Day 50: Might Need to Call It

For about a week now I have had pain in my Achilles tendon when I run. The past couple of days I have begun to feel it even when I don’t run. This is my unfortunate pattern for years now. I rest a lot, then slowly get back into running; I build up the miles slowly, don’t run fast and don’t go far. Then I end up getting injured and have to rest a lot. Repeat. It has gotten a little old. After running all kinds of fun distances and events, it appears I don’t have what I used to have. I guess I shouldn’t have taken all those years off when we had kids.

Today, however, I did get in a run, which means 50 days of running in a row. I was going for 100 but I will have to see how I feel tomorrow to decide if I try to keep it up. On the one hand, this is a good streak, and taking it easy enough might mean things heal up and I continue the streak. On the other hand, this hurts. I only ran two miles today, and yesterday, and I had to walk a bunch, so is it worth it? Can I call that a run? So this accomplishment: 50 consecutive days of running. That ain’t too shabby.

I do love to run. Once I get out there and start feeling good, once I get some miles behind me, once I get into a rhythm and the endorphins start flowing, well, it just feels great. I have never been a competitor against anyone but myself, and I have always felt better trying to do more than trying to go faster. And that feels good as well. It isn’t a race. It is about going the distance. It is a metaphor, really, for how I want my life to be. It is OK to walk sometimes, even to stop altogether and to revel in where I am at that moment. I feel better about seeing the owl swoop from the maple than about having a run time one or two minutes faster. As Ben Cohen said, if it isn’t fun, why do it?

So I feel good about getting in 50 days. I may have to call it good with that. If so, I may try for 100 another time. I smelled the wild leeks in the damp woods today. The smell of onions floated through the mist. That made the journey worth it. I slowed to watch the river rush under the bridge. Two geese called, flying low through the fine rain. The world is a beautiful place. Sometimes getting half way is enough.

Day 44: Frost and Kinglet

This morning we had frost. When I left the house at 5:15 AM the temperature was 29 degrees. I wore a fleece layer, gloves, and a hat. That is not all I wore, of course, but I have not worn those items in many days. It was chilly.  When the air is cold and clear, that early in the day, before the sun is really roused, I appreciate again the beauty of the place I live. The horizon was pink and the thinnest crescent moon rose over Camel’s Hump. Two geese honked over head as I walked down the driveway. My misted breath danced out over the greening field.

I had that same soreness again this morning. My Achilles tendon has been letting me know it wants some attention lately. I have not totally ignored it, but I haven’t paid attention to its whining either. Today I kept the run to three miles and I walked some at the end to be safe. It is a bit of a nuisance. But it was a fine morning to be out, so I was content. After all, I will run again tomorrow.

There were lots of birds to be heard out there on that short run–red-winged blackbirds and robins and geese and ducks and song sparrows. Yesterday I was running on a narrow class IV section of road, where the trees are tight on each side. I thought I heard a ruby crowned kinglet singing. I stopped. Sure enough, in a tree right near me a little bird hopped from branch to branch and belted out its complicated flurry of notes. That little bird can sing like a champ, and I don’t hear them around here all that often. It was a treat. Then, as I passed over the river, I watched a great blue heron try to catch breakfast by the shore. It has been a good couple days for birds.

Today the high temperature is forecast to be 73 degrees. That is much warmer than 29. I am guessing we will get one more day of frost and that’s it. Today might have been our last one, but I like to plan on frost in early May. So I might get a crisp morning run in one more time. Either way, I’ll be out there. Tomorrow I get to sleep in. I’ll give the old ankle more than 24 hours rest. And then I’ll  put in a few more miles.

Day 42: Sore?

I rose early today to get my run in.  The morning was stunning. Wispy clouds floated in front of the eastern pink sky. Camel’s Hump was silhouetted, surrounded by red and orange. Robins sang. A cool wind caressed the new grass. I wore shorts. I stood for a minute before heading out, soaking in the beauty. I live in a fine place.

My ankle was sore today. It was sore yesterday as well but I reckoned it would figure out that an injury was unwelcome if I ignored it long enough. That didn’t work, apparently. Like the house guest that won’t take the hint and keeps sticking around, the soreness persisted. I had to run short again. And slowly. But I got some miles in and marked off day 42 of consecutive days running.

