Monday, February 23, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

When the alarm went off at 4:00AM this morning, I was unaware of the current weather conditions outside. And that’s probably a good thing, for had I known, I likely would have opted for the extra hour of sleep.  But until I went downstairs, I didn’t know it was raining, and until I turned on the TV, I didn’t know it was 37 degrees outside the warmth of my house.  37 and raining.  I assure you that at 37 degrees, it is a cold rain indeed.  Why would anyone in their right mind go out in that?  Especially an old aging runner who struggles to run a mile at a 10 minute pace.

So I dallied and dawdled, hoping the rain would move out before it was time to run, and as I waited with no positive effect,  it got later and later.  And the rain kept on falling.  While I went through by pre-run motions,  I started thinking of all kinds of reasons to retreat back to the bedroom and avoid the discomfort of this cold rainy darkness.  Surely, even running in the snow would be better.  A bone chilling cold without the accompanying wetness would be better.  Crawling back into a nice warm bed with and cuddling up to my wife would be way better.  But this combination of comfort threats was looming as very unattractive.

About 55 minutes after my alarm first went off, the moment of truth arrived.  It was truly either now or not today.  Thanks to my lingering, my maximum run had already been cut to 3 miles, as I need to be back in the house by 5:30 to start my “real” day, the one I live for others.  But the morning run is my sacred time; my moment of real truth, and in reality, that, more than anything, is what drives me to do it.

Yes, I have running-related goals.  My current long term one is the Grand Rapids Marathon, and training is not just an element of success, but a requirement.  At the time I am writing this, the race is still 236 days, 21 hours, 2 minutes, and 33 seconds away (assuming it starts right on time) That’s still a long time away, so how important is a three mile run on a cold wet morning today?  I mean really?

Even as I moved towards the front door, opened it, felt the wet chill in my face, and pulled the door closed behind me, I took three steps out and as many steps back, opened the door and stepped back in for a few seconds, still arguing with myself.  That’s how close I came to nixing the run.  But something pushed me out again, and it was finally “Game On.”   In all honesty, as I started down the street, I was still wondering if I was dedicated, crazy or something else? Why the hell am I out there, doing a relatively insignificant three miles on a day I wouldn’t send a dog out in?

But as I continued the run (at a slightly quicker than usual pace) the doubt slowly melted, and the insignificance of the run changed to clarity, even in a foggy rain.  Running can be inspiring, but not every run is inspired.  Running can get routine, and sometimes, that routine needs a little shaking up. There is not much better than a cold rain in the early morning darkness to do just that.

My mind started to wander as I observed, even literally, that even a dog would not be out in predawn cold rain like this.  Most mornings, there is at least that sign of life.  I’m usually earlier than most other runners in my neighborhood, but this morning’s silence even encompassed the four legged variety.  The dog “regulars” were not being walked, most likely because their two-legged companions did not want to go there with them.  I was definitely on a road not taken by anyone else at this time on this day.  And I was feeling an overwhelming satisfaction in having this road all to myself.

Before I knew it, the run was over, and I realized that the misery that my mind had imagined before I started never developed.  In fact, it ended up being a more enjoyable run than many.  The cold rain had faded into the background, even though it never let up for the 30 minutes I was out playing in it.  But lost in thought, I had forgotten about it all together.  The main evidence that the rain continued during my run was not the perpetual discomfort, because it had been replaced by contentment.  The evidence was contained in my shoes and clothes, heavy and soaked. 

During my run, I was reminded of a poem by one of my more favorite poets growing up, Robert Frost. In his poem The Road Not Taken, he wrote
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I mused back to an hour earlier, facing that fork in the road, the one between closing the front door in front of me and going back to bed, or closing it behind me and taking the road less traveled, at least this day. Will today’s run make me a better runner in the long run?  Not likely.  Was it important for me to not skip today’s run as I prepare for a marathon nearly eight months from now.  I haven’t even started training for it yet, so again, the answer is no.   But the real question is, did this morning’s run contribute to making me a better person today?  To that question, my answer is a resounding yes!  On a gloomy, cold dark morning, I took the road less traveled by, and today, that has made all the difference.   

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