Somewhere around mile 9 during a training run a few weeks ago, I’ll have to admit that I was feeling pretty done.
I was tired. Sore. My feet hurt. A week away from my last race of the spring, I was weary of the toil.
Then came the taper week, followed by a beautiful day in Oklahoma City and a great experience during the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon’s half-marathon event.
When that was over, I vowed to take the next couple of months “off” from race training and just try to stay in shape until the fall race season drew near. There are mountain adventures to be had this summer, and just an overall need to dial it back a bit and focus on other fitness goals.
One of the things I’d missed over the past three weeks was trail time. I got outside, but it was important to log “road miles” and that meant steering clear of trail running for a short time. A short time that seemed, in many ways, like an entire season of life.
So I finally got back to those trails. And boy, I missed them.
For starters, spring happened. The last time I was out on the dirt, leaves had barely begun to appear on the trees. It’s been an unseasonably cool spring here in northeastern Oklahoma, and gratefully, wetter than in the past couple of years.
Upon my return, the woods had exploded in greenery. It’s amazing how different the forest looks, smells and behaves once the foliage emerges from its winter hibernation. I found myself running a little harder, feeding off the energy that was being unleashed this spring.
And that brings me to the continuing reward of all that training in the weeks and months beforehand. I felt strong from the get-go, powering up that first hill, then flying downhill into a deep ravine. I was then confronted by a steep uphill, which I dispatched quickly. After taking in the view from the top, I took off on the final couple of miles.
The trail, called Ho Chi, is one of those undulating, roller-coaster stretches that are a lot of fun when you’re fresh, but pure labor if you’re a bit pooped. That day, however, I had plenty of gas left in the tank. I dug in on the uphills, and feeling strong, I opened up on the downhills.
Do you ever pick it up so fast that you can literally hear the speed in your ears? Like you’re slicing into the wind? It doesn’t happen on my normally slow plod, but it’s a familiar sound when I sprint, or get on the bike, or hit the slopes. Speed. Air whipping past your head as you cut through it at ever-increasing velocities. I set a pace that bordered on wild abandon for no other reason than I could.
That felt awesome. To feel that fresh, that strong, was a wonderful prize to claim after a pretty busy winter and spring of training and racing. Gone were the crowds of race day and the drudgery of tired legs. I had the trails mostly to myself – surprisingly few people were out, despite the blue skies and 59-degree temperatures.
Fine by me. There comes a time where sport is sidelined. Training and fitness take a back seat. What emerges is something much more akin to play.
Isn’t that one of the major reasons we do this? Sure, a lot of people get into running and a whole bunch of other fitness endeavors to lose weight or otherwise get healthy. It’s a lot of work. But why? To enjoy life? If you could combine the two, why wouldn’t you?
Whenever a sport ceases to be fun, it’s not a sport anymore. It’s a job for those who get paid to participate. For the rest of us, it’s a task. A chore.
To get anywhere, there will be work involved. Probably some suffering. But at some point it needs to be enjoyable.
And that’s where I found myself. Dirt under my feet. A wooded canopy overhead. A cool breeze in my hair. It was just four miles, but a joyous four miles that I welcomed with an almost childlike bliss.
Now who doesn’t need that?
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