Runner's Highs (and Lows)
The trials and tribulations of training for my first half-marathon.
One slumbering night, my cruel subconscious race director designed a course that led me to become wedged between two panels of a wooden playground climbing wall. As race volunteers pulled me out, my bib number got stuck in the splinters and I was told I had to finish the remaining 12 miles barefoot on a path of densely packed pebbles.
I woke up sucking air in a cold sweat, my cotton sheets sticking to my arms and legs.
Yes, many a wise author has written about the primitive thrill of barefoot running, and some folks find it refreshing. But I know nothing of barefoot running. Heck, I know nothing about running. Every morning when I look at my half-marathon training plan on my kitchen cupboard, I ask myself, "What have I gotten myself into?"
The only thing I know for certain: On May 15, on the streets of Pittsburgh, I'll be wearing a damn good pair of shoes.
The last time I took running quasi-seriously, I was 18 and creepily crushing on a young lad who lived on my side of town. We went on a few dates, I learned he ran cross country, I knew he drove on Route 5 on his way home from work and – bingo! – perfect excuse for a hormonally driven teenager to pick up a daily two-miler conveniently along the same road.
My T-shirts were looser and my calf muscles were tighter then, but my intentions were impure.
I ran to be seen. I ran from my own unrest. I ran for someone else – a "someone else" who, by the way, stood me up for dinner plans. I dropped the dud of a dude and the running habit in the same week.
At the wise ol' age of 22, I can tell you already that running to chase someone down isn't nearly as gratifying as running for yourself.
As for running with someone at your side? Well, that's just a blessing you can't plan for.
If it weren't for Pat, my best friend and all-too-patient trainer, I'd still be spending my free time elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos while watching Family Guy instead of putting my miles in during a gorgeous afternoon at Presque Isle.
Pat's been there during excruciating January runs when I've angrily kicked slush off the sidewalk in a fit of rage fueled by Erie weather. He's been in my peripheral vision on the adjacent treadmill, blipping and bleeping up the speed and challenging me to challenge myself.
Pat has witnessed me PR, shave minutes off my five-mile pace, and curl up in a ball on my couch from the searing pain of shin splints.
Most of all, though, he pensively reminds me, "You have to ask yourself why you run. And you have to find your own answer."
I don't know if I've conceptualized a clear-cut answer yet – but I know every step gets me closer to that moment of enlightenment. Or maybe it doesn't come during a moment at all, and illumination seeps out somewhere between the journey of the individual run and the journey of this thing that is "running."
But then again...
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