It wasn’t a pain, really. It didn’t ache. It felt like an overuse situation, which  is somewhat understandable. Nonetheless, I wish it would disappear. I am hoping it will. In fact, I am confident it will. I have come too far to break the streak now. If I can run 42 days in a row, I can do more. I do tend to be overambitious. Heck, I am already thinking I should go for 1,000 days in a row. But that is ridiculous at this point. Let’s get to 50 days first, then 100. After that, we an talk. This soreness is, as I said, not welcome. It keeps me from dreaming big. It checks me. In some ways that is good, but I like to dream big. Who wants things boring?

Tomorrow I will have to rise early again to fit in a run. If I wait until the afternoon it just won’t happen. If I have to run short, or walk a little to ease the ankle nagging me, I will do that. I am hoping, however, that the healing process will take care of my lower limb and I will be back on the road soreness-free. I hope as well that the morning is a stellar as this one. That will make it worth it no matter what.

Day 40: Rote and Rototiller

I spent a good chunk of my day trying to turn the soil in the garden. I decided that this year I would get a rototiller and turn it with fossil fuel, rather than with muscle. For the past several years, since we moved to this house, I have turned it with a fork, pulled the weeds and raked it smooth. This year I wanted to save some time. I called the hardware store and reserved the tiller and picked it up at 10:00. Once I unloaded it I spent a while going back and forth. I don’t have a rectangle, which might have made things easier, but a series of long beds, arranged in a circular pattern. Back and forth, back and forth. Some of the beds were easy, some took a long time.

The blades were dull, so in the spots where the soil was firm (meaning mostly clay) the tines just spun on the surface. They hardly dug in and I had to work the machine to get it to do the work. I had thought it would be a piece of cake–chop things up, turn it under and, voila, readied garden beds. But it didn’t turn out that way. I had to muscle the thing around to get it to do what I wanted, and on the worst beds I just gave up–it just wouldn’t dig enough to make the arm soreness worth it. And my arms got pretty dang sore.

I did get a lot done, and faster than I would have using a fork, but I will end up having to turn some of it with a fork anyway. I got most of the way toward readying the beds, but not all the way. I guess it was worth the 36 bucks. In any case, I ran in the afternoon and I thought about all this as I did.

On this day 40 of consecutive days running I felt tired after the mechanical wrestling, I didn’t really feel like running, but I went anyway. The afternoon was warm but there was a cool breeze, so I felt good. I was plenty tuckered, but I my feet seemed to know what to do. I ran as if by rote, the steps falling one after another without my really thinking about it. I ran a mile, and then another, and then I was on my way back and suddenly I was home. I was feeling so weary I was ready to find a quiet spot and rest along the way. At least, I felt that way before I left. Once I was out there the run just happened.

I will need to get some more dirt to load onto the beds–compost to feed the seeds. I was too late to order today so that will have to wait until tomorrow. I will be able to run a little later in the morning tomorrow as I don’t have to head to work quite so early, so I will get a short rest in there–no rising at 5:00 in the morning, at least this time. I am glad my rototilling job is done, or sort of done. And I am glad my run went well after feeling so wiped. The tines wouldn’t turn as I wanted them to, but my feet did, and I can call that a good day.

Day 37: Fifty in Sight

I didn’t start off thinking I would run all these days in a row. I just got started and once I did, I thought I could do more, and then I set a goal and I was on my way. Setting a goal is pretty key for me. In the past I have trained for and run marathons. Those years when I did not have that goal, I ran less. Once I set the goal, once I have something to work toward, I am more likely to make it happen. I plan to run a marathon and then I make the training happen. That is the way it has been with this goal. If I did not have the goal to go for a run every day, I simply would not do it. Last week I went to a conference and I had a long drive to start fairly early in the morning. I rose at 4:30 to run because I knew I would find it hard to run if I did not rise that early. Without the goal, I would not have done that.

This morning I was sound asleep when the alarm went off. In my dream I was hearing a tune over and over. I wanted it to stop. I didn’t know where it was coming from. But that persistent tune finally shoved me out of the dream world and into the concrete one. The tune I was hearing was my alarm. Often I wake before the alarm, but not today. I was sleepy. The bed was warm. I had to leave for work early. But I got up anyway and tied my shoes and strapped on my headlamp and hit the road. I saw no one else, only some birds. I was hoping to hear a meadowlark, as I did on a recent morning, but only robins and song sparrows sang from the roadside.

