Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back on Trail

A dark, ominous forest -- or how I looked at trails until
Two miles in. Two fingers up representing the completed 800s. Six more fingers to go. I bounced on the curb as the Tuesday night rush hour crawled by. I took alternating glances between the green light and the headlights. I had zip in my legs and energy to burn off. But it wasn’t the next interval I thought about. Instead it was the road ahead, which wasn’t a road at all but a crushed gravel trail, the Big Rocky Run trail to be exact. I was nervous. The light jumped to yellow. I took one more sip of water, waited for the last car to zoom by to make the light, then…I took off.

I suppose it had to happen sometime. I just wasn’t sure it was going to happen yesterday, and perhaps, in hindsight, that was best. The calendar called for 8x800 with a 200m recovery. I decided that could take about 7-8 miles with warmup, recovery, and cool down factored in. So I started to plan my route accordingly. Over the past few weeks, that meant getting creative trying to avoid the trails, thinking that I still needed to rebuild the strength in my ankle. But with the daylight lingering longer, the ankle sprain more than eight weeks ago, and the first of four trail races just over two weeks away, the time had come.

I wrestled with the idea all day, knowing full well that it was time to set foot back in the ocean and run the route that I’d left so many footprints on in the past without a second thought. And why make it a casual jog when I could go all in and turn it into an interval workout? No dipping my toe in the water. This was a full on swan dive.
When the walk signal burned ahead of me, I clicked my watch and bolted across the highway, took a sharp right and began my descent onto the trail. The bare branches reached up toward the clear, dusky evening. The temperature dropped noticeably and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the cold settled on me. I made one hard plant with my left foot and heard the first crunches of gravel beneath my trainers.

Focus on your footing but don’t dwell on it, I thought. I made small adjustments to my course as the size of the rocks got bigger or where trenches had formed. A shower had passed through in the late afternoon, soaking the ground and forming stray puddles.

I stole a look at my watch and marveled that a quarter mile had already gone by. The trail rose to meet a neighborhood cross street. I surged and shot across it and back down into the woods. My legs started to tie up from the effort but I pumped my arms harder and repeated Keep it neat, meaning my form, and felt my legs turn over quicker.

Those tired legs carried me across the creek where the watch beeped and I hit the brakes bringing the pace to a halt. I trotted on suddenly remembering that I had been previously worried. I acknowledged the thought, snickered, and went about enjoying the brief reprieve. The sun had nearly gone down but it set the sky aglow in a palette of pastel pinks that receded to purple and finally what would become the night.

I tossed a wave to another runner coming the opposite direction with an eager dog at his side. The creek burbled from the afternoon rain, and though the temperature was mild for the winter, I knew the water would be perfect for an ice bath.

When I looked at my watch again, I had just another few feet until…beep! I folded my three outstretched fingers into a loose fist and took off down the trail. One more for the set, I thought as I roared away.

With .2 to go, I huffed on, A marathon finish, I thought, whizzing by the orange post that marked the end of that trail section. I made the soft turn onto the sidewalk and carried on up the hill allowing myself a smile that I’d come through unscathed and left some new footprints behind...along with some old fears.

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