Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My 3.1

Finally, here I am. I'd been pacing the kitchen in my running gear, waiting for Mark to get home so I could make my escape. The longer, brighter days have meant that my runs haven't needed to be confined to the treadmill at the gym anymore, and I'm ready to break free.

Outside the condo, I look to the left and set the stopwatch on the iphone I put in my running belt. I zip my jacket a little higher against the gentle but stubborn March wind and a few scattering raindrops, and adjust my belt so that the bottle compartment rests on my back.

I begin.

My body feels relaxed and easy, my arms loose. Across the street, a runner is heading in the same direction as me. He looks much more like a typical runner - tall, thin, his long legs seems to effortlessly gobble up the sidewalk. In no time he's a few blocks beyond me.

I head up the hill on my traditional 5k loop of the neighborhood. This is the only serious hill on the route, and I'll see it again at the end of the run when I return home. Somehow, it always seems easier at the end. Maybe I'm warmed up, maybe it's shorter and less steep returning, maybe I'm delirious. Whatever the reason, I'm glad it's here at the beginning, too, so I can get it out of the way before I have too much time to think about it.

I lean into the hill, running with my weight on my toes, and feel the weight lift off my quads as I crest the top and fall forward. My breath is now coming as it will for the rest of the run, in a two-step rhythm that dictates my pace: breathe in, step, breathe out, step. I concentrate on filling my lungs fully to combat a creeping stitch after the hill, and think about how I probably shouldn't have filched the kids' leftover pizza right before the run.

I pass the Thriftway with its bold display of flowers out front and continue on the sidewalk toward the Village, the gathering of shops in our neighborhood, about a mile away. I can see all the way down the road to the blinking red light at the place I turn. It seems so far away, but I'll be there in about 10 minutes. I keep my eyes focused up on the road and the distance. I've run this sidewalk enough to know by now where the cracks and bumps are.

The road I'm running on is a main thoroughfare, and although the sidewalk is set away from the street by a greenbelt the sounds of cars whizzing by this time of night is constant. I wonder briefly what they see when they look at me? I've gotten past the point of feeling like a "fat runner," although I still break the mold in terms of typical runner physique. I remember a few weeks ago when I was lifting some weights and looking at myself offhandedly in the mirror, and suddenly an uninvited thought zipped into my brain: "I look strong." That was a first. Is that what the cars going by see, too? It's a small neighborhood, I probably know at least a handful of these people driving by. Did they know I was a runner? Would they ever expect it? Thinking back to my pre-running days, I'm not sure I even registered runners on the sidewalks or roads. Now, it's sort of like being pregnant and seeing pregnant women everywhere. Everywhere I drive, I see runners on the road. I find myself wondering if they're training for something, checking out their gear, wondering how far they've run and how far they have left to go, if they think that hill they're running up is hard. If there are any runners in those cars, they are thinking the same thing about me. And they might be just as jealous as I am when I see my brothers and sisters out on the road instead of where I am, trapped behind the wheel.

If I register with the non-runners, they are probably thinking I'm borderline insane, as the rain has now started in earnest. It's not the large drippy rain that other climates experience, but that uniquely Pacific Northwest rain shower that is more of a really dense drizzle. My face is covered with condensation, and large drips accumulate on my eyelashes and the tip of my nose. I thank myself for remembering my jacket. I've turned by the church now and am passing the ball field on my right, where the baseball players are huddled with the coach in the covered dugout, listening to instructions for the next practice. They've ended early because of the rain. Those kids don't know what they're missing, trying to stay dry like that.

I turn the corner to the right to circle the ballfield and make my final approach to the village. I only know this because I've been here so many times, but this will be a long, gradual downhill all the way to my next turn, one of those downhills that you really only notice because you once tried to run it in the opposite direction and realized that yes, it is a hill. I've been fooled before by this hill, when I forgot to enjoy it until it was too late and it was over. I let my body fall slightly and revel in the more open pace while I let my breathing come a little easier.

Now, I'm in the village and making my second right turn around the ball field. I have a flashback to a year ago, when Mark threw on his running shoes on a whim and ran to the Village and back. He came back sweaty and happy. I didn't think I'd ever be able to make it to the Village and back running the whole way, and he got up one night and did it because he felt like it. I was insanely jealous.

I view the slight hill at the end of this block. It's short but steep, and a precursor to the slow incline for the next block after the corner that is the sibling of the slow decline I enjoyed just a few minutes ago. For a while it was my Waterloo on this course, the place where I needed to walk to catch my breath for a minute before running home. Now, I concentrate on running on my quads and return to my pace around the corner, and cruise by the middle school on the home stretch.

I enjoy this mile of flat sidewalk as I always do, getting into my typical post-two-mile mindspace when I really feel the benefit of the run, readying myself for that final hill. When it comes, I'm always surprised that I'm halfway up it before I really even notice I'm climbing. The way down is steep, steeper than it's sibling ascent on the other side, and I let my body fall down the hill again, my arms loose and useless at my sides. I don't think I could stop if I tried.

And back I am at the door of the condo. I fish out my iPhone and notice that at some point around 2 minutes it got jostled and stopped, but it doesn't really matter. As I wait for the buzzer to be answered, my friend from the beginning of the run passes going in the other direction. His long legs are still devouring the cement, and I'm sure that he's covered at least twice as many miles as me. We nod at each other as he passes, and I notice that his clothes are just as soaked as mine, his drenched hat is now in his back pocket.

"I'm back," I pant into the speaker when Mark answers it, although my heart rate has already slowed quite a bit. As I walk toward our door, it's already open for me in anticipation of my return. I walk through it, and three faces turn to me.

"Are you runned, Mommy?" asks the two-year-old, with her typical sweet, expectant expression. Just a few weeks ago, she had grabbed her shoes and headed toward the door with them, declaring that she, herself, was going for a run.

"Yeah, baby," I replied, "and it was great."

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