Last Friday, I ran 20 miles on the trails at Wissahickon Park. This was HUGE. I finally feel confident that I will finish my two big races in April and May. Something about reaching the 20 mile mark makes everything seem within grasp, whether it's a training run or during a race.
I thought a lot during this run. When I tell people I run for hours at a time by choice, usually the first question they ask is, "don't you get bored?" Or, "what do you think about for that long?" Most of the time, I don't think about much at all. On good runs, I'm focused on the trail or road ahead of me, zoned out into that blissful place runner's love to go in their minds. Other times, I'm thinking about how I'd rather be home on the couch with my dog and a blanket watching a rom-com instead of trudging through sleet/freezing rain/wintry mix... and WHY IS IT NOT SPRING YET?! But let's be serious, most of the time I'm just like:
I obviously was not too focused on the trail during Friday's run, since I fell a record 3 times. Coincidentally, that matches the number of glasses of Malbec I drank at dinner the night before.
My left hand has seen better days...
Early on, I thought about why I was out there running through the woods in the first place. My question was coming from a positive place in my mind, unlike this run from February. My mind jumped to the first few runs I had in the woods, almost 4 years ago on those same exact trails. In those days, I ran to feel air bursting through my lungs on the hills, instead of resenting the pain they caused my muscles. I ran to experience the exhilarating rush of scrambling down a rocky slope instead of fearing another trip and fall (see above photo evidence of clutziness.) I didn't feel guilty about stopping to take in the sights and sounds of the woods. But most of all, I ran to find and explore new places.
I feel an indescribable euphoria when running on new trails, or even through a new city. Somehow, I feel like I'm the first person discovering this new place, even though thousands have tread before me. Therefore, on Friday's run I decided to be a living cliche and take "the one less traveled" where ever I had the chance. Every time I came to a fork in the trail, I chose the one I normally don't run.
Spoiler alert, both of those paths led nowhere :/
My new outlook presented a challenging, yet exciting run, during which I discovered lots of new trails. I ended up running out to Carpenter's Woods, which is an extension of Wissahickon Park, but smaller and more pedestrian friendly.
I had always considered running out there, but never felt up to it because of mileage or time restrictions. I realized I was only imposing these restrictions on myself, mostly because I feared the unknown, or getting lost, or tougher trails. I quickly realized that no matter how far I ran out there, I could circle back easily with plenty of time to get back on the main trail.
On the back half of this kick-ass run, I briefly stopped in one of my favorite areas in the park to sip some water, and looked around at my human-free surroundings. I suddenly and unexpectedly knew the answers to the questions I had a few weeks ago on a tough long run (from 2/25/13:)
I asked myself why? Why am I running? Why do I think I have what it takes to go beyond the marathon? Why should the girl who always hated running until 5 years ago become an ultrarunner?
As I stood there breathing deeply and taking in the crisp, late winter air that promised a coming spring, I realized I had become part of something bigger than myself. I have gained a new identity through running, one that has inspired positive changes in my life I could have never predicted. Yet, at that moment in the woods, I understood that no matter how many miles I ran or how long it took me to run them, these woods would still be here, and there would still be people running them for years to come. I run because I feel like the truest version of myself when I am running in nature. Through the past 4 years of soul searching and self growth, I had been looking for something that was here all along in the woods.