Ambient light made the high school track a bit less scary on the early fall Saturday morning. There by myself to complete my speed workout of the week, the plan was to get it done (a) before I had to go to work on a busy college-sports weekend and (b) before any high school teams arrived to use the facility.
It was just me and a flock of crows who were making more than enough noise in the bleachers to make me wonder if there weren’t people lurking under there. The crows got a bit rowdier when a flock of geese arrived nearby, immediately bringing visions of an avian version of West Side Story. I started singing “Tonight” in my head. Which was beneficial because the 800-meter repeats were slowly killing me.
My speed work of the week had been delayed as my coach wanted me to recover completely from the off-road challenge of Jensen Stables the previous weekend. I had some lingering soreness in my right quad and IT band and while I felt like a wimp, I knew to trust my coach. I knew that a few days of easy running would keep me injury free. I knew that I was gaining through recovery and reminded myself of that repeatedly.
My reward were six-800 meter repeats at a quick clip, but I hit every single one of them. Granted, I started to push back the puke factor as early as No. 3, but the satisfaction of completing them all in the prescribed pace made the rest of the day go that much better.
Continuing on this theme of trust, I kept my Garmin with a distance-only screen for my long run on Sunday. That run? Ridiculously easy. I made it my job to enjoy the morning and watch the sunrise dance off the colorful autumn leaves. The run was slow, but then again, it was supposed to be. Because while racing and improving and challenging myself are part of this whole athletic identity I’ve created for myself, it’s important to remember why it is I run.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, the competition has amazing components both as I try to pick off people in a race and merely compete against myself or the clock. I’ve learned amazing things about myself, about who I am and what I want, through racing.
But the challenge isn’t always about winning, even in its many wonderful and varied definitions.
Most importantly, there’s the joy.
I love running and cycling and swimming. I love the feel of my body moving, the clarity of mind it brings, the exhilaration and exhaustion which come from a workout well attempted. There is a freedom in the doing. There is power in trying. There is a connection I make with myself and the world which comes, for me, uniquely through physical activity.
For others, the same can be said for music or dance or art or literature or cooking or collecting stamps.
It’s what brings joy.
The numbers, as my friends Sue and Jeff remind me, are for my amusement. They are markers to make the game interesting. But they are not the only reason for the game.
Keeping that connection to what I love helps me not only enjoy my workouts, it helps me find pleasurable moments in those other areas of life which get hard or boring or challenging. On those days when I’m just not in the mood, the connection to joy gets me through the rough patches, making them seem not so bad after all.
The connection to joy leads me to gratitude.
And even in my most stubborn state, the list of what I’m grateful for is infinitely long.