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Contrary to popular belief, there are enough hours in the day; you just have to know where to find them.
A while back, a friend of mine encouraged me to get up before the sunrise, chickens and children to run. The theory is that you can have glorious alone time before anyone needs anything from you.
This is also the same friend who got me into long-distance running, so I know her advice (while it usually sounds outrageous to most people) pretty much always helps me in my metamorphosis into
SuperMom a decent sort of woman.
Thus, when my electronic birds gently began chirping last week at 5 am, I got up and immediately made the decision to crawl back under my cozy down comforter ASAP.
But when I actually stumbled into the bathroom, I looked through the window on our slanted ceiling/wall and noticed the moon illuminating my running trail and billions of stars all around.
The Franconian countryside had become a strange, new world.
I quietly laced up my shoes and snuck out the door.
The trail was the same (the same tractor ruts, chunky rocks, looming trees, and fields in various stages of growth and harvest), but the entire experience was exhilarating.
Everything looks different; and every scary story you’ve ever heard comes flitting through your mind as you run in the dark (especially past corn fields).
Sounds are amplified and sometimes terrifying (such as the lone car that came barreling over the hill or the hawks that swooped over my head as I ran down the lane of plum trees).
There are creatures slinking around in the fields at night, and they all sound BIG and FAST—at least, bigger and faster than you. Those could be deer, or dinosaurs, or bunny rabbits out there—you have no way of telling!
The good thing about running in the dark: scary sounds make you run faster.
One problem with running with the stars is that you tend to look skyward a lot, which isn’t actually that safe to do on a darkened path.
And instead of hill repeats, you find yourself stopping at the top of the hill, tipping your head back as far as it will go.
In fact, you may consider lying down in the grass to soak in the view, until you remember how wet and muddy it is.
Though running in the dark is seductive, it’s also a hard habit to establish.
The October issue of “Runner’s World” has a good article on becoming an early morning runner. So, armed with sure-fire strategies and inspiration to run before sunrise, I set my alarm for 6:00 am.
The problem with this noble act was that I knew it was not enough time for a good run. I ignored this tidbit of knowledge and justified my action by reminding myself that I need 7 hours of sleep a night.
However, at 5 am, I felt three distinct taps on my shoulder.
I started awake, sputtering, “What is it, Libby?” before my eyes even opened. I expected to see the dark little shadow hovering over me, explaining about hypothetical mosquitos or phantom spiders, but there was no one. My husband appeared to be sleeping, and even the dog was silent in his kennel.
It must’ve been some kind of muscle spasm, but I could not get back to sleep. I tried to ignore the clock, but by 5:15, I knew I had to get up and at least look out the window.
There were stars.
Billions of them.
I added a headlamp and a blinky tail light to my ensemble.
It was another glorious pre-dawn morning. The countryside belonged to me (and to one other person, again barreling over the hill, who must drive to work AWFULLY early every day).
I made my way off the main road and turned off my lamp to let my eyes take in the ambient light that transforms the familiar landscape into a mysterious new place.
As I turned down the final trail to home, the sliver of a moon was hanging on the horizon in a pale strip of coral sky.
I finished my run and had a cup of coffee as dawn broke the spell over lovely, magical Franconia.
I ran eight-minute miles today. And not just one, but two–in a row!
That may not be impressive to my sportier readers, but for a woman who is content with one mile every ten minutes (including stops for tractor dodging or wildlife viewing), this is an achievement. And the funny thing was that I wasn’t even trying.
Before you think my favorite Superman t-shirt has imprinted itself upon my subliminal mind, let me clarify: today’s run was purposely going to be s_l_o_w__…
For many weeks, I’ve been wearing Newton running shoes, which train you in the minimalist style. This means that instead of using my heel to break the full force of my significantly jiggling self, my body glides along, with feet pitter-pattering on their forefronts. I envision the graceful lope of a deer, only with a ponytail.
Instead of fighting gravity, this particular stance uses gravity to propel you foreward, which historically is what running is supposed to do.
