Four Miles

April 14, 2013 in Blog

I had a plan for today. I woke up and sat in bed for a while, knowing that my plan started in about half an hour. But the fact that I woke up a little bit early meant that I got a few minutes to myself to consider any necessary tweaks or adjustments. This is not really a story about the plan. This is just about the first item on the agenda. I needed to go for a run. Desperately. I had hoped to get five or more runs in over the past week but today was only the third I was able to make happen, hence the desperation. So lying in bed, I decided I would aim for four miles this morning. At current time, that seemed totally reasonable.

The first mile

I adjusted my iPod to front load some newly downloaded music and started my run tracking app. Begin workout she said with a commanding yet melodic voice. And so I did. (I stink at warm up. I usually just… start). I waved to the neighbor as I postured forward, the pace of my feet tapping on the asphalt accelerating until I reached a fairly comfortable gait and steadied. It was maybe a bit chillier than my dress would call for, but I get warm fast so I welcomed the brisk air hitting my shoulders. I did, however, wish I hadn’t just discovered that my allergy/sinus issues had settled into a phlegmy mess in my upper respiratory tract. But yesterday’s shower washed away much of the week’s pollen build up so that certainly struck me as a bonus.
I got to thinking about my last run. It was in Connecticut and I had quite a few more layers on. Not familiar with my surroundings, I decided to shoot for three miles letting the phone app be the judge of my pace and distance. A lot of fresh fertilizer had just been put down, and up there, the signs of spring were still pretty hard to recognize. The surroundings were mostly brown and dull.
So was I. It had been four days since my miscarriage. I guess. I’m not sure when you start the clock on that, but I’m going with the day that the doctor surgically “removed the pregnancy.” But the baby had died well before that. I had been carrying death inside me for at least three weeks before the surgery. And, on the day of that run, I was still feeling quite pregnant. Nausea had restarted, possibly because of the antibiotics, possibly hormones, or maybe the combination, and my breasts still felt uncomfortably full, barely fitting into my favorite running bras. That seemed a cruel joke – to still feel the weight of what was clearly not meant to bring nourishment to anyone. It was part of the 10 pounds I had gained for evidently no reason whatsoever, but my particular flavor of pregnancy is more like Kim Kardashian’s than Kate Middleton’s. My body hoards fat everywhere beginning well before a measurable amount of HCG is observable in my pee. For two months, I had watched the muscle tone start to disappear behind veils of fat in my arms, leg, stomach… everywhere. For two months, it was… disappointing but amusing. But now it was just cruel. No longer carrying life, my body chemistry was clearly in the first stage of grief… denial. I thought, in that run, if I just pushed harder maybe I could trigger my body to give up. But pushing harder was… well harder… as I could still tell I was running with the blood volume and decreased cardio capacity of a pregnant woman. Running, in fact, may be a bit of an hyperbole.
But I did push on, right past a set of barns situated on tobacco fields across from a couple of horse properties. The hill was steeper than I’m accustomed to so pushing forward, my head dropped and my gaze moved to the road beneath me. Connecticut, or at least this particular route, is a filthy place. The streets are lined with refuse. People there litter as though it were a sport. Cigarette butts line the edges of the road the way you’d expect flower petals to collect in the spring time. And behind that line, their discarded packs, plastic cups, beer cans and bottles, tiny airplane sized liquor bottles, receipts, condoms, takeout containers… The offenses blow my mind particularly in this bucolic residential area.
As I routinely do on a run, I waved to the drivers in oncoming traffic. They avoided my stare. I watched one car, moving especially slowly, making u-turns more than once, but never stopping to ask me directions. I at once realized that there is a direct correlation between how the people of a particular place treat the immediately surrounding environment and their connection with it and other human beings. I have never been surrounded by so many people with so little comfort at eye contact. Well, maybe at WalMart. I generally refer to Connecticut and its residents as existing in a permanent state of discontent reflected by a ubiquitous scowl and a total lack of gratitude.
Yeah, I have a particular bias. Connecticut was not a place where I flourished, exactly. It’s where I had my first heartbreak which was almost immediately followed by two encounters of rape and then a somewhat self inflicted state of poverty and depression leading to dropping out of college and getting the hell out of there. But it’s where I met my husband (though we were rivals until I left, and neither of us lived in Connecticut when we fell in love – so there) which led to my incredible children and so for that I will continue to be connected to the state and carry gratitude for it – even when that is sometimes hard to hold. So I apologize to people of Connecticut who disagree and just love it there. These are my reflections, not facts. But for me Connecticut always chases me into a deep corner of emotionally disturbed crankiness.
Unlike Montana. Indeed, not like Montana at all

