Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How I Spent My Spring and Summer

When they run, kids don’t worry about personal records or electrolytes or their mile pace and they don’t wear $100 running shoes or satellite-synched wristwatches that would make Dick Tracy jealous.  They just run.  I used to be like that, before injuries, a driver’s license, adolescence, and a lot of beer and late nights made running less attractive.  So I stopped running, for about 20 years.  Five years ago, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with my active children, I set out to see if I could recapture some of what it felt like to run as a kid.  One day, in the middle of a bike ride, I stopped by the Smith College track and ran a lap.  I barely finished.  Fast forward to this past week:  I completed the Monson Memorial Half Marathon, the last race of the Sugar Loaf Mountain Athletic Club’s 2010 race series. I ran 10 out of the 12 races in the series. 
But I don’t want to write about my own running achievements, because let’s face it, to anyone who doesn’t run, and to a great many people who do run, listening to someone else’s running stories can be a bore.   I’d rather talk about my dreams.  I regularly dream about running now, something I don’t recall ever happening before. In my dreams, I run without effort.  I don’t need a watch or fancy computer to tell me what I can feel instinctively: that thanks to effective training and a flawless technique, I am running as fast as I possibly can.  This is where I can see the payoff for consistently getting out of bed in the morning at while the rest of my house is asleep—and probably the rest of the neighborhood, as well.  I feel the wind in my face, but that’s pretty much all I feel.  I don’t feel too hot or too cold, I don’t feel worried about traffic or whether I’m late for work, and I don’t feel any impact from my feet hitting the ground.  I’m gliding, and it’s perfect. 
And then, as they say, I woke up. 
I haven’t come close to replicating that feeling during my waking hours, but it’s not for lack of trying.  My last entry in this blog highlighted a race I ran in April, the Ron Hebert Road Race, where every finisher gets a pair of socks.  That race marked the first race in a new racing series put on by the Sugar Loaf Mountain Athletic Club, or SMAC.  Before this race series, I’d never participated in such a thing before, and while I had a vague notion that these things existed, I had no real idea of how they worked.  But one thing jumped out at me as I read through the rules: participants who finished six of the 12 races in the series would get a prize.  That was my motivation.  I have run enough races to confirm that fact that I am too slow to win any of the “traditional” running prizes; you know, the ones you get for running faster than most, if not all, of the other people in the race. But I was pretty sure I could run six races in 8 months. 
I paid my series entry fee—a reasonable $10—and began to look forward to the email updates that the series organizer, John Reino, would regularly send out after each race.  I ran my sixth race in the series in September to qualify for a prize, and then I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the standings that my name was much closer to the top of the list than the bottom.  I also realized that I had a chance at making 10 races in the series, so I signed up for the Monson Half. 
For running these races, I got socks, t-shirts, technical shirts, pint glasses, and even potatoes.  I got a couple of black toenails and some nasty chafing issues.  More importantly, I got to experience the hospitality of the race volunteers (I still can’t get over the pastries at the Lake Wyola Run) and the excitement of race day on both a big (2000+ runners at the Bridge of Flowers Classic) and small scale (a couple of races drew only 100 or so runners.)  I also got to experience a feeling of accomplishment and I got to share it with my family, who met me at the finish line on Sunday.  My younger son even held a sign up as I passed: My Dad=My Hero. 
It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling to know that the series is over.  There’s a race I’m thinking about running on Sunday, but part of me says it’s not worth it because I won’t get any points for doing it.  Another part of me says, haven’t you run enough already this year?  But still another part of me says that maybe, just maybe there’s another PR out there for me. 
Thank you, Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, for putting on this race series and for allowing me to experience joy in running again.  I was a middle-of-the-pack runner who didn’t stick around much after the race was over, but I enjoyed every minute of it.