I have not written lately, but not for lack of things running through my mind. Indeed, writing about running, paddling, or nature seems unimportant most of the time. That’s not to say that those things are unimportant.
I decided to skip some races that were on my tentative list. Money spent on races can add up, but that wasn’t the main reason to miss them. The logistics of delaying work or trying to taper, likewise, was a factor, but not sufficient reason not to race. The fact that I am not all that ‘race ready’ in terms of fitness or pace training figured little. The main reason I did not want to race is that I wanted to be able to enjoy some trail runs without having to push myself the whole time that I might have the time to run while the sun is up.
Several weeks ago, I was hurrying home from a client’s house to run before sunset. Overhead, a huge spiral arm of clouds trailing the latest wave cyclone was making its way toward the east. It was a phenomenal set of clouds which held the promise of a spectacular sunset. I dashed into the house, changed into running gear, then debated whether to carry a camera as I ran. I had planned to squeeze in a good hill run session before dark, and since carrying the camera would be problematic, especially without locating the appropriate bag for strapping the camera to my body, I decided to run without a camera. Anyone who reads this blog can probably gather that I usually don’t run with a camera. Oh well, maybe some day I’ll take some pictures.
The cloud line had a silver lining. I’ve seen clouds with ‘silver’ linings before, but this one…words cannot describe. There was a distinct demarcation of cloud and clear sky, with huge bright light emerging from the clear side of the cloud line. The silver light wasn’t the sun, but a reflection of it, as if someone had placed a giant aluminum panel next to the clouds. The bright silver light was shaped like an eye, yet like sunrise over a huge body of water. As the clouds made their way east, they also crept south, not quite obscuring the sun, as if the sun were racing the clouds toward the western horizon. The lower the sun got, for a short time, the more colorful the clear half of the sky got, aquamarine near the silver lining; royal blue, then baby blue farther east; and peach fading to beige near the horizon. Overhead, the clouds were loosely connected like a jumbled stream of cotton candies in hues of lavender, ashes of rose, plum, and pewter. As the sun became broken up by trees on the horizon, the blue hues to the east became more subdued, darker, more gray. Meanwhile, a waxing moon had risen, backlighting the cottony clouds toward the east, which it touched with peach and slate colors.
The whole time these changes occurred, I had stopped running. I was standing in a grassy clearing where nothing obscured my view for a quarter-mile or so to the southwest. I watched the sun seem to head toward the hill I had planned to tackle over a half mile away. I decided not to worry about the hill, and not to race the next week. But then, as the colors of that sunset darkened, I realized that I could see the sunset to its end if I were atop the hill, so I ran toward it, watching the rapidly changing sky as I ran. I hardly looked at the ground at all, almost the way I had done a few years ago on a golf course with my eyes closed for forty seconds at a time. On top of the hill, I could see the last bit of sun, but clouds covered most of the sky, and colors were less saturated. I stood there for a number of minutes, in awe of what I had just seen. I reflected on my desire to hike and run in natural settings, coming to no great conclusions, with no brilliant insights, but with a renewed sense of how important the natural world is to me. Racing, while intense, does not carry such a sense of the whole universe.
Despite having decided not to race a few December races, I did manage to slip away from work for a few hours to watch the USATF Women’s Club Cross Country Championship. The masters race had just finished when I got there. I talked to a few friendly acquaintances, and saw familiar faces, whether from other races or web stuff. I talked to a local runner (Kevin Castille) who has recently broken at least four American records for the 40-44 age group (not updated on USATF.org), surprised to find that, even though he trains on trails regularly, he doesn’t really like cross-country, so he did not race. I watched the start, middle, and finish of the women’s race. The local team did fairly well, one racer finishing in seventh place a matter of months after having twins. All the while, although I was itching to run, I was thinking about that sunset I saw when I decided not to race.
The following evening, the local news had a story about a pedestrian who had been hit by a fire truck the night before. They identified her as one of the runners at Club Cross (Lauren Woodall Roady), and I knew exactly who they were talking about. I remember her finishing the race; her quick strides and hard effort to do her best. I remember wondering what ‘GRC’ stands for (Georgetown Running Club). Again, I recalled that sunset from a week before the race.
Some of my runs lately have not been on trails, but on grass next to a road. However, I have a renewed urge to run in the woods, away from traffic, not for safety reasons, but for aesthetic ones. I think of Castille running where I ran and hiked starting in high school, before I was a runner. If I’m concerned with racing performance, one need no better proof that simple mileage and tough hills on trails are an essential part of training. I am less concerned about performance, though. It’s a good thing, since I’m not performing all that well. I no longer can age-grade in the nineties, the way I could in short sprints when I was younger. I’m less good, the longer the race. I doubt I’ll be ready to train well for a pentathlon or kayakalon.
I want to be able to stop and watch wildlife, see the sunset or sunrise. I want to hike before I’m ready to run, or in the middle of a run. I want to let my thoughts wander. I know that I will still have the intense desire to race. I will enjoy racing. However, I wonder if I will train hard enough to race well. For now, though, I just want to find the means to bound through the woods, to paddle a stream, and to run on the beach. I don’t know what was the silver lining in those clouds, but I look to the horizon now more than ever.