When the smoke dispersed and the day dawned cool and clear, the familiar urge to go for a run finally took hold, returning in earnest for the first time after weeks of impenetrably chalky skies and atmospheric malaise.
Even the tactile sensation of lacing up my shoes made me shudder, and in those first few foot strikes I imagined what a fish felt like slipping back into water after a spell of breathless wriggling, gliding through its natural environment.
There was a time in my life when running felt like a task to be dispatched, a half-hour of agony justifiably endured for a rotating cast of motives – in high school, to stay in shape for Nordic ski races; in college, to stave off the Freshman 15; as a writer, to introduce physical movement to a discipline that often involves sedentary routine; and in vanity, to fit my Levi’s.
At some point, however, running ceased being a chore and became my partner, a loyal companion that awakened me, springing me into consciousness when I’d otherwise still be searching for the cool side of the pillow.
For most people, running isn’t a love-at-first-sight kind of relationship, but it is deeply personal, and after enduring its nagging long enough, I eventually learned how to embrace it, and have since been rewarded in dividends untold.
Every lifelong runner understands this feeling, has nodded along indulgently as the non-runner explains his or her disdain for the sport, regurgitating clichéd truisms about not running unless chased while the runner reserves proselytizing, knowing that the virtues of this beloved sport cannot be articulated to the non-runner until his or her own personal transformation occurs, like a chrysalis undergoing metamorphosis.
My own metamorphosis occurred while preparing for my first marathon, during which I subscribed obsessively to a rigid training schedule, crippled with paranoia about the specter of injury or illness, anxious about missing a workout, terrified that I might fail despite all of my hard work.
On one of my final long runs before the race, I was padding along a damp, leaf-spattered trail when it occurred to me that I was having fun, enjoying total consciousness without any of the mental handwringing or tedium that always seemed to accompany a run. The anxiety lifted and the exhilaration was liberating, unleashing a fountain of energy that compelled me to enter countless marathons through the years.
But this year, for the first time in many, I have not once risen early to the comforting spasms of pre-race jitters, donned a bib and set out to cover that magical distance of 26.2 miles. I haven’t struck the strangely pleasing metronomic rhythm of meeting a training partner at dawn on a Saturday to embark on a three-hour run, sharing the fraternity of agony and, later, the giddy enthusiasm of pre-race planning that occurs over a heaping plate of pancakes.
At least, not yet.
The upcoming Two Bear Marathon and Half-Marathon in Whitefish is right around the corner, and while many runners have been training for the event all season, I’ve only occasionally glanced at the reminder on my calendar, contemplating the discomfort of taking a half-hearted stab at something as deeply committing as a marathon.
But then again, what’s the worst that could happen?
As of this writing, there are 18 days separating me from the starting gun, and in honor of everything that running has given me, I’m going to do my best to stump it out and hang at least one marathon bib on my fridge in 2015.
See you on the trails.
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