My son is shoving a cheese sandwich into his mouth… “wha’s tha ‘n y”r ha’, da”y?”
I wait. He finishes chewing and asks again, “Daddy, what is on your hand?”
I bend down to his 3 year old height turn the top of my hand so we can both inspect it where I had written in black ink earlier and answer him, “this reminds me of how much to run today.”
“oh… But, what is it?”
We look again. “6×800@8k”.
Nobody in our house knows what this means.
I have a vague, technical recollection from years and years of training, grinding out the effort early in the season, blossoming in consistency… but today, nobody in this house knows what this really means. It’s been years since I’ve engaged in any true training as a runner. The training time traded in for diapers and bottles and dishes and kisses and snuggles and love and fatigue and sleeplessness and scrounging discarded bites of cheese sandwiches otherwise bound for dog scrap but no… I won’t waste it so it goes down the hatch.
The training time gone to laziness, comfort, haziness, drinking another beer because- what the hell, I deserve it… and choosing this over exertion again and again and again… Runner me? I use to know that guy. Now there is someone else in my skin… in that mirror. Should I get to know him? What would I call him?
I decide to give the text book answer… I tell him what each number means and satisfied he runs off to get ready for bed, tells me he’s not running tonight. 30 minutes later, he is snoring away and I am lacing up my shoes and resolving to complete the prescribed 6 times a 1/2 mile hill workout.
After a quick 5 minute warm up (so as not to eat up my meager mileage with such things as warm up running- on a newly added workout day… or maybe just get to the work before I have a chance to change my mind) I hit the line for the first repetition. I complete it easily and think… ‘this won’t make me tired’. Of course, knowing full well that in a matter of minutes I’ll be gasping for survival.
I return to the starting line and turn back up the hill for number two, a little too fast getting out- getting loose now… and knowing this is probably the best I will feel today. A little faster. When I reach the line again I am tired from the recovery alone… I give myself a few extra seconds (as reward for being out there) and get going into the “dark place”. The light of the idealized start is vanished, there is no hope for seeing the end, not yet… just the hard work in the middle of a work out. In this place there is one hope for success- to keep going, to focus on the task, to stay calm, to work. I am a little slower this time, but directly where I planned to be. Ok. Sink into this.
The sweat now speckles my face as I return to run the 4th repeat. My nose itches with the collecting streams of perspiration. I mindlessly swipe it away- happy to be relieved of the annoyance. I wipe my eyebrow, then the other… I think… is this the way, am I going to wipe my face clean this entire workout? I’m here to run. I decide on allowing the annoyance. I will run through the annoyance, watch it fester, see what happens… At the end of the 4th half mile my time a slows slightly, a few seconds. I guess it’s more from distraction than fatigue.
The growing urge to wipe my nose has become my entire world! “If you wipe it,” I tell myself, “it’ll signify my obvious lack of impulse control.” So I keep watching, I run the fifth repeat, the feeling begins to rescind itself… a few seconds faster. The tunnel is gaining light. I turn back into the hill one last time, I know this is it, I will finish this workout- it will be a success… and I think back to my itching nose… it is a black hole of attention, I feel affection for this sudden willingness to accept the discomfort. This game is ridiculous… there is something here.
I am one minute in, rounding the final turn on the hill, hitting the small relief in the hill’s grade before cresting upward again to the finish line… a car is approach from the rear, gaining on me… who will reach the line first? I imagine it matters… and try to hold the late 90’s sedan off… I am nipped at the line. The tail lights fade around the curve, the squeaking breaks become faint.
The sun is fragmented in the western sky. The clouds each hold their favored colors. Orange, purple. I see pink and red in barely discernible highlights. I am 8 seconds fast on the 6th repeat. I smile, laugh. I recognize this place… accomplishment, joy, relief…
I scratch my nose- finally allowing it. I rub my soaked cotton t-shirt across my face and feel it’s exfoliation… I feel renewed in the the chill of the summer night’s mountain air. I walk and relish the moment of fatigue before plodding back downhill, around the curves and to my home.
I hear our youngest husky howling in the yard, she is not pleased with being left behind. The lightning bugs are just coming to life again as the darkness grows. The stars above do their best to rival this dazzling, yellow starlight bobbing above these green mountain fields around my home. I step gently onto the porch, the wood creaking under my Saucony trainers.
The dogs greet me, waiting for their dinner.
I open the door… and quietly return back into my home.