Anyone with a simple knowledge of the human body knows that an unused muscle atrophies. And I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly sure bones need some type of weight bearing exercise in order to grow stronger, at least, that’s what I read once in “Better Homes and Gardens.”
So what happens to bones and muscles when feet (like mine) have been luxuriously ensconced in Nike or Mizuno for twenty years?
Can it actually create or exasperate problems such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, shin splints or plantar fasciitis?
You may think I’ve gone granola, but I am betting that many of my usual problems (achy arches & old lady knees) will benefit from proper training in the barefoot style.
Enter the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves: these are like the Vibram 5 Fingers, only without the creepy toes. And yes, my feet are SO long (and Merrels are SO short) I had to order from the men’s department (please, Merrell, for the love of long, gorgeous feet everywhere, make a woman’s size 12!!!).
Running with the trail gloves was a new, interesting challenge, and I kept wishing I could watch myself run, as I had this fear of not doing it right and breaking all the bones in my feet.
But I think part of barefoot running is that you learn to ‘feel’ when you’re running–that your body (eventually) just knows it’s in the groove.
After the initial feeling I was doing something terribly wrong and unnatural (I mean, ditching my watch AND my high-tech, arch-enabling running shoes) my body fell into a of rhythm of its own.
As I finished my run, I heard the church bells ring 3/4 past the hour. Since I am currently watchless, I dug my phone out of my back pocket to double check the time. I had stepped out of the house at half past.
I mean, there’s no way that could be right.
But the church bells and the iPhone do not lie. I had run my two miles in 16 minutes.
An unintentional personal best.
I wonder what other things I can accomplish when I stop trying so hard?
A few miles into the marathon, my Garmin winked at me before closing its sleepy digital eye for the duration of the race.
If my hands hadn’t been so uncoordinated from the finger-numbing drizzle, I would’ve tossed the watch into the lake.
It reminded me of when I’d forgotten to charge it the night before a long run. It was that day, without the constraints of time or minutes-per-mile, that I discovered a new system of trails—a runner’s paradise with green rolling hills, fields of flowers, forests, and even medieval ruins. I was like a kid in an amusement park—running cheerfully from one attraction to the next.
After that day, I did many of my runs without being henpecked by my digital training partner. I could concentrate on how my body felt—how it felt to go slow; how it felt to go fast.
Since I couldn’t precisely track my mileage (which, honestly, was annoying at first), I would just run for a certain amount of time, paying attention to form and function, while also allowing my thoughts to roam.
So, I wasn’t at a complete loss without my gadget during the marathon, though I did spend significant brain power trying to convert kilometers into miles.
The watch is a seductive tyrant. Success or failure is easily calculated in its cold gray numbers, and when you wear it, you can completely ignore your own self.
Why not just walk a mile until you can run it? And when you can run it, go a little farther? Success should be based on how your body feels, or how your jeans fit, rather than what the heartless gadget tells you.
It is so like life. We push ourselves to fit into a perfect, pre-packaged category.
That’s not to say we can be lazy—it means we need to be honest. If you learn to listen to your body, then you will know when you are working hard and when you are just wimping out. Achieving honesty in training is one of the hardest things to do. It means overcoming your worst enemy—yourself.
Because marathon training is a program that requires a certain number of miles and minutes if you want to finish alive, the gadgets come in handy. And for professional athletes, a split second determines whether you win or lose.
But for most of us, there is a tendency to become too focused on the watch.
We find ourselves measuring a good workout not by how good we feel afterwards, but by a few random numbers.
But the numbers can’t calculate how late you were up the night before, tending to a crying baby. They can’t calculate the stress from work or school or home that has built up, or that feeling of utter freedom when you release it. Garmin or Timex or Salomon can’t calculate if your finger is broken; nor can it fit into its equation the sunrise or the deer on the hill that makes you pause for a moment to absorb the sheer tranquility of an early morning run.
For now, my Garmin is history: a deposed dictator banished to the bottom of my electronics basket, where it will keep company with a variety of rechargers, stray batteries and camera attachments.
But who knows? It may stage a daring coup d’état for the next marathon.