Running, Place, and Being

Running 081
Eisenhower Park

Thunder booms and rain pours down. I glance out the window and see rivers of water rushing down either side of our street, leaving only a small center strip of asphalt visible to drivers caught in the storm. On my lap sits 12 lb Rex, and on the floor at my feet lay 96 lb Cleo, both of whom intensely fear thunder and seek comfort in my presence as the thunder grows louder. I have already completed two work outs this morning: a session with my personal trainer followed by some hill work at Eisenhower Park. The rain won’t interfere with any of my afternoon plans. Now I can take some time to add to my (much neglected) running blog.

My running life has changed a bit this past couple months. I spent several weeks helping our daughter and her husband with their two toddler –aged sons as we waited for the arrival of their third son. I ran catch as catch can during those weeks, and now that the newest little one has safely arrived and growing bigger almost before our eyes, I’m slowly but steadily regaining my running life. In my last post (seemingly written ages ago!), I mentioned my intention to change my training habits. I have done so. I am currently working on building endurance. I’ve put speed work aside for now. I am adding miles to my long runs each week. Yesterday I ran fourteen miles, which is the longest distance I’ve run at one time since December. I’ve hired personal trainer Tommy Lammers (Beast Fitness) to help with strength building. After my weekly weights work out with him, I drive directly to Eisenhower Park and run hills on my pre-fatigued legs. I also do weights by myself at the gym once a week, and follow my weight sessions with a run as well – though usually on a flatter, less hilly course. I’ve been doing these double work outs for a month, and I’m already seeing improvement in my muscle tone and my endurance when I run. Last week I ran the PODER 5k downtown at an 8:03 pace and placed 1st in my AG!

Check out my new Ink N Burn skirt: a birthday present from a dear friend! I'm sure wearing this skirt helped me to run faster than usual : )
Check out my new Ink n Burn skirt: a birthday present from a dear friend! I’m sure wearing this skirt helped me to run faster than usual : )

During my time of less running, I began reading Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. At one point in this work, Murakami recounts his return to Cambridge, MA, after a ten year absence. His return to Cambridge came at a low point for Murakami’s running life. For various reasons he had grown tired of running. He had begun to compete in triathlons and less attention to his running in the meantime. Upon seeing the Charles River again, however, he immediately regained his desire to run again. At this point in his memoir, Murakami describes a feeling to which most runners can relate: the pleasure of running in a favorite spot:

After I had unpacked everything, gone through the red tape involved in moving here, and settled into life in Cambridge, I got down to some serious running again. Breathing in the crisp, bracing, early-morning air, I felt once again the joy of running on familiar ground. The sounds of my footsteps, my breathing and heartbeats, all blended together in a unique polyrhythm.

Every runner seems to have her favorite running spot, the geographic location that seems more a friend than a place. Even a spot familiar, but not necessarily favored but useful for a quick run on a busy day, can seem like a friend who one perhaps takes for granted while he’s present, but who one surprisingly misses when he’s absent for a prolonged period of time. During the weeks I spent in Austin without my regular trips back to San Antonio, I ran – when I had the chance to run – in my favorite spot. Mostly I had to catch short runs in our Austin neighborhood or our daughter’s neighborhood. These runs were functional: just get in the miles. My first run upon my return to San Antonio was in Eisenhower Park. Like Murakami when he returned to his runs on the Charles River, I felt the joy of running on familiar ground. I immediately realized how much I love the particular smell of Eisenhower Park: the decaying leaves, the cedar, the oak, and even the mulch on the trails. I love watching the dung beetles push perfectly rolled balls of their treasure across the paved trails. I love hearing the scattering movement of some unseen creature (a lizard – possibly a rabbit?) as I pass by. I love jumping over the occasional (generally non-poisonous) snake sunning itself on a trail. I know the distances of the trails, and my own favored route on the trails, so well that I need hardly look at my Garmin to see where I am in my planned work out. Running Eisenhower that day, I felt that I had reunited with a dear old friend.

Running 067This relationship I have with this park reminds me, also, that as runners run we regularly touch the earth, smell the earth, and see the earth. We witness the variety of created life as we run. We experience first-hand the changing of the weather and the changing of the seasons. We reckon with the rhythm of the day as morning becomes night, might becomes morning, and we plan our runs according to the business of the day. Running rescues us from such things as climate-controlled buildings, artificially-lit dwellings, and battery-powered cars that often form a barrier between ourselves and the natural world. For most runners, those who run for the love of running (for occasionally one meets a runner who runs for the single purpose of weight-management and but for that happy side-effect of running, would not run at all), running is as much – perhaps more so – than merely a physical activity. Murakami touches on the spiritual aspect of running in his memoir, and what he expresses about the role of running in his life soundly resonates with my attitude toward my running life:

Long-distance running (more or less, for better or worse) has molded me into the person I am today, and I’m hoping it will remain a part of my life for as long as possible. I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together. There may not be much logic to it, but it’s the life I’ve chosen for myself.

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