Slog

It’s the slog runs that are the important runs.

That’s what I try to tell myself on a miserable Monday morning, lacing up my shoes, running around my neighborhood yet again because the trails are iced over, because I don’t have time to drive somewhere new.

The easy runs, the simple runs, they’re maintenance. It’s the slog runs that matter. The ones that are dreadful, the ones where all you can think about is the end. How you run when it’s a chore defines the kind of runner you are.

Slog runs are important runs. And every run these days has been feeling like a slog. Between injury and illness, I haven’t been able to train, and I feel like I’m starting from scratch over, and over, and over again.

It makes me wonder if there’ll ever be a time when I’m not returning to the start. If there will ever be a time when I can get past all this and really progress forward.

 

I’m in the middle of editing a manuscript.

My young adult novel, about a ballerina who quits the dance world after tragedy, who builds a new identity for herself. I’ve been paring down words, lines, whole paragraphs. I’ve been getting annoyed at myself for how I worded things — for how I’ve been wording things, for all of my novels.

I have all these needless words. Phrases. Actions that convey absolutely nothing. It’s like I’m scared to just tell the story, and so I buffer it. My husband has been instrumental with getting me out of this habit, with reading over my work and asking me, “What are you trying to say with this sentence?”

“What am I trying to say with this?” In the wrong tone, it sounds like accusation. In the right tone, it’s freedom. What is my goal with these words, and am I shying away from that goal out of fear — am I willing myself to babble, to add in unnecessary prepositions and “almost”s and “maybe”s — because I am scared of what happens when I broadcast the story head-on?

Is that why I’ve been redoing my main character’s dialogue? Why I refuse to have her be a passive witness to her life, like my character in my first book, even my second?

Am I going to make damn sure my little ballerina is my emblem of standing tall with both feet planted?

It’s a beautiful day — the first day of spring — and I know the only way I can get a run in is to go straight into it after my noontime meeting. I surreptitiously wear my running shoes to the meeting and take off from the parking lot.

I’m amazed at how easy the first mile is. Perhaps half the reason my recent runs have all felt like slogs is because I’d been running the same roads around my house, day after day.

Perhaps that was my problem — I had been allowing myself to go over the same paths again and again (and again).

But I run the streets of this New Hampshire city, deliberately weaving further and further away from my car, telling myself I have to hit a certain number of miles. I’ve been doing these small, slog runs, for too long. I’m not to where I need to be. I have a relay race in just two months, one where I’ll be running at least 15 miles over the course of 48 hours. I am one of 12 people on our team, and I won’t be the broken cog who makes the whole machine rattle.

It’s not just me who’ll be affected if I allow myself to be weak.

I hit the perimeter of the neighborhood quickly. I forget how small this city really is. I want to hit at least 5 miles, which will most likely be the minimum run I do during the relay. My headphones are warning me that battery is low, and I wonder just how far I can get before I lose my music, before I lose the very thing I lose myself with while running. My mediator between the physical exhaustion and the mental gymnastics, the thoughts in my head.

As I round the curb and hit the main street, I hear my headphones click off. It’s just me and my thoughts now. A part of me immediately imagines Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons, alone on the school bus, chuckling to himself and proclaiming, “I’m in danger!”

But I’m not. My feet become my own beat, a staccato waltz as I hit the sidewalk slabs. The outside world becomes my background. My thoughts are just as much in the forefront as before. I’m not in any danger.

Besides, it’s been a while since I ran away from what was going on in my mind, anyway.

I keep getting setbacks after setbacks. Back to back colds. Angering an old injury. Eating pavement during a warm up. My shoes are bursting at the sides and I need new ones, and then need to break those new ones in.

I’m getting frustrated. I’m no where near my mid-distance days and I don’t know if I’ll ever get there again.

Patience, patience, patience. Has that not been my mantra for years now? Try to rush to the end result and you’ll get the opposite of it. Let it be a slog. Let there be setbacks. Make your peace with it. Make your peace with the idea that you might never get the result you intended for. Make your peace with the powerlessness you actually have in the grand scheme of things.

Make your peace, or else you will never find peace.

The weather is getting warmer. My favorite running trails will be usable again soon, if they’re not already. But it will take a little while longer before my mountains will be as hospitable.

(Everything on its own timetable. Patience. Patience.)

But I’ve been aching for my hikes, aching to fill my soul, especially after a winter that ran it ragged. Aching to disappear into the mountains again, where the slog is a clear communion with God, where you’re given a summit for all your hard work.

Soon enough. All in due time.

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