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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Scrape

I originally set out on Sunday to write about returning to aerial — potentially with some line about not being able to practice for a while, and how getting back into the swing of things can feel like starting from the beginning again sometimes, but then my attempt to go on a run after class ended up being a better symbolic tableau of life as of late. Continue reading “Scrape”

Connection

“I don’t think you’re an introvert,” says my husband. “I think you’re an extrovert who got the extroversion beaten out of her.”

I’ve learned to take these insights from him seriously, even when they run in stark contrast to what I actually assume about myself. The number of times I’ve heard him pose such an insight, and I’d swear that it’s not the case — only to have life gently (or, at times, not so gently) unfold to me the truth behind reality. I’ve learned to hold such assessments with both hands and with cared regard.

An extrovert who got the extroversion beaten out of her. “But, like, not literally beaten,” I’ve said when telling others about it, like the only way a spirit could get crushed is under the weight of swinging fists. Continue reading “Connection”

Shift

I have a nasty habit of falling into old habits.

I train up too hard and too fast when I run. I get stubborn about my mileage, my pace, my frequency. I get impatient when I feel I can do better. Taking it easy is akin to giving up, and I handle both concepts with equal grace (or lack thereof). It’s how I sprained a hamstring tendon five years ago, trying to train for the Chicago Marathon — and how I turned that sprain into a minor tear by attempting a yoga class the day after and forcing a stretch where the muscles had locked up.

The injury took me out of marathon training, and out of mid-distance running in general for years. But recently, I’ve been trying to get back into it. Run more than 5 miles, or 6, or 7. I sign up for a 200-mile relay. I research local half marathons. For the first time in over a year, I hit 10 miles. For the first time in who knows how long, I’m hitting sub-8-minute miles on pavement. Right in front of me was a new set of goals, expectations, including maybe, just maybe, finally keeping my promise of running in the Chicago Marathon.

And then — not even during the run itself, but during a very, very gentle stretch, after a run that was anything but gentle — I feel a ping in my left hamstring. Not enough to have fully re-injured myself, but enough to awaken an old monster. Enough to remind me that tendon injuries never fully heal. Continue reading “Shift”

Marked

Afternoon has settled long and heavy on my shoulders,” Sarah Bareilles sings about December, and I listen to it the same way one bites down into a lemon wedge.

December has a way of leaving things raw. It has a way of sharpening the lines and heightening everything on one side and the other.

December has a way of making you feel like you’re about to pick up a heavy weight — or perhaps more like you’ve just been reminded of the weight you’ve been carrying all along. And I still don’t know if all the White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock help push back against it or if it creates a glare with their tinsel and lights.

It’s a heightened time. It always is at this point in the year. The sun seems to shine brighter, more sharply. The overcast days bring more of a sense of gray. The darkness from the setting sun is saturating and dominating. The music pings a little more at the soul, the resonance lingering in the air just a little bit longer. The wind cuts a little harder than its January and February counterparts. Every sensation is just a little more alive, for better or worse.

May all be heightened and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Continue reading “Marked”

Roads

When I was a teenager — when I was the only one of my friends with a car, albeit a bedraggled former rental car with terrible brakes and not even a tape player — I would drive my friends through the South Shore, finding random roads and seeing where’d they go.

Depending on the night, we could get as far as the Cape, before eventually finding a route we knew would bring us home. We didn’t have so much as a road atlas in my car. Just blind faith that eventually we’d find 3, or 93 — or a gas station attendant that could get us to where we needed to go.

It felt like everyone around us was showing their rebellion by throwing parties that we were never invited to. We hit the road instead, wandering the roads, straying and getting lost, never doubting we’d find our way back. Continue reading “Roads”

Jumper

Don’t look down. Stare straight ahead. Clear your mind and do it.

I remember saying that to myself after failing the prelim jump for the airbag jump at Attitash. I had looked down, psyched myself out, and jumped feet first instead of flipping onto my back. I said it to myself when I first learned drops in aerial, when I’d clutch the silk tight and refuse to let go, every inch of me screaming, “You’ll die if you do this.”

Don’t look down. Stare straight ahead. Clear your mind and do it. Continue reading “Jumper”