Five on the dot. I grab my bags and head downstairs to the gym. Deadline time is behind me and I can finally head to the gym with out guilt for an easy four miler. I have been looking forward to this moment since probably, 10 am.
Two years ago when I started training - training was everything. I kept my schedual tacked to my cube wall, I read about running at lunch, an on a running day I was out the door no later than 5:15. I found peace and freedom in those runs. Nothing mattered once my feet were pounding the pavement. I had to work hard for every second of every minute that I was out there. There were no five minute coffee breaks, only recovery which kept throwing my body forward.
As I tied my sneakers, snug but not too tight, and fasted my pink watch around my wrist I glanced over at the dark empty gym. I was often the only one who worked out here, a hamster on a giant wheel running in place in front of a wall of mirrors. Forced to watch my reflection make the same moves over and over. I sighed at the thought of running four miles in such a monotonus environment. I had seen a clouded over sky on my way down to the dungeon of a gym, but somehow the thread of rain was not as menicing as the threat of boredom. I needed to finish this run and if I had to cut it short becuase I could not stand to be in the same spot for another minute I would not easily forgive myself.
I stood in the commons for a good minute, watching the clouds. I must have looked like a fish out of water in the middle of our giant pink palace. A girl in black running shorts and a black tee shirt, the only trace of pink being the trim on my shorts and my watch. Who was this athletic looking person standing in the middle of all our pink and green and prep? My mind was made up. Outside I would go, a quick dash inside the locker room to grab my access card, a quick hello to Ms. Pat, and I was out the door and heading up the hill. In all honesty I didn't even know where I was headed, I didn't know how many miles I was going to run, or the terrain I was going to encounter. I was just happy to be outside, to be moving at a pace that was entirely dictated by my body and not my a moving belt under my feet. Treadmills made me feel cheated, like I was being told i could run faster than I was able, the belted ground moving along under me and I just picking up my feet to keep up.
The seconds and minutes would tick away on my pink iron man watch as I slowly moved up the hill. I was only half aware that all the cars driving by me were my fellow employees leavnig for the day and I was just getting to the best part of mine. I kept on moving forward. I would go twenty minutes out, however many miles that would take me, and then turn around and head home. I would not set myself any more limits than that. I had a vauge idea of running to Valley Forge Park, or at least seeing how close to it I could get. This would mean turning right onto Allendale, right onto First Ave, and then right onto whatever came next. I ran down third on the side of the road rather than in the grass. There was a serious lack of sidewalk around this area. I opted to stay on the right side of the street as I turned onto Allendale, which was probably not my smartest decision being that the side walk was on the left side of the street. But I chose to avoid traffic lights and run right in the road again. For a minute I hopped up onto the curb and ran like a balance beam one foot straight infront of the other. I would occasionaly waver side to side but never once stumbled completly off. And then that too ended and I was left again to run in the road, and then the grass, and then the road. I just prayed that when this short stretch ended and I turned onto Frist ave there would again be sidewalk, and there was! A wonderfully flat, open, and short stretch of sidewalk. Ok so I probably should have seen this coming. First Ave was a coral reef of office complexes. Why would they ever want to sidewalk all of their streets? Who would ever want to run along this hilly industrialized stretch of road? Runners I say (even though I seem to be the only other one out here, everyone who is smart just drives the five minutes to Valley Forge park) next time I say. Next time I will just drive to the park.
My mind for a moment drifted to my saturday run with Heather. This past week we had tackled eleven full miles, trecking through various neighboorhoods in the city. We trecked up hills and rampms, past train tracks with box cars full of garbage, past the zoo which smelled of animal waste, and past a putrid stretch of west river drive that smelled like something too gross to even identify. We ran although she had a sinus infection at at times she said she wasn't going to make it to the end. But I kept telling her not to stop. I know what it's like to be in her shoes, I used to say the exact same thing. I used to say I would stop like it was a threat to Larry, when in all reality it didn't matter to him one way or another. I would keep going becuase I knew I had to, and becuase I knew I would feel guilty. I kept pushing Heather and she kept going. I knew when it came down to it, at the end, she would want to feel like she acomplished something and not that she failed. Of course there would be runs where you gave up, there were countless runs that I gave up, even with Larrys words of encouragement. But we would not give up that day. we pushed all the way up the top of the hill and finished at Falls Bridge. I wanted to tell Heather that she had taught herself one of the most important lessons in training for a marathon. There will always be times when you feel like you cannot keep going, but you will. You will feel like there is nothing in the world that could get you to take another ten steps, and while you are too busy contemplating to stop or not, you realise you have gone a quarter mile with out really thinking, so you keep going another quarter mile, and before you know it you have knocked one more mile off your run. And you do what all good runners do, you just keep going.
As I ran along the grassy terain sidewalk again appeared under my feet, as I approached the bottom of a large hill. I silently cursed myself for picking this route as i checked my watch. Almost nine minutes. Ok hill, let's go! As I made my climb I started to look around and I realised that in the two years I had worked here I had never really taken the time to find out what else was back here. And I never realized the amount of people that left the office before six. Cars were lined up at every exit, waiting their turn to enter into the massive fight that is the rush hour evening commute! For once, I felt anything but envy towards them. They were sitting in their cars, in their restrictive business casual attire, and would probably remain there for at least a half an hour getting angry at other cars and wanting to be home. While I was free, I was out on the road, I was moving, and for the first time in months I felt like I finally had a purouse.