cups of water, do some light stretching, and then set out onto my run. My route for the morning is what I affectionately call my Urban Trail. In my small town, there are no designated running paths near me however, the city does a great job maintaining our public right of ways along our streets and highways. This morning, my route has me traversing a 4 mile out and back path, with over three quarters of those miles being on well mowed grass along the road side. The terrain is light underfoot, allows for good visibility in the early morning light, and with a few dozen culverts to go up and down, makes for some fun trail practice.
After just a few minutes into my run, my legs and lungs begin to warm up and I quickly shed my neck gaiter and toboggan. I listen to a running podcast for the first three miles until I am sufficiently out of town. As I turn onto an open dirt road, I silence my show. My mind is now fully alert and the quiet is a welcoming friend. On one side of me, open farmland stretches as far as the eye can see. On the other, I am almost startled by several large hulking forms by the roadside. Dozens of cows stand like statues behind a barb wire fence. The cold seems to have rendered them immovable, except for their heads, which smoothly swivel to follow my progress, I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves, “What in the name of Chik-Fil-A is this human doing?”. Off in the distance, a soft golden light is just beginning to peak over the horizon. With only the sound of my footsteps underneath, I retreat inward, and begin reflecting on the past year, specifically with my relationship to running.
In my life, I have been steadily running now for over 10 years and just during these past few months, I have had the most fun I have ever had running, training, and racing. I have been progressively amping up my training with the goal to try and just “see how good I can be”. This has seen me run several hours a week, putting in steady mileage (35 plus), and posting times that I had not hit since I was a kid in high school. Over the years since graduating, I have experienced several periods in my life where I decided to take training “seriously”. However, usually after several months I would lose interest and go on to something else. This past year though, following my experience at the Sweat, Swat, n Swear 50K and then taking off several months to recover mentally and physically I approached running in the late summer of 2022 with a newfound vigor. I once again wanted to truly give myself another opportunity to go “all in”. Now, nearing my thirties, I felt it was now or never.
In trying to determine how this makes me feel, all I can say is that it just feels good to be outside running, to be embracing the work. Sure, I get sore from hard workouts and the occasional minor ache and pain but in general, the more I run the better I feel. In the back of my mind, I have these goals about where I would like my running to take me and certain time goals that I want to achieve but mostly, I just know that by running I am made better. When I run, although it can be difficult, I would never want to hear myself say it is a struggle. When that happens, I know it is time for me to stop. I earnestly enjoy every time I get to slip on my running shoes to go for a run. However, there is something to be said between finding a balance between running for recreation and running to be at your peak physical capacity. Right now, I have in my mind the latter and am constantly motivated to complete whatever training goals I set out for myself at the start of the week. I do not know how long I can keep this up and frankly I do not want to know, I just want to use my legs to carry me as far and as fast as I can.
In Matthew McConaughey’s book “Greenlights”, he writes about the importance of keeping a journal; to not only write down and work out difficult situations in one’s life but to also keep track of and explore those positive times in one’s life so you can refer to them later to see why or how you felt the way you did. For me, in terms of my running, I have hit one of those “greenlight” moments where everything seems to be flowing along and I think it is because I am not taking myself too seriously.
As I near the end of my run, my hands are still stiff from the bitter winds, but my core is toasty warm underneath my light running jacket. It takes a lot for me to get up this early, to forgo that extra hour of sleep, but is it weird to say that I enjoy it, that I enjoy running in the freezing cold at the crack of dawn before most everyone else is awake. I have waxed philosophical many times about how my life in general is too easy in terms of the modern conveniences that I am able to enjoy and that I run because I need to feel some sense of adventure or difficulty. I think this is partly true, but it is also just as true that I run for a much simpler reason. I run because…I like to. I am carried forward now with this thought, “to continue onwards each day with the sheer joy of using my body to the fullest extent of its potential for no other reason than that it helps to make me a better person physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
I Just Felt Like RunningForest Gump