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The Joy of the Run

July 14, 2008

Last Saturday, I ran fifteen miles for the first time. I would have finished the run, no matter what, because the distance was not too much of a stretch. I had run fourteen miles before, so I was only stretching the distance out by one mile. And I was feeling pretty good on that run. I’d fueled before the run, I had water on the course, and even good old Sport Beans for added help along the way. But at mile 12, as I shared before, I ran into another runner, and it was nice to have his company on the last three miles, so that instead of counting the steps on that last stretch, I was distracted and able to run easy.

This Saturday was the first day of marathon training for our local marathon, which will be run on December 7 this year, so things are heating up for the local long-distance running community. I, of course am not training for a marathon, just for a November half, but I was excited for the many beginning the journey toward 26.2. At my first water stop on my long run, another fiftteen-miler, I ran into another runner, and as we set back out, it was obvious that we would run at pretty close to the same pace. We began to run together, and she shared that this was her first long run in a long time, the beginning of her training season for her second marathon. She was unsure if she’d be able to make her goal distance of 10 miles. As the early miles passed, we talked about running, our training, and our families. We got to the turnaround in good spirits, though it was obvious soon after that her spirits were flagging. By mile 7 conversation was unilateral. By mile 8 she’d begun to identify the point of the run at which she’d begin to walk. But at mile 9 those points began to shift farther along the run. And then every time we hit one of those previously-identified marking spots, she’d refuse to stop, instead finding new reserves of energy and picking up the pace. “I’m not a quitter,” she’d say. No, indeed she’s not; she’s a marathoner.

When we got back to our local running store, where water, Gatorade, and her husband awaited us, she was thankful. She said I got her through the run. I was of two minds about it. First of all, I thought she had done me a favor: I had been setting about a 9:40 pace when I ran into her. Early in the long run, this can only be trouble, as I tend to get faster as I run and I’m supposed to run my long runs easy, at a 10:40 pace. So in a very real sense, she got me through my run, not the other way around.

On the other hand, I can identify with the gratitude she feels, because I felt it last week. It is immensely helpful, when feeling out a long distance, to go at it with someone next to you, so that instead of thinking, There’s how many miles left? you can be directed to think about the funny dog, the long surfboard, whatever. The miles don’t pass easy sometimes. And it still is true: Running is always enjoyable. Sometimes, however, the joy doesn’t come until the end of the run.

Thanks, Kim, wherever you are, for sharing with me the joy of the run.

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