On Saturday afternoon I went to my favorite trail to complete my long. A benefit of spring’s delayed arrival is that waiting until 2 in the afternoon to head out for a long won’t cause heat stroke. My mom dropped me off at the entrance to the state park and off I went.
I really dislike carrying my own fluids – a handheld water bottle makes me feel off balance and when I use a fuel belt I feel like the straps are constantly flailing around. Complaining was useless as I knew I needed to carry water, so I strapped on the fuel belt and went on my way.
The experience was just as irritating as I remembered and I ran along grumpily for the first twenty minutes or so. By that point I was well into the park and several minutes passed between the time I saw one person and the next. I tried to make a mental list of the benefits of carrying a water bottle. I could run longer. I could run wherever I wanted without having to think about where I might find a water fountain. I could have water whenever I wanted it. My thinking started to shift and I was reminded of a similar feeling I had last summer when I was on the road quite a bit and became so sick of dragging around my luggage until one day when I had the realization that I was quite literally holding all the things that I needed to live for weeks and weeks and I could carry them all by myself (even if it was a real pain to lift them into the overhead bin of an airplane). This was a freeing thought and suddenly the dread of lugging a suitcase around was replaced with gratitude for the freedom and movement that carrying this load allowed.
Once I stopped mentally complaining about the fuel belt, I started looking around and remembering all the reasons I love this trail. This is the trail where I logged most of the training miles for my first marathon.
I thought about how I learned how to be a runner on this trail. Here I learned how to hydrate during high mileage runs. I learned how to take care of my body as I requested that it run 20 miles. I learned that it is foolish to dodge mud puddles, as you are inevitably going to end up with wet feet and attempting to maneuver around them will only tack on an extra half mile to your 17 mile run. I learned how to listen to my body and how to differentiate between wanting to quit and respecting my body enough to stop. I learned (and loved) to exchange the runner’s hello, the wave or nod given to a passing runner.
And then, my mind grew quiet. As the internal noise hushed, I became more and more aware of the trail itself – of the pine needles and mud and roots that form the path. I thought about who I was during those first miles of marathon training on the trail. Eager but unsure of myself, simply trying to navigate from one water stop to the next. I thought about how many miles I’d run since then and how glad I was that those miles had brought me back to the very same trail. This time with water bottle in tow, running through puddles, grateful for each of the miles collected along this trail.