WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?
Running to Feed The Hungry in Sacramento
I hope everyone had themselves an enjoyable Thanksgiving and that you've got something to look forward to over the coming December and New Year's Holiday season.
Thanksgiving morning I awoke on the floor (We had guests using the bedroom) to a cold and overcast day of rain, but with excitement nonetheless. Butterflies churned my nerves into a frenzy as I prepared to face my first attempt at running a 10K - with no prior running or cardio training - "off the couch" as they say. My partner is a marathon finisher and although she's been away from running for a few months, was certainly more seasoned and knew what to do to finish without injury or slowing down. I however was as fresh as a bean sprout, and only a little faster than one.
The starting countdown ends and almost 30,000 people surge beneath a banner suspended across J Street in Sacramento, the California capitol. Most are already fairly soaked by the morning's steady precipitation. I've got a Gore-Tex wide brimmed hat on and a rain jacket over a long sleeve synthetic race shirt with the Sacramento Country Day School logo on the back ... SCDS is the school whose team I'm running on as a fundraiser to help the Sacramento Food Bank. Several years in a row the SCDS team has raised more money for the benefit than any other team, and even I helped with two sponsors I didn't want to let down! Skimpy running shorts were all I wore on my lower body, and once the crowd ahead thinned out, I crossed the starting line and began a steady trot that I would somehow maintain for the entire 6.2 miles.
For ultrarunners or marathoners and even half-marathoners, 6.2 miles may be a meager and unimpressive figure, but for a guy who prefers to strap a big pack on and amble tortoise-like over uneven terrain at a spritely 3 miles per hour, adding speed even while subtracting payload is still a challenge. Top it off with the cold rain, wet and slick street surface, and a desire not to give in to the temptation to walk even a litte bit, I had a minor battle on my hands. Back straight up, hands with fingers bent but not in fists, shoulders back, breathe in through the nostrils, out through the mouth. Keep aware of cramping, of where the breath is going, of the pace, of how your feet are moving- don't step on the white marks, they're extra slippery! With so much to be mindful of, the mind chooses to stray from its chores and just wander. I read signs, laugh at folks with costumes on, and scream "thank you"s to observers playing music and cheering encouragement.
Mile 3.5 and I'm feeling the need to slow my pace a bit. Breathing heavily but not struggling and I don't want to get into the struggle zone. My partner has given me all the tips she can for the time being and is pulling ahead just a tad and I don't feel up to keeping that pace. The experience changes from our run to MY run, and I'm okay with that. In a few minutes she's among the runners in front of me and soon I lose her in the throng. If I walk now, she'd never know... but I'D know and that's not acceptable since I'm feeling challenged but not at all exhausted. There is discomfort but not really pain. I keep going, sweating into my hat and jacket, taking a pull from a water bottle ever mile or so. I can do this!
Mile 5 is marked by a sign. My left hip socket is feeling a tweak. Nerve? Cartilage? Fracture of the head fo the femur? No, I'm just working out some kinks I suppose. Barely more then a mile to go but I'm feeling the strain now, knowing that if I think about walking I'll talk myself into it. Got to keep taking strides, adjusting the knees and the feet to make this last bit doable, to get me around the next few corners and to the finish. It hurts... but what is "it?" Can't put my mental finger on it, there's just something that is uncomfortable, but that's all. A pervasive feeling of working hard, pushing the body's feelings of comfort, expanding into new areas of performance... for crying out loud, it's only a little more than an hour of running, you've hiked hard with a huge pack on for more than twice that long...uphill!
The final stretch. I see the finish line banner across the road ahead. I'm in a thinner crowd of runners in the 10K, we're not the fast ones but we're not the slowest either. Not bad for a first timer with no training anyways. My pace picks up though I don't feel conscious of adding the speed myself. Just something about the excitement of knowing that relief is soon to arrive. My feet continue to move, pumping again and again ahead, under, behind my hips. The pelvis aches where the femurs have been moving in their sockets, like a pre-soreness. After a couple of minutes more of this detached state of final pushing, the run ends as suddenly as it started. I hop over the finish line, my time recorded by a tag on my shoe to be checked on the computer out of the rain and cold. Upon slowing to a walk the fatigue in my quadriceps and hips expands to fill the space my calming lungs now allow my consciousness to feel. The body cools as muscular activity slows, and the chill in the air becomes much more noticeable. I'm glad to have done it. Glad to have run farther than I ever had before. Glad to have not given up. Also glad to learn that I was only a few minutes behind my lady! We meet under the VIP tent, snatch up a few of the free snacks, and walk home together, feeling great in body and soul.