"When is your next race?" is a question I get asked a lot. It seems to be something people like to say, not unlike "How are you?" or if we were in Nepal, "Have you eaten yet?" It is the kind of question folks ask in passing - perhaps to be polite, or to strike up a conversation.
But running is so much more than that, so much deeper than that!
I trained very hard for about three years, building up to races I didn't know I was capable of, pushing my limits, reaching new heights, meeting lots of wonderful people and having some incredible experiences. Training training training, racing racing racing. Had a coach and sponsors. Then I took a well-deserved break after my final race last fall, running just light and easy, whenever I felt like it, for months. Spent the holidays with family and friends. Enjoyed a trip to the ocean for my birthday. Did the things I would do if I weren't always preparing for a race. Pure freedom.
It is truly a gift, to take time away from something we love, have it not be the focus of our lives for a while, and then come back to it renewed. While I love racing as much as the next competitive person, it is not WHY I run, or who I am...I run because I like to see the sky changing colors in the evening, because when I'm outside I feel like I'm part of the day, because I can't get enough of that bright blue sky contrasted against the mottled orange bark and green needles of Ponderosa Pines, because I love the perspective of our town from way up high on a trail or an alley passing behind the impoverished homesteads which settled our community so many years ago, because I can feel the stress melting away from my day as I move along, because it makes so much more sense than computers and phones, because my best ideas come to me when I'm out there in such clarity, because I become a more compassionate person in reflecting upon all those who are suffering, because I remember that that not everyone can move their bodies in such a way (like my amazing friend Dyan who passed on four years ago who had told me she would have done anything to turn back the clock to the time before she had cancer, to have her health back), because it makes me feel alive, because I can pick up a beautiful pine cone and carry it home to my front porch as a reminder of the forest, because I can wave at the train passing by as I run along the tracks
(just last Friday someone stepped in front of an approaching train in
town and died soon thereafter...today I couldn't help but think these train
people have had a rough few days and ventured a wave; they seemed to appreciate my tiny gesture, as they gave me an immediate soft horn reply), because runners are some of the best people I know.
Sure, I still run. Every time I make it to one of our Tuesday night Team Run Flagstaff track sessions and complete the workout is a victory. Every time I show up at the Bagel Run (a relaxed run for many professional runners in town yet a tempo run for me) is success. Every time I get out the door after working all day is awesome. Every time I challenge myself by running long and far on weekends is wonderful. Every week I run more days than I rest is sweet. Every race I show up to is satisfaction (there have been a couple already this year).
Five days of the week I report to a day job, wherein I have to be in certain places at specified times, meeting the expectations of others. Running though, is all for me. Fun. My chiropractor who has been helping with muscular issues suggests that I stretch four times/day...given my free time (or lack thereof), that is simply not going to happen! Neither is strength training. I have even given up regular massage (there was a time not so long ago when I wouldn't have dreamt of such a thing), in the pursuit of becoming 100% debt-free by the end of the month (race entries, plane tickets, and new shoes can also wait!)...after putting myself through both college and grad school when I was younger, in the hopes of having a career, it is extremely gratifying to reach this place in life wherein I can reap the true pleasures of a paycheck, knowing that it was my own two feet that got me here (with the support of family and friends) - there were no shortcuts, just like in running. I love running so much more when it's balanced within these other facets of life. Lately I get to spend weekend mornings at home if I choose to, only running when it's warm and sunny if I so desire. I meet up with great friends for runs when it fits my schedule. I explore new trails or routes when I feel inspired.
I'm sure I will get fit and "race" again. For now, though, I enjoy collecting pine cones.