Sunday, August 25, 2013

That’s why they call it running

(Second in a series.)

Sometimes that voice within knows what it’s talking about.

About the tenth time I mentioned in passing to other runners that “I really need to get out on the trails more often,” and noticed that they simply moved on to another topic, the point became clear.

They were politely, through their silence, saying, “Yes, you do.”

It was pretty much what I had been saying to myself, but ignoring. For the better part of 18 months, my running consisted of Tuesday nights with TRF and a Saturday or Sunday morning run up the hill to Buffalo Park, around the loop and back down.

That routine was mostly aimed at exploring the persistent and universal newbie question, “Am I a runner?” Some days felt like yes. Others answered no. Finally, over time and repetition, came the long-sought affirmation. But my satisfaction with it didn’t last long. Soon arrived the nagging tug of another question. Why am I not getting any faster?

Some fairly obvious thoughts came to mind. Most of the runners passing me during workouts, I reasoned, probably went a little easier on the pizza and PBR. (And please, please correct me if I’m wrong.) But I knew something else, as much as wanted to pretend I didn’t. They ran. A lot.

Stubbornly, I didn’t. Yet, in the end, a few lines from a book broke through the resistance that guilt and doubt couldn’t penetrate. In Running with the Mind of Meditation, Sakyong Mipham helped me understand that I was still “building a base.” That after months of running, my muscles and bones—and mind—were still becoming acclimated. And there was only one way to finish the base and begin striving for the next level. Run more.

So I added two mornings—a little more than four miles—a week. And after a few weeks, something happened. Running seemed less like a dispiriting effort. Bends in the trail and on the track felt more like grooves, pulling me around. A distant magnet drew me to the end. I was running.  

Am I fast? Not even close. But I’m more comfortable, and sometimes, in the early morning air among the pines, an unfamiliar and elusive sensation briefly appears: enjoyment.

I think I’ll keep running after it and maybe start catching up a little more often.

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Eric has written and lived here and there.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Over the hill on the way up

definition: over the hill. 1. past one’s prime; 2. to run to the top of the next hill, and the next, and the next

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Age has a way of defining us. When we’re young, we measure it in fractional increments, eager to show that at 4-1/2 or 9-1/2 we are nearly the next age, full of anticipation and confidence. Then, after our teens, we become 20-something or 30-something, which leads to being in our 40s or 50s before outright attempts at reversal—60 is the new 40, and on up the scale.

As a fledgling runner 18 months ago, and being new to Flagstaff, I quickly learned one of the fundamental lessons of this place: age may be a category in competitive runs, but it’s not an excuse. Or a qualifier. “That was a pretty decent time for a guy my age” doesn’t mean much around here.

Such a realization was intimidating, to be sure. But also motivating. The trail doesn’t care how old I am, and neither does the clock. So neither should I.


What’s going to follow in this series of posts is not a chronicle of how a 55-year-old, who didn’t really start running until he was 53, is fairing at 7,000 feet as the clock tick-tick-ticks. Certainly, there have been satisfying accomplishments and frustrating obstacles over that brief time, but the point is to convey the deeper experience of running—something that is shared by young and old at every level. 

The trail leads up for all of us. How each of us gets to the top of the next hill tells an individual story of mind, body and will that runners universally can appreciate.

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Eric has written and lived here and there.