On the Road
Saturday, August first, I met my usual distance running partners at the usual spot, the Corona del Mar High School parking lot, Newport Beach, Califorina. What was unusual was that we planned to add four miles to our customary 12-mile-loop around Newport’s Back Bay. The daunting 16-miles was part of training for the New York Marathon, November l, 2009.
Marie, sporting a new short do, prepared to punch her Garmin timing watch and start. She’s a 53-year-old ex-nun who casts an impervious air of good will and calm wherever she goes. Carol, 42, our third partner and Marie’s “roomie,” is a nuclear engineer, who runs a three-hour-and-twenty-minute marathon to our four-hour-and twenty-six minute time. Carol, a natural director and pleasant know-it-all is also our official coach. Today she looked us right in the eye, and delivered a New York accented command:
“You two run at a comfortable pace, about a 10:30 minute mile.”
Obeying, we left the parking lot at 6:00 a.m. instead of the customary 7:00. We hoped to avoid the blistering August sun.
I’m a 65-year-old runner. I’d attended an out-of-town writer’s workshop the previous week, sitting on my behind for hours. Maybe the week off made the start of this long run so easy. Too often muscles and joints complain, creek, resist the first mile. Today I started right out enjoying the pace, the feel of pumping limbs, the sensation of footfalls upon path, air moving past cheeks and elbows, the sudden breeze, the witch hazel smell of the mountain misery bush growing among the chaparral on the bluffs.
At mile 9 everything changed. Hot, sweaty, and tired, I had to command myself to move forward. Then, a second wind, a push from an invisible hand, the freedom to run without nagging inhibitors and so it went. Tiredness, release. Fatigue, renewed energy.
Carol ran ahead, leaving Marie and I alone to battle 16 miles. The 10:30 pace which sounded so easy at 6:00 a.m. became harder and harder to maintain. By mile 14 the punishment from sun and mileage drove us to beg for sight of the school athletic field, signaling the parking lot and finish.
“Yes!” we let out a weak cheer when we spotted the chain link fence surrounding the field. I put on my end-run-speed JUST TO FINISH and Marie came up behind me, running circles in the parking lot until her watch measured exactly 16 miles. I stopped as soon as I hit the lot not caring that I was three tenths of a mile short of 16. We accepted congratulations from the speedy Carol and other runners who finished shorter runs. Marie and I, flushed and dripping shared a smug high five. The mileage gave us a feeling of self worth, no doubt about it.
Driving home I looked forward to seeing my husband. I’d brag about my run and eat a delicious breakfast of oatmeal scattered with walnuts and melting chocolate chips.
I walked through the door to the kitchen. My husband hit me with the need to make the decision I’d put off for weeks and left undone before when I went to the writers’ workshop.
“Take a shower and get in the car,” he pressured. “Go to Canyon Fireplace, decide which screen and order it! Lets get moving on this thing.”
I moaned. Hadn’t I justified my existence by getting up at 5:15 a.m. and completing a sixteen mile run? If not accolades, I expected my husband to leave me alone.
I whined, “That store is across from Anaheim Stadium. Driving there is like traveling cross country.”
I ate my oatmeal, the reward I’d looked forward to dissolving into resentment for my husband’s nagging and the ride ahead.
I showered, dressed and dragged myself to the computer to look up directions to Canyon Fireplace. There it was, printed plainly at the top of Google Maps, Canyon Fireplace, exactly sixteen miles from my home in Newport.
My eyes locked on the “16,” confirmation of how odd a distance-runner can be. The mileage I’d been proud to struggle through on foot was exactly the same as I resisted when all I had to do was place my foot on the gas.