Today, I ran. It was the only thing on my agenda, so that’s the only thing I did. I ran. Twenty-two miles.
People run for different reasons. A girl I knew in high school went to college at U.C. Davis in pursuit of her “MRS” degree. She ran around the medical school building every morning in her cute, little, running shorts and her perfect, shiny brown hair in a bouncy little ponytail. She is now one half of Dr. and Mrs. So-and-so. Some run for the runners’ high, some strictly to lose weight, some because they always have. I run as proof to myself that I can overcome any self-imposed limitation I may ever have believed about myself. Most of my adulthood, from my late teen years on, I believed I was “not a runner”. Which, of course, is ludicrous. If you can put one foot in front of another at a pace slightly more elevated than a walk, well, then, you’re a runner.
Yesterday, my running club held their annual “long run”. Buses are hired and all who wish to go board the buses well before dawn. The buses are unloaded in Folsom, near Folsom Lake, and the runners run twenty-two miles, along the lovely and scenic American River Parkway, back to their cars, in their respective pace groups. Running in a group is nice, you have people to chat with and the coaches are helpful, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and, with SacFit, there are volunteers stationed behind a folding table, beneath a pop-up sunshade, stationed every so many mile, offering Gatorade, water and healthful snacks, and even a few less than healthful snacks, like Oreos and M&M’s, two of my all time favorite foods I hardly ever allow myself to eat. Yesterday, while they ran, chatting and sharing, eating and having fun, I was flying home from New York.
I knew I HAD to run the twenty-two miles. Last year, I ran with the group, but only because I wanted to. This year, I have to put the mileage on. This year, in three short weeks, I run my first full marathon; 26.2 miles. I’ve never run 26.2 miles before. I’ve run twenty-two, a year ago, and suffered from a pain in my right Achilles for two months afterwards. I had to run this twenty-two, today, and know that this year I’d trained appropriately, that there would be no pain and, three weeks from today, I’d be able to complete the 26.2 California International Marathon.
A bit weary from this week’s travels, and it being an emotionally wearing and a somewhat harrowing work week, too, I did allow myself to sleep as long as I needed last night. On very rare occasions in my life, I have a day where I can sleep without any kind of an alarm to end such sleep, abruptly, rudely, but, necessarily. Today was just such a day. I slept until nearly 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, and, considering I’ve been living in Eastern Standard Time all week long, that actually equates to the darned near noon.
I arose and went about preparing a large, nutritious breakfast; two eggs, sunny side up, draped over two pieces of sprouted grain toast, a bowl of plain Greek yogurt with local, organic honey stirred in and organic raspberries atop. And a kiwi. And the largest Latte money could buy. I bought coffee last weekend, I’d used the last little bit I had. When I went to make coffee the following morning, I found, much to my dismay, it was whole bean. Whole bean is fine, except I’d just moved all the boxes out of Mom’s garage to a storage unit a few miles away, and in one of those boxes is my coffee grinder. Since then, the few days I’ve been home, I’ve just gone and bought a coffee. This is tomorrow’s goal; go to storage. Get coffee grinder.
After breakfast, I went about preparing for my run, also known as procrastinating. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but there is a bit of a mental challenge in psyching oneself up to lace up the dusty old sneakers and run out the door. I drove my intended route yesterday, with Mom. I had an idea which direction, which road, I’d run, but I really didn’t know where eleven miles would get me, where my turnaround point would be. We drove and drove and drove. It was really fricking far away! To say this messed with my mind a bit would be a little bit of an understatement. I might have mentioned it on the phone a time, maybe twelve, with my Sweetie last night. This morning, a text that said, “Have a great run and remember, you do this because you enjoy it, not because you have to,” followed by a emoticon winking and blowing a kiss. A man who is supportive, practical, wise and rational. Sigh.
Mom always wants to know how long I’ll be, she wants to set an alarm to remind herself at precisely what time she should begin to worry. No matter how far I’m running, she suggests two hours. I can say with absolute certainty, I will never run at eleven miles an hour. It was, by now, about 11:00 AM, I told her not to begin to worry until 6:00 PM. She questioned me, “seven hours?” “Yes”, I replied, what if I decide to walk the whole thing? I’m going twenty-two miles whether I walk or run, and I like to leave my options open.
Off I went.
It was a fabulous day in the Napa-hood, sunny and about sixty-five degrees. I walked to the end of my street, started my running app on my phone, started my Garmin running watch and started running. I passed a squirrel at about a half mile, he had a walnut in his mouth and eyed me like a lion her prey. “Yes, I know” I said to the squirrel, “I’m nuts!” He dashed across the street, I dashed along the shoulder towards my goal. Before I left the house I’d posted to Facebook, “I missed the traditional “long run” with SacFit yesterday because I was in flight. So, today, on my own, I set out for 20 some miles, the last long run before tapering down in preparation for the California International Marathon in three short weeks. Here is my plan, please comply should you witness me in route: I will do this, by myself, unassisted. I am, however, taking a couple of dollars and a bus schedule, just in case. I am also in possession of my credit card in case I just decide to get a large meal and a hotel room in Yountville, my halfway point, rather than run home.” I got thirteen likes. So far.
