During this weekend’s ten-miler, I finally came up with my grand unified theory of what makes runners run. Yes, I know it’s foolhardy to try to describe an entire group of people with the same word but this particular limb is one I feel comfortable wandering out on. Plus, I can always say that I didn’t really mean it because that run was so hot and humid that I wasn’t really in my right mind. I’m covered either way.
My theory is this: we don’t run out of an innate love of the way running makes us feel or the time alone or the sound of shoes on pavement — although those are very nice — runners run because they are too stubborn not to.
Or maybe that’s just me.
After my disappointing half marathon on July 11, I’ve been in something of a running slump. Enthusiasm has been as hard to find as a hairbrush in my teenage daughter’s haystack of a room. For the past two weeks, when the 6 a.m. alarm has gone off, my first thought has been, “can’t I just not?”
But I have anyway, even though the siren call of more sleep has been nearly irresistible. Instead, I’ve channeled my inner Dimity, the one who mutters “Don’t think; Just go,” and run anyway.
This is the point in the essay where I should say something along the lines of “and I am a better woman/mother/employee because of it. Just look at how fast/strong/centered I’ve become!” But I’m not sure that’s true. I do know that powering through the last few weeks have been a measure of my stubbornness more than anything else. I simply will not let something as silly as an early morning training run beat me. And I imagine that, to greater or lesser degrees, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It was sheer stubbornness that pushed me through 7 miles two Saturdays ago when it was hot and humid. That same mule-headedness pushed me through an easy 4 on the heaviest legs ever two days prior and another easy 4 two days after, when the morning air was saturated enough to chew. Was I running for the love of the run? Nope. Not even a little bit. I was running because it doesn’t get to win.
The same was true last weekend when the four of us — five, if you include our dog — decamped for the wilds of Southern New Jersey to stay with friends from college. I had two runs scheduled during our time in the Springsteen state: four miles on Thursday and ten (!) on Saturday, because Coach Christine seems to want to keep my double-digit run bona fides up-to-date between now and Wineglass in October. Or -- and this just occurred to me — she wants to wear my legs down to bloody nubs. But I strongly suspect it’s more the former than the latter.
The four mile jaunt was relatively straightforward. I ran through our friends’ neighborhood, added a few laps around a nearby cemetery, where I discovered an older section where the headstones were all in Russian, then headed back. I misjudged the distance a little and my course was closer to 4.5 miles because accurate estimations of distance are not in my wheelhouse, even with the number of electronic devices I have.
Theoretically, I could have just done that route twice, added a mile, and done that for the ten. But I was itchy for something a little less repetitive and familiar. Fortunately, Heidi, one of the friends we were staying with, had trained on her streets for two 3-Day for the Cure walks. She also is handier with Map My Run than I am. I mentioned what I needed to do, she disappeared into her home office, then bob’s-your-uncle, I had a route.
Even though I had a plan, ten was harder to wrap my head around, so much so that I spent a good part of the 24 hours before it psyching myself out. We drove the route the night before just so that I could pick out some landmarks for the turns. I printed out a paper map and tucked it into my hydration belt just in case my phone died. I laid out all of my gear -- from Herr Garmin to Gu — so that I wouldn’t have to think too much about it.
And yet I was still anxious. What if I got lost? What if I got run over? What if the Jersey Devil stormed out of the pine barrens and ate me?
None of those things happened, of course. Instead, I got up, I ran ten miles, misjudged a turn but recovered easily, grabbed a glass of NUUN once I was back, then stood in their pool until I had the energy to take a real shower.
I can’t recommend that last part highly enough on a hot summer’s day. If you have a pool you can stand in after a long run, do it.
While standing there, I scrolled through Facebook, where I’d posted a status update about heading out on this run. “You are amazing,” Heidi had replied.
“Not really,” I thought. “I just had ten miles worth of stubborn in me today.”
If stubborn is the word I’d use to define us runners, which word would you pick?