Sixty parts of an hour. Lots of activities can get squeezed into sixty minutes. I can pound out a medium-length run, dry a load of laundry, give the house a good once-over before company arrives, do a few errands while my kid is at basketball practice, get a massage, have a good sit-down dinner with the family, or see a therapist to delve into the mysteries of my soul. I can kill an hour in a running store trying on shoes or having my stride examined, fit in a spin class at the gym, sweat through Pilates, get zen through yoga, have a good chat with a friend or read a few chapters before bed. Sixty minutes is an hour, a small piece of my day that is like an afternoon snack. It’s important, yes, but isn’t the main course.
I ran sixty minutes today, the first run in a week due to a nasty flu that blind-sided me right after I got home from a 3-week road trip. When I got the weekly email on Thursday announcing today’s 10-mile Saturday morning run, I immediately bowed out and congratulated myself on being smart enough to know my limitations. Instead of running with the ladies, I planned an easy solo run on Bobolink trail with my iPod. This would be a recovery run and I didn’t want any self-imposed pressure on pace or distance; I wanted to be able to stop when necessary and check in with my body to see how it felt.
I arrived at Bobolink a few minutes before 7 AM. The parking lot was empty, save for two other early birds already on the trail. Taking a last swig of water, I powered up the Garmin, pushed play on the iPod, and tucked the car key into the zippered pocket of my shorts.
Mile 1: A high layer of clouds blocked the early morning light. I started slowly, a snail’s pace. I was startled to see the numbers on the Garmin land on 11:30 per mile. After a minute or two I checked the numbers again; I was down to 11:25 per mile. The last time I clocked an 11-minute pace, I was dodging rocks while running uphill at altitude. Crazy how a small bug, invisible to the naked eye, can take four minutes off my usual pace in the span of a week.
Uneven breath and no rhythm. The feet on the end of my legs didn’t act like my own. Trying to settle into something resembling a runner’s posture, I waggled my hands, shrugged my shoulders and tried to notice the beautiful creek next to me.
Mile 2: My feet felt like they were slogging through quicksand. “Dear God, if you see my legs, could you send them back? I miss them.” This was a mental shout-out to God, figuring if He happens to see the runner legs that used to be attached to this body, He’ll knows where to send them.
The trail dipped slightly and gravity pulled me along. The pace reading on the Garmin fluctuated before settling into a sedate 10-minute mile. Okay, I guess this is all I have today. Well, at least I’m out here. Hope I make it to the gate; this is going to be a long run. Crossing over South Boulder Road to the south end of the trail, I was surprised to see unbroken sections where weeds and prairie grasses grew over six-feet tall. The cows that usually decorate the fields were noticeably absent. My hip ached and sudden twinges behind the IT Band on my right leg kept my brain occupied. I paused to take a few pictures and decided not to look at the display for a while. I didn’t see the lap pace at the end of mile 2.
Mile 3: The music in my ears was a total crutch. I don’t know if I would have had the fortitude to keep going without it, as my run was so obviously sucking. Stopping after the long bridge for a minute, I did a few stretches and rubbed my knee, knowing it was the tight right glute that was messing with the other muscles. I toyed with the idea of turning around at the beginning of Mile 3, then dismissed it. I would put in the miles. The Garmin rolled over to a new lap and informed me that my pace for Mile 3 was a whopping 9:50/mile.
Mile 4: Stopping again to take a picture, I finally made it to the gate, gave it a cursory sweep with my fingertips, and jogged back the way I had just come, glad that I was on the downhill side of the clock.
I lifted my hand to wave as several groups of runners passed on their way to the gate. The dirt was dry and dusty, a breeze was blowing, and a trickle of sweat fell into my open mouth before I could wipe it away. Momentarily distracted by the salty taste of my own sweat, I was completely amused by the sensation of rivulets coursing down cheeks when suddenly it hit me: I don’t hurt anymore! I glanced at the Garmin and noted the distance– 3.9 miles. It had taken almost four complete miles for my body to remember how to get into the groove of running. I almost danced with joy, but let my legs celebrate in their own way.
Mile 5: The sudden strength in my legs was a salve so complete that a smile split my face wide open. This is me, I thought. This is what I was looking for. The twinge in my knee was gone. My feet remembered how to step and lift, my shoulders were rotating with actual strength now, and my hip didn’t ache at all. I did a quick mental probe and found that there was indeed still some tightness in the glute, but it felt more like an invisible hand applying pressure on a sore spot than a red-hot burning like before. I’ll take pressure over burning any day. Checking the Garmin every few minutes, I noticed the pace numbers decrease into the 8-minute range, and once it even dipped and hit 7:50 per mile. More and more people were passing me on their way to the gate, and it wasn’t hard to offer a cheery “Hi” or a wave. I didn’t hurt anymore. Mile 5- 8:40/mile.
Mile 6: It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t crossed over South Boulder Road, which meant that there was still almost two miles to go. A quick mental check assured me the body was still in good shape. I kept up the pace and even let myself push a little harder when it felt right. The mile passed more quickly, and I said a mental Ha! when I finally hit the pace that carried me through my first Half-Marathon two years ago. Mile 6- 8:08/mile.
The last .7 mile to the trailhead was easy, and I cruised back to the car. My legs still felt good and my mind was clear. The fog that had trapped me in slow-motion was gone. I didn’t have to work hard to pull the pace into the 7-minute range, and when I punched the Stop button at the end I laughed.
I had just run for sixty minutes. Sixty minutes ago I could barely lift my legs. My knee hurt, my hip ached, and I couldn’t find a rhythm. I couldn’t find ME in the mess of a body that had just exorcised a viral demon. I was hesitant, unsure, scared of pain and withdrawn. Now, sixty minutes later, I was ready to do battle; sure of my strength, purpose, passion, ability to take a hit and get back up again.
I don’t know of any therapist that, in the span of sixty minutes, could have unraveled the drama, anxiety and pain that had taken root in my head and body. Thankfully, I can run. I found the space and time to push through the mental and physical pains that were festering, and waited them out. We did a little dance to see who would be the victor in this contest. I won.