Saturday, May 1, 2010

Howdy, Stranger (My moody morning run)

Saturday morning. Cold and soooo windy, but I went out anyway and ran (UP a long, steep hill). 13.5 miles, most of it into crazy headwinds and most of it up (how can a run be 80% uphill and only 20% down? The down is just steeper, I guess). And all that with no sleep last night. Well, I did get a few minutes of sleep when I collapsed on the closet floor after putting on my running shoes. Note to self: do not take headache medicine at night if it has caffeine in it - there will be no sleep.
So I ran the distance and the hills in the weather against the wind (winds were 10-20mph, windchill around 25F) with no sleep. It was tough. I trudged along, slowly and miserably, step after step. My older and wiser brother had decided to skip this morning's run (too cold and windy, he said - he was right) so I was all alone. At least, I was for the first five miles. Part way up a 3-mile hill, I happened to glance back and saw another runner. He was about 1/4 mile behind me, but he was gaining.
Nothing like a little chase to make you wanna pick up the speed. I saw him and suddenly my whole morning changed. No way was he going to pass me without a fight. I knew he was going to pass me (he was obviously a fast, sleek runner), so now it was just a matter of when. I eyed the never-ending hill before me, squinting into the wind. He could pass me. But not on this hill.
My stomach jumped in excitement at my new game. I picked up the pace. My adrenaline shifted to "on", and I started to RUN. I didn't dare look back. The wind was so strong there was no way I would ever hear him coming behind me, but I did watch the road for approaching shadows. No shadows. I kept going. My dreaded night-time enemy Caffeine now became my morning run friend as it finally kicked in from my athletic fuel gel.
It actually helped that I was on an uphill. When push comes to shove, I can run faster on the up than on the down (I don't have to run carefully to cushion my knees like I do on the downhills). My "on" now shifted to "fast". Just three miles to the top of the hill. I could do it. No more trudging for me. It was still super hard, but that didn't matter anymore. I had a point to prove. Sure, nobody but me and the stranger behind me would ever see my pace pick up, but it was enough. Of course, I seriously doubt if he even noticed my change. I was far enough ahead and moving forward anyway that his perspective might not have let him see my transformation. It didn't matter - it wasn't for him, anyway. It was my own, personal, silly little game and it was fun.
Three miles finally ended, the hill finally ended, I was at a stop sign out in the middle of hundreds of acres of dry farms. I dared to glance back, expecting him right behind me.
He wasn't. I didn't know how close or far he was (there was a curve and hill in the way), but I did know that I had made it to the top. And he had not passed me.
I couldn't believe it! I began to wonder if he'd actually turned around at some point. That thought made me disappointed, but I admitted that was probably what had happened. He hadn't caught up because he'd changed his course. Dang it. Back to trudging. It was kind of a sad moment, and my running now reflected that mood.
Game over. Now I just wanted so badly to be done. My legs burned from the hill, my skin burned from the wind, my lungs burned from my one-woman race, and my cheeks burned from annoyance that I hadn't really proven anything. But, a little voice said, you ran that hill faster than you EVER have done before - even with sleep and no wind. I began again to feel a little better. I was tired but knew I wouldn't get home any faster if I stopped. Trudge, trudge, trudge.
About four miles from home I glanced back to check for any oncoming trucks. Trucks are the only vehicle out there on the dry farms, and sometimes they are big, scary trucks. The wind was blowing on my side now instead of in my face, but I still couldn't hear approaching cars. Or an approaching runner.
I almost fell over when I saw him. The runner was behind me, not far, maybe a hundred yards or so. I couldn't believe it. He HADN'T turned around! And he hadn't passed me yet! Holy cow.
So of course, my trudging morphed instantly back into running. He was going to pass me, there was no question of that. And soon. I eyed a tiny stop sign about 1/2 mile ahead. It was there that I would turn to begin the downhill back to my home. It was there, I decided, that I had to get before he could pass me.
I can't imagine how the stranger couldn't have noticed my speed pick up this time. He was close enough to see. Sure, I was a little embarrassed at my obvious tactic, but I didn't know him and he didn't know me so it didn't matter. I kept running.
I made it to the stop sign. I did. I was thrilled. And, just to show how juvenile this game really was, I stopped to tie my shoe. If he was going to pass me (he was really close now), then it would be on my terms. He could pass me when I let him. So I let him. My shoe didn't really need to be tied, I could've run on it longer, but it made for a good excuse.
He cruised past me, with a kind, understanding smile and a "Good morning!" "Hi," I said, "Brutal winds, eh?" "Awful!" he agreed, then he was gone, running with his long strides in a body meant to run.
Just to keep up my game, I decided to stay as close to him as I could for as long as possible. I tightened my never-untied shoes for good measure, then bounded after him with a self-satisfied grin. I had been passed, but it had been on my terms (sort of). And he had turned my drudging trudging awful morning into one of my best, hardest, fastest runs ever.
I stayed near him, but he kept getting further ahead. I was glad when he kept going straight and I turned into my neighborhood that I could let myself slow down a bit. He wasn't there for me to chase anymore, and I was relieved - I was by now really, really tired. But really, really pleased.
Oh, and that strange runner behind me? When I actually saw him as he passed me, I had to laugh. Yep, I knew him. He's a fabulous triathlete. And I almost kept his pace! Now when I see him around town, he might laugh at me, but I don't mind. I'll just thank him for making it a good morning indeed.

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