The second mile

The voice on my phone woke me up to report the data on my first mile’s speed and pace from which I assessed that I was starting to regain my previous running strength and was starting to fill with pride and hope that it wouldn’t be too long before I’d be back to where I was a few months ago. Or last year, when I was training passionately. I remember running in Montana and soaking in that sweet perfume scent of the pastures – no, not manure – it is an overwhelming flowery sweetness that is entirely intoxicating. I was reveling in it while jogging up a hill on the way back to the cabin where I was staying when I heard the throaty roar of a pickup truck pulling up slowly behind me. That truck contained two of the most beautiful souls I have ever had the privilege to know. Perhaps the best two, if you don’t count the ones that I personally ushered into this world. We exchanged heartfelt greetings and I could not wait to see them again a few hours later, after a shower and a snack. There in Montana, where I feel so connected to everything I’m not even sure where my sense of self – physically or emotionally – ends and Montana begins. Or, if we homogenize into one perfect reality. It is, after all, vacation. Well, it feels like it, even during the periods of work. God, I love Montana.
The week I spent in Montana was roughly the first week of my training for a half-marathon in November. I was fearful but excited at the beginning of that training. Somewhere towards the end, I remember thinking how pleased I’d be at the other side of that race, but that I didn’t think I had it in me to run a full marathon. I’m not a runner per se. I’m slow. And clumsy. And totally unsure about proper form.
Oh yeah, form… as I hurled into my second mile of this morning’s jaunt, I suddenly remembered to think of my form. Moving north, I could see my profile in shadow and wondered if I should be pitching forward more, letting gravity propel me forward as my feet moved up and down to avoid falling. Someone told me that once. Someone else told me to posture straighter and take short quick strides, which always makes me feel like I should simultaneously spread my fingers out and cycle my arms so I look a little more like Tom Cruise running in an action movie. Of course – he’d be sprinting. And I’m looking for a longer run than that, so that certainly doesn’t make sense. I went back to pitching forward some because it felt more comfortable and I was rather enjoying my pace. In fact, if I could just cough that one obstruction out of my bronchial tubes, I thought perhaps I could run forever. Maybe I should consider a marathon this year. You know, since I’m no longer pregnant and clearly on the road to recovery.
This morning, by the way, I was supposed to be doing 6.2 miles with my friends at the Monument Ave 10k. But I gave that up when I discovered I was pregnant and wasn’t going to be able to meet the goal I’d set for myself. So this morning I watched the photos posting on Facebook documenting the race. I watched my friends post their times and pictures of their finish celebration meals. I perused photos of the kids 1 mile fun run that precedes the race, wishing I had done it with Isobel, even though she never has interest in working on or training for anything. Ah well. Supposed to… supposed by whom, I wondered.
Somewhere between the half way mark and the three quarter mark of this mile I imagined where I would be if I had been in the race that morning. The bands playing, the kids and families and dogs cheering us on… And yet I realized I was getting tired. Well before the halfway mark would’ve been visible. Hmm, maybe it is good I didn’t go… I tried to suss out exactly what part of my body was tiring out. When I really got to noticing it, I realized I wasn’t feeling any particular pain. My legs felt strong. My feet were still pat pat patting along the road. My arms weren’t over pumping or causing stress in my shoulders (which sometimes happens especially if I get overly enthusiastic on the air guitar while running). Even my lungs with the slightly uncomfortable weight from seasonal allergies were not especially pained and my breathing was still reasonable. It must be mental fatigue. Boredom maybe even. Just keep running, I thought. I saw a man walking out ahead of me. I watched him kick into a jog. I decided to focus on him for a while. Focus on catching up and passing him.

