I step from my car. If not for the load buzzing of angry horseflies and a couple of cars parked in the stalls at the end of the lot closest to the trail, I would be alone. This morning’s 20 minute drive after yesterday’s hard tempo run has left my leg muscles feeling a bit stiff. Closing the car door, I walk around to the front of it and sit gingerly on the crumbling curb. Already, I can feel the sun’s heat radiating from the cement―it’s going to be a hot one, I think. Guess I’ll skip the shirt. Slowly I untie the laces on one running shoe and carefully thread the end of a lace through the hole in my car key. I tuck the key’s serrated end between the laddered crosshatching of laces and re-tie the shoe. I stand up, tossing my well-worn T-shirt over the car’s antenna and jog toward the crushed limestone path. When I reach the path, I stop. From memory, I press my watch’s buttons―the paint has long since worn away. I scroll to yesterday’s run, which has already been carefully recorded on a sheet of notebook paper lying on my nightstand at home. I hold the reset button until a row of zeros flash on the display. Satisfied, I press the start button and take my first running stride.
The loose gravel beneath my feet forgives the intrusion, slightly shifting to accommodate my forward momentum. In addition to its challenging hills and uninterrupted distances, the path’s forgiving surface is one of its main benefits and the primary reason I’ve completed so many of my runs along the familiar path. I am less than a mile into the meandering 6-mile loop when I notice that my leg muscles have begun to loosen. Already, the course is performing its magic. With no additional effort on my part, my pace is quickening. My body is entering a familiar rhythm, one brought on by countless miles and thousands of such workouts. I pass a runner coming toward me from the opposite direction. We acknowledge one-another’s presence―exchanging brief greetings―as each continues on without the slightest pause in cadence. There’ll be time for socializing later―maybe.
I leap across a small creek, knowing that a steep half-mile climb is waiting for me just around the next bend. I am almost giddy at the thought of the upcoming effort. Minutes later, I crest the top of the hill, my breath laboring from the effort. Within a few hundred yards, my breathing is already becoming more relaxed. In my mind’s eye, I review the remaining section of the loop. I am enveloped by a deep sense of satisfaction, at the thought that I will face several more such challenging obstacles before the loop is completed. Twenty minutes later, and I’m rounding the final bend. As the parking lot comes into view, I glance down at my watch comparing my time against the effort. In the span of a few strides I perform a physical assessment. I check off the final item of my mental list and discover all is well. I cross the spot where the run began noting the time it took to complete the 6-mile loop. A few years from now―at this point in a run―I will be stopping to take a few swigs from a well-placed water bottle. But, not today―I have two more laps to go.