Nearly every post on this blog begins by noting that it’s been a while since the last post. At least I’m consistent in that way.
My husband celebrated a birthday this week, and I remembered how much life has changed in since his last birthday: a year ago, a late spring 12 mile run at Eno River State Park left me completely exhausted. Sure, the trail was rough in places, the humidity was high, and I wasn’t in the best shape, still having a less-than-perfect hamstring. But, all of that considered, it was still a surprise that a two hour trail run would leave me crashed on the couch for much of the afternoon. I couldn’t remember a time I’d felt so exhausted, except for when…(the previous post has a photo related to how this part of the story ends)
Fast forward to this May, when my husband’s birthday coincided with our baby hitting the four month mark. They say that, when one’s children are small, the days are long but the years are short. I often agree. But the last twelve months has had lots packed into it, not least welcoming a little boy to our family.
There was also the usual travel mixed in, affording opportunities to sneak in runs in new places. In addition to always-lovely Moran State Park and Turtleback Mountain last summer, the fall brought trips to (and runs in) San Diego and Claremont; Trento, Italy; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire (plus more urban running destinations, like Chicago, Providence and New Haven). The visit to Trento, while short, took me very close to the home of La Sportiva – although the quick trip and the conference schedule meant no time to venture into the nearby mountains.
I ran the majority of my fall miles – road or trail – in the La Sportiva Helios, after discovering last summer that it has plenty of cushion for roads (at least, for me), and that it’s therefore a great shoe for runs that cover a variety of surfaces (and for trail-only runs, for that matter. For people who pay attention to such things, it's got a 4mm drop).
In 2014, I was happy to make it to the 9th Annual Little River Trail Runs, for which I was co-race director. The race was two days after my due date, but my body cooperated: I went into labor (fittingly, it started on a run) two days after the race. With a record number of runners and a stellar effort from our race volunteers, we managed to raise $10,000 this year for Little River Regional Park (more here).
In the four months since, life - running included - has been (understatement) different. The third baby has been more exhausting than the first two. There are good reasons for this, not least the fact that we’ve transitioned from playing man to man to playing zone defense (obligatory basketball reference, since I’m a Duke Ph.D. and a UNC professor).
We have two girls who are very excited for a new sibling, but who also have their own activities and demands. Add to that a baby who much preferred to eat rather than sleep at night for the first few months; and parents who are trying to maintain some semblance of their professional lives (but we academics do get great parental leave benefits, relative to most in the US economy). The result was lots of groggy morning runs. (We could add in the fact that I’m older with this baby, or the weeklong trip to Dublin that baby and I made in April, but who wants to go there?).
Pushing through an hour’s run has often seemed like enough – enough to reset me mentally, and enough to feel like I was getting back into shape. The nice thing about this state, beyond the incredibly cute baby who has caused it (and who is now getting better at that sleeping thing), has been running for the sake of running. While I like having events to train for and look forward to, there’s also freedom that comes with running for its own sake. Sure, I did a 25k in March (couldn’t resist the chance to run from Chapel Hill to Durham, in celebration of Merge Records’ 25 years). And I’m very excited about another chance to run on the trails of Orcas Island this summer. And I’m thinking about what race I should do in the fall.
But, for now, I’m running because I like to run.
And this brings me back to a run on my husband’s birthday. We planned to run together in the afternoon, something we hadn’t done in months. Of course, this included pushing the baby in the stroller, in 90 degree temps, but it was still fun to get in time on the double track trail together. I started a few minutes early and, in my six outbound minutes on the trail, I ran into two different TrailHead friends (and one dog), both of whom were nearing the ends of their runs. We joined together and turned back, three women, one stroller and one dog greeting my husband when he approached. The four of us had a nice run together, talking of all sorts of things. After a couple miles, one of the women headed home; another mile later, the second one also left us. My husband headed for the car after a couple more, and the baby and I finished out our run alone.
This run made me happy (although it also nearly made me melt), not only because it was a rare date run for us, but also because I love running into people in the woods. We have a great running community in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and there are a lot of folks with flexible work schedules, so one often bumps into familiar face on a run -- although it's often hard to predict *whom* one will encounter.
And, as the heat began to really get to me, the run seemed a nice analogy for life – I had started alone. Along the way, I found a friend. And then another friend. I hadn’t planned on running with either one of them, but that surprise made it more fun. And then there was my husband, of course (and our youngest child), who was there as promised. And, at the end of it all (and, at that point, I did feel like I might be close to death, via heat exhaustion), I was back to running on my own. It might be a nice analogy for life – we start alone, we leave alone, but in between, we meet folks along the way, sometimes in unexpected ways, but often in ways that bring us joy. Or, that could all have been the heat talking…