This is actually from last February, but I never posted it.
The weather lies… oh, it lies.
I walk down the driveway and hit the asphalt running, heading toward the dirt roads I plan to run on. They form a lattice, a grid of road handy for running. The air is surprisingly warm on my skin and I am glad I left my gloves sitting on my floor. It must be nearly forty degrees – unheard of for February. And this sun – what’s it doing out? Shouldn’t it be ducked behind a heavy curtain of unforgiving grey? But the sun is out and if you close your eyes and imagine, it could be the brink of spring, the grass about to paint the world green and the blooms about to spill a myriad of colors, tumbling forth from their gardens and flowerbeds. I will imagine.
After a minute I reach the dirt and turn right, skitting over a brown icy patch. As I approach the first hill, rising up between the frozen marshes at its flanks, I breathe in deep the deliciously icy air and look up. The sky is blue and the sun is shining; spilling whitish-yellow light over a landscape that would otherwise be dull and dead, devoid of exuberance. The dead trees, brown and spindly, reach creakily and penetrate the blue, but it isn’t dark. They are merely silhouetted, adding depth and value to an otherwise unblemished stark blue canvas.
I begin to feel the slight change in elevation that increases as I race forward – I am running a little too fast, perhaps, but it’s ok. I push myself up the hill and allow myself a little smile of satisfaction – reaching the top of a hill, this hill in particular, always fills me with a wonderful sunny sensation. I continue on, up the next two hills and turning onto the second dirt road. I am almost two miles into my run and haven’t run outside in some time – I am, admittedly, somewhat of a wimp when it comes to cold-weather running. I confine myself to the treadmill and take advantage of glorious days such as this when they present themselves.
Another small hill: I power up and feel myself tire slightly, but roll my heel and stretch and my stride and carry on. The trees lining the road begin to thin out, exposing the crisp sky again. A cornfield stretches into view as I reach the intersection; before I make the turn I glance to the right, scanning up the road. My eye automatically travels along with white fences, and I notice how sharp everything looks in the sunlight.
I make the turn, running into the wide shoulder. My foot sinks into a few inches of mud rather than the expected slate of frozen grit. After minimal slippage, I slop my foot from the mess and carry on on the cracked asphalt. The last few remnants of subdivision living grow distant behind me and soon I am flanked by fences and fields; the asphalt crackles out into a gravelly road. No cars whiz by any more, stirring up unwanted eddies of dust and flinging bits of rock at me. I run on in peace; the only distraction comes from my own doing: I spit and it backfires. I wipe most of it off but some stick stubbornly to my face. I shrug and laugh a little at myself; such is the life of a runner.
I’m almost to the trail now – I see the orange and red sign denoting its nearness. I catch myself wandering in my thoughts – composing this, no less – and force my mind to focus on the task at hand. My stride lengthens and my heel contacts the ground more smoothly and by the time I round the corner and onto the trail I have sped up.
I hit mud again; this time it is a dark mix of black dirt and white snow, creating a mix that rather resembles cookies and cream ice cream. For the first few meters I attempt to avoid the cold watery patches, but my foot betrays me and sinks in and after that, I give up. I spit once more and it arcs cleanly off to the side, as it usually does. I’m in the zone now with only a mile or so to go. I pick up the pace again, quite consciously this time, and before I know it I’m at the bridge, looking down to the left at the partially frozen stream. A ribbon of cold coppery-blue water runs between and under the shelves of frozen white snow that line the streambed and I watch my long shadow move across the brambles.
With a creaking push I leave the bridge and am quickly turning onto the last dirt road of my run; not long now. I see the final hill and run faster still. My breathing comes harder and faster now, but it doesn’t matter – I can expend all my energy, I’ll be done soon and won’t need it. I stare straight ahead and up as I feel the hill beneath my feet but don’t let my mind settle on the matter – the hill will beat you if you think about it; it’s not steep, but it is a long hill to have at the end of your run.
I fairly leap over the small icy ditch that has formed over the years between the dirt road and the asphalt of the subdivision roads. Only a few hundred meters now – I can see my house. The road bends a little and I begin to sprint, really sprint, and soon I’m at my block and the driveway is just there – I break into a full headlong sprint and stride in, arms pumping and breathing like a pump. As I round the last bend I see that my mom has just gotten home from teaching; she stands now in the driveway, watching me, and I feel her proud approval from the distance.
The driveway is a mere hundred meters away now and I am closing in on it fast. I’m in a race – there is no question as to that. I straighten my back and stretch my legs to their limit. My fingers tingle. My heart races. My feet pound.
Then I’m at the line and that breaks the spell; I slowly jog out of my stride and circle slowly back and forth in front of my house. My legs ache with that wonderful tired feeling of physical exertion and I begin to steady my breathing. Eventually I stand on the rounded curb, stretching my calves and hamstrings, and rest my hands on my hips and spit in the driveway. I look up and my mom calls, “Nice finish.” I issue a noncommittal grunt of acknowledgement; my brain hasn’t returned to normal functioning yet. It’s still in running mode.