Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Running to nowhere....

Last weekend I ran my first ever trail run-- a 10K. I really had no idea what to expect. I half-thought maybe I'd find a bunch of super-fit men and women in camouflage running gear with mud streaked faces. But when we got there, they were just regular people, runners in running shoes and shorts. There were about 100 of us running the 10K and another 50 more running a half-marathon at the same time. Being novices and not knowing what to expect, my friend Kate and I started toward the back middle. The trail was very narrow, only enough for one runner in most places, so the initial bottleneck was long and we spent a good ten minutes just getting to a point where we could run steadily.

Once we started running, the pack spread out and Kate and I ran together for about 15 minutes. Unlike normal runs where we run side by side chatting, here we were running single file and too focused on avoiding ditches and tree roots to talk much. At some point, Kate said, "Okay, I'm going to make a break. You coming?" Knowing that Kate's natural pace is usually much faster than mine, I was non-committal, "It depends on how fast you go," I told her. And off she went. I couldn't maintain her pace and with the dense forest and switchbacks, I quickly lost sight of her.

Now I was running on my own with a smattering of other runners in front of and behind me. It was so beautiful, completely green tree cover and quiet all around. The only sounds were my breath and the pounding of feet, mine and those behind me. Without Kate, I had no one to pace me and no idea of the distance I had run, how far I had to go, how many inclines, declines. I ran for a while behind a young woman in red tights with a big ponytail and an Olivia Newton John headband. She seemed fit and confident and I decided that if I could keep her pace, I was doing well. Eventually though, I felt stuck behind her. Passing wouldn't be easy because, in front of her were another few runners at about her pace. To pass, I would have to be sure that I could get past all of them and maintain a faster clip for at least a little while. If I couldn't maintain, then all that trouble to pass would have been for naught.

After psyching myself up, I chirped, "On your left" and passed all three runners in front of me. I ran faster and found that I was okay, I could maintain this speed. Eventually at the water station at the top of the hill I met up with Kate who was waiting for me. We ran together again. I still had no idea how long we'd been running, though I assumed the water break was about half-way. The running felt exciting-- we had to dodge big tree roots, decipher the direction we had to go at every fork, make way for passers, pass others in our way....

Knowing that I was likely on the second half of the run, I gained confidence. I still felt strong and took that as a great sign. Surprising myself, I told Kate, "I'm going to pass you." And again, I was without my pacer. I had to go within, feel how I felt, and trust myself. As I ran, coming closer other runners who I'd have to negotiate passage around, I'd ask myself, "Do you have the energy for this?" Once I was sure I did, I'd pass. By the end of the course I could faintly make out the clearing of the parking lot and I was able to run faster. I was so happy to find the finish line (Kate and I finished within a minute of each other) but I was surprised by how much energy I had left, how much more I could have given.

I felt a great accomplishment from finishing that run, but more than that, I felt excited about what I learned about myself, about listening to my internal physical cues. Not knowing where exactly I was going, how far I had run, liberated me from the messaging I normally experience when I run. Because I didn't know, I had to do something different. I thought about this a lot when I was doing yoga yesterday morning. If I can practice and listen more to my internal cues rather than fall into my regular patterns (tired at triangle, overheated at camel, blah blah blah), I might find that I'm stronger than I think I am.

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