I ran and ran and ran. My practice, which we do in our running club, is to run for five minutes and walk for one. My second or third walk break found me very close to my close friend’s house. I run by her house frequently and I have instructed her to do no more than wave should she ever see me. I am on a mission and that is that. Her house is at the bottom of the only hill I must traverse. It isn’t a mountain or anything, but it is a hill and I do pant a little after running up it. I always hope I will reach the hill at precisely the time my watch indicates it’s time for a walk break, but that has yet to happen. Just as I was chugging up the hill, my friend’s husband drove past. I waved. And kept running.
I ran and ran and ran. I need some way to transcribe my thoughts to text while I run. The whole while I’m running I am writing in my head and I write the most perfectly and intricately phrased passages! Articles and articles of them. And when I get home and finally sit in front of a computer I just dither along stupidly patching odd, choppy sentences together. It is maddening. I ran and ran and ran.
You never know what to expect when you run on Sunday in the Napa Valley. I ran last Sunday and saw approximately five cars in twelve miles. Today, there was a great deal of traffic, mostly older people in enormous cars, barely visible over the steering wheel. There were also a number of really defiant young drivers who wouldn’t slow for anyone or anything. They all wore this disaffected expression, head cocked to one side, that said, pretty much, “I see you and I don’t care.” And, on weekends, there are the tourists, driving from one winery to the next, parting with $25 at each for a few short pours of wine, and, when the sommelier offers a bonus pour, no one turns it down. One must get every last penny’s worth and every last drop at every winery visited. Then, behind the wheel and off to the next. On more than one occasion I actually exited my clearly marked shoulder for the ditch. Several drivers crossed the wide white painted line that acts as the only “barrier” between a couple tons of metal hurtling towards me and, well, me, a small, extremely vulnerable and unprotected human form plodding along the shoulder.
When I tell people that I run, often they implore, incredulously, “Aren’t you scared?” No. There is little I am afraid of, I am of afraid, mostly, of fear, and that’s about it. Fear is one of the biggest limiters in life, and that, quite frankly, scares the shit out of me. I married a man ruled by fear; deeply paranoid, anxious, depressed and fearful, his many fears fueled by a constant influx of “news” and “media”, all justifying his usually false and unfounded fears. His fear, his unfounded fear, grew to the proportion that any activity or event that required him to leave home, to pry his fingers from the keyboard of his laptop, to remove his wide, fearful gaze from the internet screen he was currently absorbing, caused extreme agitation, anxiety and physical discomfort in the extreme and debilitating form of fits of irritable bowel syndrome. His fear was so extreme that, eventually, it cost him everything we worked for in life; a ranch, a house in town, all of our savings, his ability to work, and, ultimately, his family. Fear, unchecked, destroys lives. Fear can even kill, that second of fearful hesitation can mean the difference between an appropriate reaction and a catastrophe. I’m not saying not to be aware, perhaps exercise reasonable caution. I am saying don’t be afraid.
Besides, what’s to be feared more, running down a road, able to view and observe and react to danger as it presents itself? Or sitting in front of a televion in a house that could be full of radon gases, the televion emitting electromagnetic waves and the danger of early death from a sedentary, but seemingly safe lifestyle? Yes, I’m being extreme, or am I? Fear is relative and we are all surrounded by fearsome things, if we choose to be, only if we choose to be. Sure, I passed two roadside shrines for those who lost their lives to wayward cars, and this is sobering for those of us who run and ride by. One roadside shrine was brand new, as in, it wasn’t there last week. Shit. So, I pay keen attention. But, think about it, when a family member or a friend or an acquaintance dies as a result of a sedentary life, a life led from the couch, no one ever erects a shrine, no one ever identifies the fearsome danger that caused this unnecessary death. It is just a death, not one to be feared. I so beg to differ! Dying as a result of a sedentary and seemingly safe life is the worst thing I can imagine! Let me out! I want to run, I want to do terrifying dances with speeding automobiles!
