Posted by: thehungryrunner | July 26, 2010

Insane or clever? 24 repeats of the only shaded section of the trail

File this one under “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  Or, file it under “You know you qualify for the looney bin when…”

Maybe it was all the hype surrounding Friday’s forecast for exceptionally hot weather.  Or maybe it was the “It’s Friday, ANYTHING is possible!” mindset I always seem to fall prey to when the weekend is in view.  Whatever the cause, with every “Danger, Will Robinson!” warning by local meteorologists, I found myself feeling oddly defiant against forcing my planned workout — an outdoor run and some home-based strength training — to be transferred to the (air-conditioned) gym instead.  As much as I love and appreciate the gym, at this time of the year, I prefer to make every effort to avoid having to get my cardio on a machine, knowing how often I find myself looking outside, wistfully, longingly, during those cold, dark winter months.  The opportunity to interact with the elements, including the not-so-friendly ones, is just too seductive; it’s the one time of my day when life is reduced to the sweet simplicity of survival:  staying hydrated, avoiding brain boil, dodging lightening zaps.  Well OK, and keeping my earphones in place despite a brisk wind while catching up on my favorite podcasts.  That counts as the first level on Maslow’s chart, doesn’t it?

Even so, Friday WAS a scorcher; it was clear even in the early morning hours, upon my arrival at my first client appointment, that “hot and humid” would be putting it lightly.  Even if I chose to ignore the anticipated mid to upper 90’s and triple-digit heat indexes, it would not be just a matter of “grit your teeth and deal with it.”  No question, today’s run would need some creativity and adjustment.  But what?  My schedule would put me outside at around 2:30pm, pretty much the peak of the day’s heat and sun.

Determined to make it work, I decided that I would cut my goal distance down, allowing myself the option to return home, change clothes, and take a walk to make up the balance.  I then thought I’d do an out and back…..just run a mile or so away from my doorstep, then turn around and run back the same way.  If I could at least squeak out 2 miles, I’d feel some small victory.  I could then splash some cold water on my face, hydrate to my thirst’s content, change into fresh clothes, and take a nice walk.

Armed with water and my GPS (no ipod today, this was serious business), I set off on my out-and-back mission.  Yikes, it was hot.  I’ve been running in 90+ degree temps often this summer, yet this definitely felt exceptionally intense even by this summer’s toasty standards.  I could feel my body struggling to bring my speed or stride past anything more than a trudge.  The effect was not unlike how I might have run if wearing a full suit of armor.

Just past the half-mile mark, the angels answered my brain-fried prayer (don’t know what the prayer was, I just know I was already babbling to myself by this time):  a section of trail in my neighborhood, one in which there are backyards on my left, a line of trees and a creek on my right.  It’s a tiny public park that I know well and have run frequently.  Only today it offered something I normally pay zero attention to, yet would elevate it to “miracle oasis” status:  SHADE.

Now I must tell you, entering this sanctuary from the blazing sun wasn’t entirely without its tradeoff; for what came with this shade was a near-complete block of whatever breezes there were in the air that afternoon.  There would be no danger of speedy sweat evaporation on this stretch of the run.  But the relief from the sun was compelling; within a second or two I could feel my feet become light, my breathing open up.  What a difference it makes, putting oneself on the “sweet” side of a bunch of dense trees!

I suddenly had an idea (maybe more like panic) as I neared the end of this forest-ette, where the sun awaited my rapidly melting body:  what if I did a few back-and-forths of this short patch of the trail?  At the very least, it would buy me some time, give me a chance to hit my normal running speed (else I’d have to mark down in my log, “Went for a 2-mile SHUFFLE today”), drink some water, take some deep breaths, psyche myself up for the rest of the short run.

Well, those 2-3 more repeats felt great, and I decided, what the heck, let’s throw in several more.  I deduced that the total length per repeat was in the ballpark of .8 mile.  I began to wonder how many repeats I could do without losing my sanity (for any homeowner looking out their window, I imagined my sanity was already presumed long gone, but as long as I believed otherwise…).

I lost track of the actual number of repeats, though I knew that surely they’d exceeded 10-12.  But by now I was increasingly deciding to just make this little trail section my run of the day.  I also decided I’d like to try for 3 miles instead of 2.  I know, normally a 3-miler is a no-brainer of a light run; today it felt positively marathonic (did I just make up a new word?).

Ultimately, I ended up running enough “shady trail” repeats (I only learned of the repeat total of 24 — with the help of my Garmin’s mapping feature — later) to bring my distance to 2.5 miles, then ran the final .5-mile home, for my 3-mile total.  As planned, I freshened up, changed, and took a walk to round out my distance before following through with my planned strength exercises.  Mission accomplished.

The funny thing is, even though this was hardly a remarkable run in distance, I suspect it will go down as one of my favorite runs ever!  The reason?  Because running up and down the same .8-mile stretch really forced me to become mindful.  Rather than zone out while a new stretch of course loomed ahead of me at all times, I instead found my awareness becoming more focused, less diffuse.  In running past and under the same trees, the same flowers, the same creek, the same backyards over and over and over again, I had the opportunity to appreciate all the sights, sounds, and fragrances I otherwise would have missed had I only blazed through this section and kept going.  I saw the lovely tall pine tree (who knew it was so wide and such a deep green?), the bright pink flowers in one of the trees (amazing, how they seem impervious to wilting while I’m on the verge of spontaneous combustion), the bright blue of the sky against the tallest branches (I never tire of that visual…anywhere), the mother duck and her brood waddling (I assume) towards the nearby retention pond, the sound of the creek (if sound had a temperature this would definitely be “York Peppermint Patty cool”), the subtle yet distinguishable difference in the pitch of the trail when I ran one direction (hooray, downhill!) vs. the other direction (boo, uphill), the girl walking her panting dog, clearly unenthusiastic about loping along in the afternoon heat (I feel your pain, buddy), the piece of (wrapped, unchewed) gum in the trail — the one I had to carefully leap over 24 times, the tiny piece of leaf or pinecone that managed to find itself in my shoe (challenging me to a game of, “JustIgnoreIt,It’sNotHurtingYou”), the various colors and shapes of the leaves, and how they looked when reflecting the sunlight (ooooh pretty ((hey, I’m boiling, fancy prose is out of my scope at this moment)) ), the delightfully earthy smell hanging in the air (oh my, it turns out I can breathe through my mouth AND my nose, how about that).  I’m no Zen master, but this felt about as Zen as I’ve ever experienced, with my mind becoming very quiet, if rather amused at yet another example of the comical ways I will force a run to happen!

My runs, even the “ho hum” ones, may often be double the duration of this one, but I’m appreciating that it’s in these unexpected quirky outings, these slightly wacky improvisations, along with the more standard-issue athletic victories and benchmarks, that I feed my joy of running, and all the memories brought by it!

Oh, and I did manage to wait until I got home to remove the debris from my shoe.  How can a millimeter speck of tree bark feel so much like a jagged boulder???


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