Monday, January 07, 2008

First day of school

Sometimes a 3 mile run is not a 3 mile run.

I set out this afternoon knowing this run was different. In fact, the whole day had been different, looking forward to this run. The whole weekend, in fact. And when the day brought with it temperatures in the mid 50's, and rain clattering off the roof during my lunch, and thunder rolling around just after, it seemed the whole world knew it wasn't a normal day.

I hit Play, then tap Start, and the first steps of training fall underneath me.

A season ends, and the hangover begins. And running comes when it can, and training is replaced with play, and the body craves rest and food and time. The swimmer treads water, the cyclist dismounts, the runner mostly walks. It's how it's always been, how it should be, how it will go. More significantly, though, is that mentally, there is disengagement. It's hard to care about a summer so far away when still exhausted from that which just passed. The mind, too, needs a break from the game.

I run easy down the sidewalk in my neighborhood, in shorts and long sleeves and a running hat. Melting snow retreats from the sidewalk, revealing slivers and edges of soaked grass and green. A thick fog hangs in the air; not the kind that's monochrome and featureless, but coming in sweeping wafts and wisps, like smoke on water. The huge snow-walls that I've been bounding over this winter have, in just three days, melted to almost nothing. This day, spring's impostor.

The holidays present one last surge of gluttony, but as soon as they're over, and the new year begins, there is a kind of awakening. The body and mind synchronize. Soon races are being researched, and schedules arranged, and regiments detailed. And there comes an anticipation, and a focus, and a day on which it's all to begin. When it's no longer recreational, but intentional. When the run isn't a jog. When it no longer exists in a vacuum, for it's own sake - but instead is responsible for tomorrow's run, and next week's, and the increased distance a month from now, and the new speed a month from then.

Tendrils of mist caress, cold and delicate, like running through clouds. I can see 50, maybe 75 yards ahead of me, before the world vanishes into thin air. If I look to my left, across the snow-covered baseball fields, the sky touches the earth, a wall of white. I can just make out someone walking across, disappearing in the fog's gradient, absorbed by the unknown. We are ghosts. The streets and sidewalks are wet for all the rain earlier, and lights reflect on them in a kind of surreality, making the ground look like still water. Headlights emerge in the distance ethereal and hazy, their vehicles invisible; haunted eyes. I decide it's appropriate, this literal and metaphorical running into the unknown. I decide this is the first time I've felt this way since training for Ironman One; it's not that this day was necessarily meant for me, but that I was meant for it. I nod in quiet appreciation at the universe's acknowledgment. I feel witness to phenomenon. It's then that I package this day, folded neatly, to be retrieved in September 2009.

Thoughts are purposeful, and pointed. A workout missed now is not an inconvenience, but an opportunity lost. And as I slide through this eerie atmosphere, I can just sense the production preparing behind the curtain; the energies of race day morning, the smell of freshly cut grass on summer evening runs, the refreshing coolness of water passing over my outstretched arm, the long shadow of a cyclist's form as twilight approaches after 20, or 40, 100 miles. The snow will come again, there will be more ice, more cold, more winter. But for now, as I emerge from the smoke, I can vaguely hear the tuning strings from the orchestra pit as the world prepares for its inevitable summer spectacle. I am among its players, and today began rehearsals.

The season is underway.


Erin said...

So well put. And inspiring.

Anonymous said...

i agree man, i live in the milwaukee area but sounds like weather was the same... what a beautiful day for a run!

marathon2tri said...

I have run that run, thought those thoughts, felt that anticipation...

Only you have captured its essence in words.

Ever read something, leaned back, smiled and said "oh yeah, he knows." I have.