As long as I don’t get injured I will hit fifty days. Today was just a regular old run. I only ran three miles, since I had little time, in the dark, but it was enough. I will fit in longer runs on other days. Each day, however, is one more day toward a pile of days. I am confident now that I can get in 50 days of consecutive running. I’ll call that my short term goal. Then I’ll head downhill toward 100. I mentioned my goal to a colleague today and he said “Once you hit 100 days, why stop there?”

Why stop indeed?

Day 35: Spring Popping Out

Thirty five days of consecutive running. That’s not too shabby. As I ran early this morning, I thought about spring. It was lighter than usual today, 5:30 AM. I ran without a light. A week ago the time was the same and the cloud cover was the same, but it was dark. The days grow longer. No cars passed me this morning so I never had to flip on the headlamp. I love that. It is a small pleasure that perhaps many cannot appreciate–to run in the mostly-dark without a light. That I didn’t have to turn it on even temporarily for passing drivers was a bonus.

I need to ready the garden. I should have planted peas and spinach by now, but I haven’t done any tilling. I was hoping to rent or borrow a rototiller to get the job done this year, but getting around to that has simply not happened. Laziness? Apathy? Busy-ness? Whatever, it hasn’t happened. I walk right past the garden every time I head out for a run, so this time of year it is hard to ignore the wild tussle of weeds that are springing up. And it is hard not to think, while I plod along, how much I need to get cracking on planting. I have planted onions in trays inside, and the garlic I planted in the fall is sprouting, so at least I’ve got that.

Birds are singing up a storm early morning. Robins and sing sparrows and titmice and juncos–all whistling and chirping and raising a cacophony. They are trying to land a girlfriend, I tell my children. Woodcocks and snipes do their weird dance and sing act as well. I almost never actually see them, hiding in the dusk, but I can hear them just fine. They try to tell me spring is here, not just coming soon. I can’t help but listen. In the near dark, when I am alone, and windows just begin to shine in distant houses, the birds have their say and I listen.

Trees are leafing out. Daffodils are blooming. The air doesn’t get down to freezing. I feel too warm with a fleece vest under my windbreaker, even with temperatures in the 30s. Spring is so here. All of a sudden it will be warm and summer with blast on in. The mornings are just about perfect for running right now, however. I need to enjoy them while I can. By day 100, if I can get that far, it might just be hot.

Day 32: Sluggish

I have a friend who has run lots of distance races. And he is serious about it. He sometimes wins and stuff. He trained for the Olympics. He has put in some work and some time. I asked him one time how he stays motivated. He said that he sometimes just gets out there, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Rain? Cold? Not enough sleep? Tough. Get out there and run anyway. It was over a decade ago he said this to me, but his words were sticky enough that I think about it on days like today. I was just plain old sluggish.

Someone asked me recently, “Are you a runner?” I used to think of myself as a runner, but my running has been so sporadic and so without accomplishment the past few years that I don’t think of myself the same way. I said something wishy washy like “I guess so,” and the conversation moved on. I guess I can say again that I am a runner, but I still feel like I should do more as a runner to call myself that. I should run far, or fast, or at least enter some events now and again. All I’m doing these days is poking down the road. Every day I’m shuffling.

I guess my accomplishment is 32 days of running in a row. That is something anyway, although it feels like a sideways way to accomplish something. It feels easier this way. I mean, I just go for a run, today and every day. I don’t worry about training plans or regimens or rules about when to run. I just go every day. I don’t go all that far, mind you, but the miles add up. Today I managed 5.6 miles. Not five and a half miles, since my house to the pond is 5.6. I’ll take the extra tenth. Like I said, it adds up.

I got plenty of sleep last night and even ate breakfast before I left, which I typically do not do. Still, I felt like a slug. I was dragging my feet. I was oozing down the road. I was pokey. It felt a little silly. I had to keep pushing myself forward and telling myself how ridiculous it was that I was going so slowly. I called myself some bad names. But I put in the miles and called it day 32. I thought of this friend of mine all those years ago and how he just got out there, whether he felt like it or not. The rest of what he said was this: “No matter what, I always feel better once I get out there; it is always worth it.”

