Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yesterday... No, today, right now


The line in the song says, "yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away," but most of what I struggle with was front and center yesterday as I walked up the trail in Highland Forest during my first trail run.

The occasion was the "Last-Chance Trail Run" put on by the Syracuse Chargers Track Club. Runners, for a measly ten dollars, come to a beautiful forest park, run the trails, and then gorge on pancakes. I mean, seriously, who could say no?

At times, out on the trail, I wish I had said no.

I rode to the run with two experienced trail runners who generously invited me along though I was a complete novice. I was nervous, knowing that I couldn't hope to keep up with them. This is not false humility. Both of these guys are strong, fast, and experienced at running trails. I am many things, but I am not fast. I'm not nearly as strong. And it would be my first time. I told them that they would drop me in the first mile. They smiled, thinking I was just nervous. "When you drop me, it's okay. Keep going," I told them. "We all run our own race."

(The Last Chance Trail Run, by the way, is not a race. Runners start whenever, finish wherever, choose their own trails, and so on. Everyone runs are in the same park and eats pancakes afterward.)

We started and I tried to keep up but was four feet behind within a dozen steps. I hung on for half a mile and then felt them slipping away. Just as well; the pace was killing me. I kept them in site for a while, then started paying attention to trail markers because I was on my own.

Running on my own is fine. I used to have lots of trouble with it out on the roads. I would just stop mid-stride and walk. I couldn't figure out how people got used to going long. But now, on the roads, I can go eight- or ten-miles whenever I have the time. On the trails I don't have the same capabilities. On one long hill I found myself walking and wishing I could just sit down and be done.

I've been writing about being present in life, but yesterday, just over a mile into the run, I had lost the moment. I was thinking about how far I had to go, how much I wanted the run to be over, how I wished I could keep up with the guys, and how I was beginning to regret that I had come along at all. In short, I was giving into anxiety and falling out of the moment.

I made a concerted effort then to find the present.

I struggled through ten minutes of walking to place myself in the moment. The first step was to be okay with the fact that I was walking. I was panting on the hill. I was sweating in twenty degrees air. I was alone and nervous. I worked to accept. "This is the situation," I said, "and it's not bad."

The hill was long and I had time to think. I tried jogging but didn't get far. But I kept going and kept thinking about what was happening, what I was doing, what it was all about.

The following things came to me:

  • I was pushing myself into something new and good 
  • My body and mind were still in motion
  • Being new at something gives me permission to not be very good at it yet 
  • There would soon be pancakes

More than all that, I began to feel each moment as a good thing. It was all very tiring, but the weather was gorgeous. It made me nervous to be in the woods alone, but I knew that I could follow the trail and that other runners would pass me by from time to time. I wasn't moving fast, but I kept moving.

At the finish I was careful to feel what it was like to have reached the end of the run. It turned out to feel almost exactly like being out on the trail. I rejoined with my friends and ate pancakes. I had covered 6.3 miles over an hour and three-quarters. We talked about the footing, puddles, mud, slopes, slipping, and dancing through roots and over logs. I told them that my 6 miles had been much more challenging than the half marathon I ran months before. They all nodded.

And then, when I got home, I told my wife "Oh yea, I'll try it again soon!" which is just another way of saying, write on.