At the end of March, I was supposed to run a grueling-looking trail marathon with my dear friend Marisa outside of Las Vegas. I “trained” for it for maybe 10 weeks, and during every single long run I took, my mind would at some point inevitably wander to fantasies of us crossing the finish line together, holding hands, beautiful smiles on our exhausted faces because we’d done it, together.
And then, triumphant, we’d spend a few more days together, birdwatching or flower-scoping or some other delicious nature nerd kind of thing in the desert, before I’d have to come home and go to work again.
Obviously, no marathons happened at the end of March.
When it was officially canceled — much later than basically anything else was canceled, so much so that I started to wonder if Nevada was just going to pretend there wasn’t a pandemic — Marisa and I entertained the notion of each running our own separate half marathons on the would-be marathon day (because a full marathon by yourself, and for me in an urban jungle, just isn’t as much fun). But when the day came, there weren’t any trails near me that were big enough and empty of people enough to feel safe. I ran for maybe 40 minutes at Mt Tabor before I came home, and though I don’t remember if I cried or not anymore, I know I was really, really sad. Sad not to be with Marisa, sad not to be running this marathon, sad that I couldn’t even run a stand-in half marathon, sad for the constriction of the world, sad because everything for everyone was so radically upended, just sad sad sad.
Since those first weeks of coronavirus, the world has started to feel less scary again. People don’t freak me out like they did for a second at the beginning, and though things still make me sad I feel less overtly despondent. But I still struggle with the fact that most of the trails I would run near my house are too narrow for physical distancing, visited by a crush of pent-up people, just not great to be on.
So my answer has been to get up very, very early twice a week, and run at Mt Tabor before the sun rises and the people come out.
(this was closer to sunset than sunrise, but overlooking the bottom reservoir of Mt Tabor recently, downtown Portland in the distance)
The first week I did it, it was kind of an experiment — how much before sunrise could I run without needing a headlamp? Would running the trails actually feel better that much earlier? Would there still be a million other people there with my same idea? Could I consistently get out of bed that early without any other reason to do so?
But since that initial experiment, it’s definitely stuck.
For all of April and all of May so far, twice a week, I’ve been dragging myself out of bed in the dark, biking over to Mt Tabor, and waking myself up running with the morning birdsong. At my fastest, it’s been an 17-minute turnaround time from alarm going off to bike locked up and running; I’d say about 20 minutes is average. (I know this because the faster my turnaround time, the longer I can sleep while still getting to Mt Tabor as early as I’m aiming for;) I run anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, enough to get super hungry and feel, especially now that I’m not biking so far to work all the time, like I got some exercise for the day. (It strikes me that if there were any half marathons happening these days, I would be in excellent half-marathon shape right now;)
Even though I typically hate routines, I’ve really been enjoying this schedule of two longish runs a week at Mt Tabor, plus a third, shorter-and-faster neighborhood run on the weekend. It may be just the sort of structure I need right now; running, as always, is the hook upon which I can hang my sanity.
(another Mt Tabor gem: inside-out flower, or Vancouveria hexandra)
Back in the day, a loooong time ago, a group of friends and I decided to write 6-word biographies about each other. (This was rooted in the idea of a 6-word memoir, which I feel like was popular for a while. There are some examples here.) I remember very little about the exercise except that my friend who was assigned to write my biography wrote something like “Always moving: but running from what?”
It’s been a long time and I don’t remember the exact 6 words, but that was the essence. Constantly in motion, but for ambiguous and maybe slightly dark reasons. And I remember thinking that he was particularly insightful to bring that up, even though I wasn’t and still am not sure if it’s true. Am I trying to escape from something? Do I need to outrun some demons? If I don’t sit still, do I think I’ll be able to stay one step ahead of whatever it is that haunts me? Is running right now my way out of pandemic uncertainty?
I honestly don’t know. But I do know that running, running, running, always running, is one of the best ways I know how to be the stasia I want to be, and I’m so thankful for it in my life, however it ebbs and flows. Thank goodness for my early-early morning Mt Tabor runs.
No, no demons. No escapism. Just born to crave it. One born to strive vertically, one to strive horizontally. Simple. The joy is in the striving. :-)
Oh! This comment snuck past me! I think you’re right that I’m not running away from anything, but I do think it was an interesting question for my friend to ask! Worth a thought, anyway, since so often one actually has no idea that something that seems like a normal habit is in fact some sort of weird coping mechanism until someone outside points it out;)