I know that the two or three of you who follow this space will be very relieved to see my first post in several months. Sorry, I have been busy.
Personally, professionally and in almost every other way, 2011 has been a very good year for me and I feel extremely blessed. One of the side effects of this is that I logged, by a fairly good margin, my lowest mileage total in over four years and ran way fewer races than I had expected--less than a handful really. That fact, which at one time would have caused immeasurable angst, does not faze me one bit.
I am pretty sure I wrote once that back before I really became a runner I always "stubbornly, and for no obvious reason, considered myself a runner, always owned a pair of running shoes and knew where they were in the back of my closet, just in case." That was at least twenty-five thousand miles ago. I guess you could say I am over having to ever reassure myself or anybody of the basic truth: I run because I am a runner.
My slide deeper toward hobbyjoggerhood and away from taking any competitive running goals very seriously also coincided with our little running crew, the RTC (Reading Track Club, so creative!) becoming firmly established. The core group (Mark, Chris, Dan and I) and our part time shower-uppers, (Mike, Marc, Patrick, Joe, et al.) have made Thirsty Thursday workouts followed by beers at Grumpy's into a genuine institution. We couldn't stop Thirsty Thursday now if we tried. The Sunday long runs with the group have become more regular as well. During the year plus of Showing Up nearly every Thursday evening and a lot of Sunday mornings, our little crew has experienced the full gamut that life has to offer: deaths, births, injury, illness, work stress, family drama, natural disasters and more. We took all of these things on shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes at a conversational pace and sometimes, well, not so much. We ran in the pitch dark and cold with sleet and snow pelting our faces, and in the life sucking humidity of mid summer. We climbed mountains (literally) and descended valleys. We raced some, ran lots and had a lot of laughs. We had a few blue bird days--like last night running in shorts under a starry sky the week of Christmas--but we also had a lot of days and nights where we just had to put our heads down, lean into the icy wind or sweltering heat and grind it out for no better reason that to feel alive and earn our beers.
I ran some number of miles with two of my daughters and my dog (not all at the same time, that's crazy talk) as well. I haven't had so many regular running buddies since high school track.
When I think back to some of my favorite accomplishments in the sport of running--running a 2:49 marathon for the first time probably being the highlight in terms of goals achieved and all that went into it--I am happy and proud, no matter how meaningless they are in the grand scheme. I still think often about the feeling I had at Mile 23 of the 2008 Baystate Marathon--feeling the over-arching pain start to cover me heavier and heavier like a shroud. The fear and dread hanging just above me but not yet touching me, knowing knowing that I would make it because I had earned it and drawing enough strength from that truth to actually carry it off. And then the feeling of actually doing it--running out the rest of what was in me, executing the perfect effort. Seeing those red numbers on the clock as I hurtled toward the finish. Hearing my family out of my left ear. The sights, the sounds of the stadium that day. The color of the sky. The smell of the chicken soup. I think about these things all the time--I let them wash over me and carry me through the hard days of life. Those things are mine forever.
I also cannot ignore how hard it was to get there, how many things had to go right, and how much sacrifice it took. And I honestly cannot say whether I will ever want to do it again. If not I will be totally okay with it. The single-minded determination it takes to really accomplish an aggressive goal in the sport of running is awesome and I will always admire the kindred spirits out there piling on the miles and workouts, often at the expense of a lot else that they hold dear. They know what I know and then some.
But I have also come to appreciate more fully everything else that running does to enrich my life and I have decided to enjoy those other things more. I plan to race more in 2012 than I did in 2011 and to care less. I plan to run as much (or as little) as I feel like, which most likely will still be "a lot."
Amby Burfoot once wrote: "A starting line is the best, most exciting place I can imagine. When I stand on one, I feel fully alive--scared, yes, but also energized, focused, and prepared for the big challenge ahead."
I like starting lines.