It was upon removing myself from my husband’s life that I began to say, “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living.” I remember, in the last months before leaving my marriage, I was assigned a client in New York City. I’d never been to NYC, but had been eager to go. My husband was beside himself with worry for all that he’d “heard” about New York, all the dangers, the dreadful accounts of horrible things that one believes from only seeing the world through the screen hosted by the media and popular TV crime shows. I remember arriving in New York City on an airport shuttle late on a Saturday night, being driven through Harlem and other more troubled areas. I took everything I saw in and wondered if my husband’s fears were fair, or false. I arrived at my hotel and tried to sleep but the sirens and the shouting on Lexington Avenue below prevented it. The next morning, when I awoke, my plan had been to spend a day sightseeing before working the next several days with my client. But, I was hesitant. To leave the relative safety of my hotel room and step into the world of noise and pressing crowds of people, a world I saw in some of my favorite TV shows and movies as wonderful, but through my husband’s eyes as wretched and fierce. I stepped outside, I walked and walked and walked. I saw not a frightening world as depicted on the news and in popular TV crime shows, but a wonderful, magical and energetic city where I felt safe and stimulated. I even was so bold as to go to a Broadway show, “Rock of Ages”, and walk back to my hotel, several blocks, alone, in the dark. What I saw was not fearful, not evil lurking at every turn, but, rather, couples, hand in hand, strolling the streets, groups of ladies, chatting and walking, from one club to another. This was not a fearsome place, this was more like an adult Disneyland. I learned to discard fear. I do exercise caution, I do exercise diligence, I do employ knowledge and common sense and I always remain acutely aware, all of this allows me to live without fear and it is so liberating!
So, no, I am not afraid to run on the roadway. I am aware, acutely aware. I pay attention to each and every car and seek to make eye contact with every driver, particularly when crossing the street. The fact that they are required, by law, to stop when a person enters the crosswalk does not mean they have actually seen me. How do I know, for certain, that, as I step into the crosswalk, that they aren’t slowing, coincidentally, because they’ve just received a titillating text message? No assumption can be made until eye contact has been established, then, and only then, has an understanding been reached and my safety assured. I crossed one intersection today and encountered a Fiat, exiting the highway. I paused at the curb and waited for eye contact and an acknowledgement from the driver, and, in this case, not because I was afraid of harm on my part, but that I might run over the car and cause it grave harm for it’s diminutive size!
I reached Yountville, the neighboring town north of Napa. I knew the sidewalks would be choked with tourists. Luckily, I found a path that led along the west edge of town, out of sight of the highway and away from the crowds. The path delivered me to the main street of Yountville a little north of where the crowds seem to congregate. I continued to run. Somewhere, soon, I’d reach the halfway point. By car it was different than on foot. No two mileage devices will ever agree, it is this imprecision that we runners are plagued with. You can have several runners with the same brand and model watch, set to start measurement at precisely the same moment, and there will be as many variations in speed and distance as there are watches. The app on my phone and my Garmin watch were already a good third of a mile in disagreement. I usually run so that the slower of the two reaches my intended goal. On one device I am exact, the other, an overachiever!
Halfway through Yountville, on a walk break, I am feeling giddy. I post to Facebook, “Still running. Eleven miles and turning for home. I forgot to mention; if you happen to find me face down on the pavement, do me a favor, please, pause my Garmin and my running app BEFORE checking for a pulse. If I am dead, stop my watch, and, if my running stats are good, post them to Facebook with my eulogy. Thanks.” I am grinning and laughing at my wit and humor as I continue on, not actually at eleven miles quite yet. On the far northern edge of town is an old cemetery, and it is precisely there that my running app reports that I have run eleven miles. So, to continue on, turning around and retracing every step home, or, perhaps, just be hyper efficient and succumb to death, conveniently, here, at the cemetery. I turn, run, and begin to retrace each and every step towards home. I am halfway there.
As I run back through Yountville, I pass one of my favorite wineries. Apparently, there is an event there today. There is music and there are lots of people standing around outside, cars are parked all along the shoulder and I can hear lots of voices and laughter. It reminds me a little of a race, crowds along the road, cheering runners on. I am hoping someone on the sidelines will hand me a glass, a generous nine ounce pour of “Table for Four”, the most delicious blend of red wine I have ever had the pleasure of allowing past my lips. During races, volunteers will line the road at appointed spots and offer runners Dixie cups of water and Gatorade, why not wine? My hopes are dashed as I dash by and never see a glass of wine extended at the end of someone’s reach, towards me, to grab, gulp and toss.
I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I run past Tom Keller’s garden, I consider stopping and grazing for a while, but, truthfully, I don’t feel like pausing my Garmin. I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I pass one of Tom’s restaurants, Bouchon. Again, I am deluded into hoping that I’ll see a folding table, a pop up sunshade and cheerful, volunteers passing out savory chunks of Bouchon bread to runners like me. Again, I am disappointed. I keep running.