The third mile

But by the time I reached him my throat was starting to feel sore and my breathing was heavy. Whatever was I thinking, a marathon this year? I can barely make it to three miles, how will I ever make it to 26? Who am I anyway? Six months ago, I could rush through five miles before work any day. Couldn’t I? Why is this so hard? Will I ever get better? I can’t do four today. Does that make me a loser? Am I a loser?
The negativity was setting in hard. A followed it for a quarter of a mile or so. I thought about how seven miles into the half I was giggling because I felt so good. I tried to remember how long it took until the negativity set in that day. And I couldn’t remember. I don’t remember. Maybe that’s why I like races but hate training. I fall prey to negativity when I’m out there alone. I sink in to the worst of my assertions with no one else to aim for, I let all of my judgments fall onto me. The monotony of the same route, the same smells, the same dogs barking, the same cars passing. The duldrums of the third mile of training – they chase each and every run, and today, in the third mile they caught me.
But not on race days. On race days I’m always out in front of the crazy. I’m looking for Isobel at the finish. I’m listening to Eli’s favorite songs and just coasting along. There’s so much positive energy surrounding you in a race. And new scenery. And a crowd of people – some faster, some slower. Each with a story. Or more than one. There’s the story they’re running with. Then there’s the one I read off of them. Neither are The Truth, just certain versions of a possible truth. Assessments built on assessments.
On race day, my assessments are typically exhilarating. That I am in the company of athletes, of heroes. That I may not be in the lead but I’m not holding out at the back either. I feel a part of something profound and very literally and figuratively moving. I need a race.
And healthier lungs. It was here that I noticed the wheeze I had picked up in pregnancy started to reveal itself. And then the voice told me it had been three miles and I was moving too fast. And the sweat near my ear buds started to pool and then overflow, running into my ears making it uncomfortable to continue listening to my iPod. I let the buds drop.

The fourth mile

I decided to walk the last one. Maybe that’s cheating, but I had to get home somehow. Moving eastward, even with my eyes closed the sun was strong enough to provide enough navigational guidance through my eyelids so that I could peacefully walk, closed eyes, conjuring images of strength and freedom. I listened in on my breath and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement… Tap tap.. Tap tap. I slowed my breathing down to a deliberate and steady movement and then my slowed my pace to match. I decided to practice a walking meditation.
Breathe in deeply.
Take a step.
Hold the breath.
Another step step, breathe out, step
Hold, in, step, hold, step.
My mind started back up about random things and why I can’t just focus and why meditation is so hard for me and I became frustrated. No thinking! I corrected myself. Breathe in, step, car! Woah, Ok focus.
I turned my palms, facing forward, relaxing my gaze forward and walking with my hips leading, breathe, step,
OH dog! A German Shepard came lunging towards me, barking, sending me into fear and anger. But I know he stops at the driveway so I regrouped, centered, back to breathing, stepping, breathing, stepping, and in the slow quietness I became aware that the dog stopped barking, as if moving to match my energy, he brought his paws down, and lay on the ground peacefully as I continued, breathing, stepping, walking. Becoming part of the concert of a spring morning in Virginia.

So I didn’t run four miles as I’d hoped. But I got three in and a chance to center. Today’s run connected me to my heart, body, and grounded me back to the earth. It offered much needed time to process the pain of the last few weeks and positioned me to look forward to the coming weeks, whatever gifts of wisdom and challenge they should bring. So I may not be so strong yet, but I am becoming. I may not be entirely healed yet, but I am healing. Another journey begins.

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