The X factor

unlaceshoesThe first double-digit run in a training regimen carries a lot of psychic weight for a runner; it occupies an outsized space in the mind while — at least for me, now  — moving the body into the realm of serious mileage.

I wasn’t looking forward to tackling the distance this morning. An 8-mile run two weeks ago left me sore and spent; it was the kind of disheartening experience that reminded me of just how young I no longer am and made me question whether I have any business training for a half-marathon.

And then today, and a run I knew immediately would be different. I eased in at a 10-minute pace, and let my body find a comfortable rhythm as it warmed to the familiar motion. By the end of the first mile, a smile had spread across my face. And there it stayed as the miles unfurled:   I ran along a river into a cool, gentle head wind, waving at other runners and cyclists and grinning like an idiot.

I would be lying if I said those 10 miles were entirely pleasant. Around Mile 6, my right hand started to tingle and go numb, the result of a shoulder injury aggravated by repetitive motion. Around Mile 8, the ghost of a water- skiing injury began making plaintive noises deep in my glute. And all along, my bunions were working in earnest at breaking through the inner toebox of my relatively new shoes; as off-kilter bone, they will eventually prevail, but the process can be painful.bunion3

Running feet take a pounding, and after several decades, mine are downright ugly:  thickened toenails, most lost at one time or another to too many miles in a not-quite-right shoe;  blister atop callus atop bunion;  ground-in dirt that seems as permanent as a tatoo. The veins are so pronounced that my chickens regularly mistake them for worms and attempt to tug them from my feet.feet

But they work still, those feet, and today there was something else working too, some X factor that runners know well.  Yes, I have been training in the two weeks since that miserable 8-miler, and I can feel my body growing stronger. I ran earlier this morning than I did that day; it was cooler. And I had a packet of energy gel, a departure from my coffee-only routine. Maybe that accounts for it.

Or maybe not. I put a palm-sized bruise on my inner thigh yesterday muscling out an old fence post, then inhaled concrete dust installing the new.  I might reasonably have anticipated a tough run as a result. But I got instead 92 minutes of grace — my body settled at a 9:12 pace — the last five miles slightly faster than the first. And I know from experience that, had I been sensible and rested yesterday instead of building fence,  I might nonetheless have had a tough run this morning. I can explain neither.

Running is like that. When you’re training, you figure out a good plan and stick to it: You do the work. You eat right. You stay hydrated. You try to get enough rest. You bring every element to bear that you know will support your best effort.

Still, you never know how it’s all going to turn out on race day. Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes the bear eats you.

But training again in a focused manner has reminded me powerfully that the race itself is not the most important thing; it is, rather, an end to a means. A race defines a goal; the goal determines the preparation. But it’s in that preparation — in the means — that the good stuff happens, and even the hard stuff that ultimately turns out to be good because of what you learn — or remember — about yourself in the doing.

Always, aging is instructive: I understand that I will never again be the pain-free runner of my youth. I understand that I will always be tired after hard effort. I accept that the best I can hope from training is to delay — to mile 8, 10, 12 — the onset of sensations that make middle-aged running a challenge. To push them out; to expand the space where grace may yet be experienced.

Getting older has taught me, too, to appreciate caprice, to understand that I can neither predict nor control what my experience will be on a given day. I can prepare, yes, but then the run has its own life: sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous, often a little of both.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking it around Mile 4 this morning: God, I hope I have a day like this on race day!

And then my grin got a little broader: You have it today, I thought. You have it today.

henworm

 

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59 comments

  1. I just found your blog…you describe running exactly as I experience it. Beautiful blog. Thank you!

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    1. You’re welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  2. Thanks for your post. You do such a nice job of describing the emotions that accompany the journey towards distance running. I too am a middle aged runner (52 and I’ve been running for about four years and completed my second marathon a few days ago) All the best on your half.

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    1. Thank you for the good wishes; my half-marathon went exceedingly well. Congratulations on completing your second marathon — that’s terrific! — and thank you for reading and commenting.

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    1. Thank you!

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  3. Of thrills and falls… Gripping post!

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  4. Mandi S · · Reply

    Thamk you. Great article!
    I started running 5years ago at 45 and I am doing my 10th half marathon next month to achieve my goal before I turn 50 this year.
    I know the pain of running with age but also the joy!!
    Thank you again.

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    1. You’re so welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting. And good luck on that 10th half-marathon. It sounds as if you’re running strong, and appreciating the gifts as well as the challenges.

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  5. Great post. I’m a bit of a newbie but getting there one little mile at a time. Signing up for Wings for Life Work Run in May. I’m hoping to get to 10k and anything over that, I’d be ecstatic! Totally agree that the run has its own life though!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post; thank you for commenting. And, one mile at a time is exactly how you get there. 🙂 Good job!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Senatssekretär FREISTAAT DANZIG · · Reply
    1. Thank you!