I am taking in fuel with precision, every forty-five minutes. My large breakfast, I’m sure, has long since been converted to fuel and has been burned up. I have in the front pouch of my running pack, six, highly-coveted packets of Salted Caramel Gu. There is Gu, in chocolate and raspberry, blueberry and other flavors I’m not likely to try, and, then, there is Salted Caramel. I buy it by the case. Three quarters of the way through my run, halfway through my return trip home, laughing out loud as I plod along, at my own wit and humor, during a walk break, I post to Facebook, “Still running. I forgot to mention, if you happen to see me face down on the pavement and I recover, I know exactly how many Salted Caramel Gu packets I have in my pouch and if any are missing I’ll know who pinched them and I will seek recompense.”
Shortly thereafter, I reach into my pouch for what should be my last fueling of the trip. There is only one Salted Caramel Gu left. There should’ve been six, this would only be number five. I was short one. I always make sure I have at least one extra, just in case. Oh, sure, I have raspberry Shot Blocks, but I really prefer Gu, Salted Caramel Gu. How am I one short? Did I miscalculate? That seemed unlikely. Then I recalled, I’d shown Mom my Salted Caramel Gu, I speak of Gu and I know she was a bit mystified by the name. A description and explanation didn’t seem to clarify anything, so, while packing my pouch with Gu packets, I gave her one to look at. She cut the top off of it and sucked it right down like she’d been running marathons her whole life. She thought it was quite good. She loves caramel! She asked me where she could buy some. I had two visions; first, of Mom racing around the yard this afternoon, the wheels on her walker causing sparks as they skipped across the brick patio, Mom furiously pruning, weeding and watering, and, second, Mom walking, ever so slowly, with her cane, into the Napa Valley Running Company, in quest of Salted Caramel Gu. I’d meant to grab a replacement pack from my stash, in my running bin, under my bed, which, by the way, I should probably now consider relocating.
I passed the spot where I’d met the squirrel, earlier, and, there he was. Flattened. Yikes. I looked to see if he had a Garmin, I was going to stop it for him. No one wants to die with their Garmin continuing to run, leaving a legacy of really dreadful running stats for that last dash.
A block and a half from home I ran out of water, I was out of Gu, and I had run in excess of twenty two miles according to my iPhone app and exactly twenty two miles according to my lagging Garmin watch. I decided to walk the last little bit home. All I could think about was dinner. I’d run right through lunch, and other than five packets of GU, I’d ingested nothing of matter. My running app said I’d burned 2,553 calories. All I could think about was a large slab of dark, red, flesh of beast and an equally dark, rich and chewy beer.
My friend Miles ran yesterday, with SacFit, and had posted to Facebook a photo of himself, from the knees down, in a bathtub full of ice. This practice is subscribed to by many runners in my club as a method to stop the lactic acid in one’s legs so as to prevent muscle pain the following days. Or the better part of a week. I’ve managed a tepid bath, once, followed by a blistering hot shower. The thought of sitting, for a second, let alone some number of minutes, in a bath of ice sounds far worse than any amount of muscle pain. At least muscle pain and a warm core body temperature coexist. Once my core is cold it takes Herculean effort to rewarm. I commented on Miles’ Facebook post, saying, pretty much, um, never, not even if hell froze over, which, from the looks of his picture, it had. As I was out of beer, and in a wittier than usual mood, I decided to go buy beer and to post a photo in response to Miles’. I bought two and a half cases of beer. What? It’s not like I won’t use it and it was all on sale. I’m also hoping it will help lure a particular sweet, supportive, practical, wise and rational man southward from the frozen north, even if for just a bit!
When I returned home, I climbed into the bathtub, clothed, and staged a photo; ice cold beer bottles burying my legs with only my feet sticking out. The caption read, “It is my belief that all that has to do with health, fitness and exercise is open to interpretation and adaptation for the utmost benefit of each individual athlete. The practices, methods, treatments and therapies recommended as a matter of course, too, should be modified to suit the athlete. As to ice baths following an especially long run, Miles, this application is offering a great deal of relief. I suggest giving it a try!” I am still giggling at my profound wit and the extreme lengths I will go to try to entertain my Facebook friends. Fifteen likes, six comments. So far.
I reached my goal today, and that’s about all. But, the sense of accomplishment and the confidence in the fact that I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that I could’ve run another 4.2 miles, for a total of 26.2, puts me in a great frame of mind as my first full marathon rapidly approaches. There are few things I say I’m going to do that I don’t actually do. To be able to say that, is as a result of several years of hard work, self-exploration and self-development. I am proud of my growth and my achievements. I’ve also overcome one of the few self-limiting beliefs I’ve ever had about myself. I can run. And, I run without fear. Remember, fear is paralyzing, and limiting, and deadly. Live life with open eyes, open ears, an open mind and an open heart. There is nothing to fear. Life is so good, like Salted Caramel Gu!