On this point, he was right on the mark.

Day 30: Chased by Wolves, Plus Snow

OK it wasn’t really yesterday I was chased by wolves, but the day before. Not literally, of course, but in the dream I had a couple nights ago, I was getting chased by a huge pack of these canine beasts, and they were not friendly. They were not out to eat me, mind you. They were the puppets of the evil master who was trying to take over the world. This nasty dude used the wolves, who he had somehow managed to convince to follow him, to subdue the populations of every place he wanted to rule. I was fuzzy on the details, but that is the way dreams are.

I saw the wolves coming from far off, being on the roof the huge Victorian house I had never seen in real life, but they were too fast to avoid. I warned everyone–and there were lots of people in this house–but we all were held captive once the wolves arrived with their bared teeth and threatening growls. The dictator who wanted to rule the world had wolves as minions. It made me think of Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, or Sudan in the 1990’s. This is what I thought about on day 29 of my running-ever- day experiment. I wondered what it would feel like to have your world turned over because one man is crazy for power. I was scared in the dream, but it was only a dream. I ran in the dark, early morning, before the sun got around to making the sky light, and thought about fear. It was a beautiful morning, but every run can’t be filled with wonderful thoughts.

Today I hit the 30-day mark. It felt good to do that. It snowed last night and snow crusted the ground in spots. It was slippery and I had to be careful. I thought about the snow. Then I ran into a friend and we ran together for a while. We had a conversation. We caught up. We didn’t talk about dictators or drooling carnivores. We talked about kids and running and weather. That was a little more like it. I plan to run again tomorrow morning. We made a plan to run together on purpose this time. Maybe we will talk about the dreams we had. Let’s hope the wolves don’t come back. Like I said, they were not friendly.

Day 28: Caballo Blanco

I read recently, somewhere, in an article I have since lost and forgotten, about a runner who decided not to take days off. Why think about whether today or tomorrow will be a rest day? Why consider whether running today makes sense or if a day off would be better? The author just ran every day. It made a lot of sense. I find time to run most days early in the morning, before everyone else rises for the day, and if I didn’t take days off I would not be able to make excuses. “I am tired and it is dark and I am still sleepy and the bed is warm; I need a rest day anyway, so I’ll just stay in bed.” If I ran every day I would just get up and go. I would have to.

I am on day 28 of running every day. I started off small–two milers. I have been building from there. Today I only ran three miles. It does not seem very far. I used to think of five miles as my minimum run distance. But after a couple kids added to the mix, and too much time away from real running, and back surgery, and making a living and other sorry excuses, my distances have shortened. My longest has been about seven miles in those 28 days. Not shabby but I hope to go farther. It is hard not to imagine running 100 miles at some point.

Of course, this morning I was not ready to run 100 miles. If I was still in the habit of making excuses I probably would have stayed in bed. I was tired. My back was sore. My calves were sore for criminy’s sake. But I tell you, walking out when the sun is just coloring the horizon, and the woodcocks are dancing over the fields, and the song sparrows are just warming up their voices, and the mountains are silhouetted on the horizon, it just can’t be beat. So I ran three and got the miles in and added a day. I hope to hit 100 days in a row.

I need to think about things as I run. Well, perhaps I do not need to think about things, but it is hard not to think about things. Today I thought about Caballo Blanco. He is the ultrarunner who was featured in Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.  Two days ago the New York Times reported that he had died. If you have not read the book, I recommend it. If you are a runner you will be inspired to run more. If you are not a runner, you will be inspired nonetheless. It is a terrific story. Caballo Blanco, or “White Horse” lived to run. He, and his adventures, made me want to live more simply, and to run because it is just plain fun. He went to the desert canyons in Mexico to learn from the best, and he died on a run in New Mexico. Quite a life.

So I thought about this man as I ran this morning. He wanted to be remembered as being “authentic.” It seems he was. How will I be remembered? What mark will I leave? How will I impress my children with how to live authentically? These were some of the questions I thought about as the sky grew light and Jupiter faded into the dawn. And then I ran home.