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  7. Great post! Half marathons are the perfect distance! Long enough for a good workout but not too hard on your body. Happy running!

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    1. Agreed. Thank you for reading, and also for the good wishes!

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  8. Running gives you the best feeling!

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    1. Some days, anyway. 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  9. I love this line “I can neither predict nor control what my experience will be on a given day. I can prepare, yes, but then the run has its own life: sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous, often a little of both.” And isn’t it also true that as you get older you realize that it’s better that way?

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    1. Indeed — especially given that my predictions are often wrong and my attempts to control often misguided and ineffectual. 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. As I train for my 17th half marathon at the age of 49, I feel much of the same things that you do…what a great read! Oh, and my feet are pretty ugly too…😉

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    1. Ah, it’s good to have company — both in the middle-aged training and the ugly feet club.:) Thank you for appreciating the post; I wish you the best as you prepare for your next half.

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  11. Great result. I’m training for my first half marathon too. Just over 10 miles is my furthest distance so far…I’m hoping this isn’t “the wall” good luck!

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    1. You, too! I’ve done several before, but the last was 5 years ago, and I got the feeling then that the distance was too hard for my age. That said, I did a 12-miler a few days back, and it was just about as hard as it should have been — no more, no less — congruent with training. So… on we both go! Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  12. I’ve just re-started running (and just started writing about it for the first time, to try and keep track a little…). I loved reading this. It sums up the joy you feel at times (and the tougher moments).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Niki, and welcome back to the running fold!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and passing this along.

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  13. Reblogged this on KaXtone's Blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for passing this along!

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    1. Thanks so much for the reblog; much appreciated.

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  14. lissielee · · Reply

    First half marathon completed in June next one in a couple weeks! The training is so totally worth it !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you! I certainly agree with you about training. Good luck on your next race!

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  15. bhavi16 · · Reply

    Fabulous

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why, thank you! And thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Great punch line!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading!

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  17. Something about getting that first ten-miler out of the way, then it doesn’t seem so bad…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let’s hope you’re right; 12 miles is right around the corner. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  18. I definitely agree about the psychology of double-digit runs! There’s something about getting over that 10-mile mental barrier… Though I’m only in my 20’s, some days I feel like I am well past that age, but I hope I still “have it” 20 years from now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just keep running, Forrest.:) That’s the key. Thanks for reading and commenting; I appreciate it.

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  19. Great post. I’m trying to get back into running. Had managed to get up to a 5k length, only to be sidetracked with an injured foot. Had been tough going ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, sorry to hear about the injury; I hope you are back on your feet in fine form soon. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  20. Reblogged this on Everise Corps.® and commented:
    thrilling…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for both the reblog and the comment; I appreciate it!

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  21. Loved this, especially the last line-such wisdom. I’ve never been a great runner. Had to train just to be able to run a full 5k, but my husband is a former soccer player and runner and he has run a marathon and regularly trains for half-marathons (he has less time now that we have a baby keeping us up all hours). I live through him vicariously. As I make a big breakfast upon his return, we discuss his times and I get really invested in his training. I can almost feel his experience when he describes his really great runs like the one you described here. There’s something magical about running long distances that I wish I could experience myself. I loved reading your experience. Thanks for sharing. I hope to read more of your posts in the future and good luck on race day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, there’s a certain wistfulness in your voice that suggests you will one day experience longer runs in the flesh, rather than vicariously. 🙂 I hope so. Thank you for reading, for your kind words and for your good wishes on race day. All deeply appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Rare in my case, too, which makes them all the more appreciated. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. ahh those (rare, in my case!) days when you are just flying along and it feels like you could run forever!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I’m a runner in my late 20s, okay late 30s, okay fine, early 40s, who is recently coming back to running after a hiatus. So I loved your post!

    I live on a small cattle ranch where fencing is a beast of a work-out itself! And I love chickens. 🙂

    Nice to meet you, so glad WordPress Freshly Pressed you so I could find you,
    Christy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did a little fencing myself back in the day; I admire your pluck, as I’m pretty sure those days are behind me. I’d still love living on a ranch, though, and I’m glad to make your acquaintance, too! We have important loves in common.

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  25. I am happy for you, it seems you have broken through to a new place in your training and your joy of the journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. I’m learning to be grateful for every good day and even the tough ones, too, as they are all of a single piece. The reward is really in the effort and the experience, rather than any discrete outcome.

      Liked by 2 people

  26. Alicia Snell · · Reply

    I have gone through a lot of ups and downs in a relatively short running life and I understand the daunting miles in front of you and the elation of completion. This was very well written. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading and commenting; it’s good to have kindred spirits who relate as you do!

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  27. Thank you! Keeps me too busy (and, sometimes, tired) to get into trouble. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. bravo for having goals and chickens…great stuff 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  29. You’ll be able to train if those chickens don’t de-vein your feet! Glad you had a GREAT time being in your element.

    Liked by 1 person

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