Let me start by saying, I am not a runner. I do not own fancy sneakers, and the clothes I wear to run are pretty basic. I don’t exactly track my distance or my heart rate, I’ve never run a real marathon, and I wouldn’t know where to begin if I ever had to formally train for something.
I just like to run.
The Golden Hour
It’s 6pm, and the kids are wired. They’re running up and down the long stretch of wood floors within my kitchen, shooting each other with Nerf guns and crying because someone stole someone else’s superhero cape. Dinner needs about 3 more minutes, and I seriously consider giving my toddler a giant bowl of yogurt just to stop the screaming. Somehow, the house has gotten messy again, but I brush the thought aside and decide to focus on getting dinner on the table. My husband walks in, tired but happy to see us, and we sit down to eat. I had texted him a few hours earlier to see if he’d mind if I ducked out of the dinner hour to squeeze in a run. He graciously accepted, so we work to get all the kids’ food plated, and after a few small bites, I’m out the door.
The moment the front door shuts behind me, I notice the contrast in noise level. Don’t get me wrong, I love that my kids are loud and silly, but after 12 hours of constant noise that’s just a few decibals higher than my liking, I welcome the silence. I begin jogging from the driveway, crossing the street and heading towards the park. I weave through some suburbia and cross a busy street. I can hear birds in the distance, tweeting as if to celebrate this glorious time of day. Before long, the view of the mountains emerge to my left. The sun is low in the sky, casting streaks across it that resemble pools of melted sherbet. The mountains sit triumphantly, as if they’ve waited all day to be adorned in this majestic way, sprawled widely across the range. A thin layer of clouds dance across them, glowing with sunlight that peeks through.
The sound of my sneakers slapping against pavement abruptly changes as my foot lands on the soft dirt trail. The path is narrow but clear, framed on either side with a wall of tall grass. I breathe in the dry, mountain air, savoring the quiet, undemanding nature of this humble path. It doesn’t mind that I don’t own official “running clothes” and that it’s seen these same sneakers for at least 5 years. It asks nothing of me, simply that I follow its curves and bends, dipping low through a row of trees and higher through a blanket of fallen twigs. I listen to the sound of my own breathing, which has quickened significantly. I force my breathing to slow, feel my heart pumping, and smile at the thought of being alive. I’m tempted to stop for a break, but tell myself I can take a break if I can make it to the fat little bush that sits just ahead. The bush comes and goes and I decide I can go further.
I don’t own a Fitbit or an Apple watch, and I don’t usually run with my phone. A part of me longs for a thought provoking podcast or perhaps some upbeat music to be pounding in my ears. My brain wants to keep going, to keep planning, keep deciding, keep imagining. But for this small, tiny piece of the day, I tell it to pause. I don’t know the exact distance I’m running or the number of steps I’m taking, and I don’t need to know. I force myself to hear the silence, the rhythm of my own breathing, the faint sound of my heart pumping. I’m alive, I’m strong, and I can do this. I imagine oxygen pulsing through my body, allowing adrenaline to push me further.
A steep hill looms just up ahead, and I talk myself out of walking. I think of my leg muscles and allow myself to imagine they’re stronger than they actually are. I imagine that throughout this mostly level run, they’ve been quietly filling their storehouses with the power and force I’ll need to get to the top. I quicken my pace and begin up the hill, envisioning a surge of strength running through my entire body. I want to stop running upon immediate arrival at the top of the hill. My lungs are on the verge of explosion, and I’m suddenly aware of how many layers I’m wearing. I’m back on pavement, and it seems impossible to make it up yet another incline, this time made of cement. I slow my pace, and tell myself if I still need a break at the fire hydrant about 20 feet away, I can take one. The level ground comes finally, and I welcome the change. The fire hydrant comes and goes, and I realize that I didn’t need to stop there, like I did last time.
For the last stretch, I slow to a walk and wipe the sweat off my brow. I allow the feeling of accomplishment to come over me. I don’t need to compare my time or my distance to anyone else’s, because I know that my goal was met. I’m sure many others could have run faster or farther, and that’s ok with me. I focus on the fact that today, I’m just a little bit stronger than I was yesterday.