On Saturday I bade farewell to a couple of friends that have seen me through some hard times and an incredible period of growth. I knew the end had been coming about a month ago and had planned for this day.
When the day dawned I looked at them and knew it would be the day, but really hadn't given much thought, they were after all just running shoes, yet another pair of dozens that I have worn out over the year, at the end of the run they would be consigned to the trash.
As I ran my planned 10 miles, as usual my long runs covering the trails near my house I began to think about it. The pair before this took me from being more out of shape that I really thought I was up to 'fit'. I had reached my target goal weight back in March at about the time I got this pair, this pair have taken me from 'fit' to what ?...until I realized I've come to think of myself now as an athlete rather than someone who works out, a slow and insidious process. Though I have made bounds in the weight room and on the bike, it is running that has given me the most pride.
I've not sweated it, the frustrations of last year simply were shed, just focusing in the first three months of this year on simple 40-60 minute runs, forgetting about the pace and just building a base with an interval session per week.
The last three months though have seen my long runs stretch from 5-6 miles to 13-15, with a 10 mile now feeling fairly easy, my tempo runs have slowly increased in speed, and intervals, I have moved beyond my self imposed mental limits and am able to push myself further and faster than before.
As I ran, I thought about this progress, along the narrow trails, meadows, then single track between trees, and fern lined valleys, the almost arid hill top with the wild flowers and the wide stream crossing. I first ran these trails in this pair of shoes, wondering at the time if I would ever break that barrier and be able to go longer. These shoes have been out in the heat, the rain and were invariably covered in mud, living on their newspaper just inside the front door, not fit to come any further into the house.
I thought of the breakthrough runs, the first time I had broken 10 miles in more years than I can remember, that run going for 12 miles in the drizzling rain. I thought of the shorter run after one of our many storms this spring, with the enormous tree which had been brought down, the trunk taller than me as I clambered over it. The runs in the heat where walking through the water to cross the stream the cool chill being welcome.
On this day I didn't avoid the mud bogs or puddles, but simply went through them, a tribute to these friends at my feet, enjoying the feeling of being in the woods, long ago shutting off my iPod to listen to the birds and rustle of leaves and undergrowth, punctuated by the regular rhythm of my footfalls.
About half a mile from the finish, instead of crossing the wooden bridge I stepped into the small stream, letting the water wash away the mud from the shoes in a subconscious burial practice, a ritual cleansing before death.
When I got home I looked at them in my trunk and couldn't bear to throw them out just yet, so for now they are carefully tucked away in the back of my closet, thinking that taking them to Deep Creek in September would be a much more fitting tribute, to a race that would not have been possible without the training that I did the last 4 months.