running longer and stronger

Spring has sprung in Virginia and the longer days give me a chance to get outside to exercise after I leave school. I’m still running, trying to get to 4 miles at a 10 minute per mile pace. Monday evening my friend Catherine and I  tackled a four mile route in her neighborhood. There was pavement. There were hills. It was warm. And I was tired. It wasn’t just a Monday, it was the first day back after a week of vacation.

We walked to the bottom of Catherine’s  steep driveway and turned up the road toward her neighbor’s mailbox. And then we started to run. Uphill. My left knee protested almost immediately. My thighs ached from the three miles I’d run the day before with my daughter. Catherine and I talked as we set out, catching up about our work days and children, but all I wanted to do was stop. Stop running and stop talking. I wanted to say, “This feels awful. My lungs are burning. My calves are tired already. I can’t today.” But I didn’t. I set small goals and began playing little counting games in my head. I concentrated on our conversation.

We made it to the top of the hill, and I was grateful for a flat stretch. My legs continued being skeptical though.  “Just keep going,” I thought.  “C’mon, you can do it,” said Catherine, sensing my sluggishness.  We changed subjects, our conversation punctuated by an occasional laugh, and my heavy breathing.

A brief downhill felt amazing. We’d gone over a mile and my legs loosened ever so slightly. I think they were resigning themselves to the reality of the run. I wasn’t going to quit.

Another hill. I thought about turning back. But then I could see the two mile mark. We turned to continue the second half of the run. I admitted that I felt better. My stride lengthened and my breathing evened out. The burning subsided. I felt grateful for every inch of the long downhill.

And then we took a left. The road went straight up. “Really? We are going to run all the way to the top?” I asked. “Yes- you can do it. C’mon.” Catherine responded. I focused on the scenery. I counted to 100, but that only got me half way to the top. We chatted about a renovation in process and looked towards the pond beyond the houses on the right. Finally, we crested the hill. Every inch of me was tired. But we were close to the end. Just one more downhill and a brief flat stretch before we were back to our starting spot.

“Almost there,” I thought, looking ahead. No more hills. Only a little more pavement. It was warm. It was a Monday. I was tired. But I did it.

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