Two miles in my head

The other day someone asked, “Do you actually LIKE running now?  I mean, while you’re actually doing it?  Or do you just do it for the results?”

I had to pause when thinking how to answer her, because the answer really is yes.  And no. And sometimes both at the same time. To explain a little more here’s the rambling that went through my head on a recent run.

The other evening I set out for a two mile run on my favorite ditch bank route just before 9 PM.  The sun was getting low in the sky and the temperature was in the high 60’s, much cooler than a few hours earlier. Since I hadn’t run in two days, I felt cheerful and eager to get going and see what I could do. I turned on my stopwatch as I left the driveway, and started walking.  Sometimes I’m impatient and just start running straight out of my driveway, but I really think it’s easier on my body to walk a quarter mile or so first to warm up.

As I walked I was thinking about my legs.  How are my shins?  OK I think.  But the knees, they’re maybe a bit achy tonight? When I walk briskly, do I hyper-extend my knees?  Land too hard on my heels?

I’m also thinking, c’mon already.  Let’s run. But I wait.  In 4 minutes or so, I’ve gone 0.3 miles and got to the end of our road.  Breaking into a jog, I cross the road to the ditch bank path where I usually run.

The cinder-covered path runs between knee-high ferny-green ‘seed’ carrots, and waist-high wheat just getting tinged with yellow at the edges of the field.   Sometimes there’s water in the irrigation ditches but not tonight.  Maybe the mosquitoes won’t be too bad, I think hopefully, since I forgot my mosquito spray.  The other night I got eaten alive.

I pick up the pace a little, then remind myself to keep it mellow, no hurry.  I’m creaky, feeling aches in my shins and knees.  Was my one day of rest was enough recovery from my Wednesday run?  Always I want to challenge myself but not injure myself in the process.  A tough balance.  When I err, I tend to do it on the side of over-doing it. So tonight I’m telling myself to chill, even as I’m trying to convince myself that the aches are just warm-up aches, not injury aches.  I’m not breathing hard yet, but I’m definitely working, fighting the aches and pains.

Half a mile into my 2 miles I’m around 6 minutes for time, OK considering I walked more than half of that. The warmer I get, the more the little twinges in my legs subside, fade away.  ‘Quick, light steps’ I tell myself.  I’m also thinking about a slight forward tilt, engaging my core, and landing with each foot directly under my body  (‘like posts’ per ChiRunning) instead of stretching forward and landing my foot in front of my center of gravity.  It sounds like a lot of intellectualizing, but at the moment it’s all working.  I’m glad for a song on my Zune that is lively and comes close to matching the pace I want to keep.

Around the 3/4 mile mark my breathing is getting harder but is comfortably rhythmic– two steps for every in-breath, two steps for every out.   I pass various markers- a crook in the ditch–then a break in the field where wheat switches to alfalfa– then a fence where I’m running past cows. The one-mile mark is approaching more briskly than usual– a good sign. I avoid looking at my watch and just focus on the one mile mark.  I feel a tickle on the inside of my elbow and swat at the ‘mosquito’.  Nope, it’s a trickle of sweat.  I smile.  I used to avoid sweat at all cost.  Somehow in the last year it has come to actually please me, a sign I’m working.

When I get to the end of the farmer’s ditch path and reach the asphalt road where I turn around, I check my time.  5:30 for the second 1/2-mile– good for me. I assess my shins– tired.  Don’t want to overdo and make those shin splints come back. I click the stopwatch off and take 30 seconds to stretch my lower legs before heading home.

The first half-mile back towards home feels great.  Everything is warm.  No aches, no pains.  I’m breathing like I’m working, but everything is flowing, feeling good.  I think the pause to stretch was a good thing.  I stride a bit longer while still thinking ‘quick feet’ and ‘posts’.  When running feels this good it is pure fun. I’ll slow down later, but at the moment I have energy to burn.  A peek at the stopwatch says I did that third 1/2-mile segment in 4:30.  I’m pleased.  That’s as fast as I’ve ever done.

The last half mile I’m slowing, but I keep pushing.  The setting sun blazes hot against my back. The last quarter mile, I’m counting telephone poles, feeling sweat trickling down my forehead thinking, just one more telephone pole, one more mailbox, one more pothole. It’s no fun. I want to quit and walk, but I push the thought away and grit through.  Just keep going. The last 3oo feet to my mailbox is uphill.  I finish with my best attempt at a sprint, puffing like a freight train, refusing to slow til I get past the mailbox.  I used to feel self-conscious about the sight I must make, puffing red-faced to my front door.   But I am used to it by now and my neighbors probably are too.

I shut off the stopwatch and figure my pace:  somewhere around 9:45/mile for the portion that I ran. One of these days I hope to hold that pace for a longer run.  But this was a good run for me, no question.

Running is fun.  And hard.  And fun.  In fact, at the end of the day it’s one of the things I’m gladdest that I took time to do.


  1. I read ChiRunning on your recommendation and I have to say it’s been fantastic for my walking. I was having terrible shin splints when I first started walking. Then I read the book. I started walking more consciously, checking with my posture, engaging my core, finding that tilt, and most of all relaxing. It’s amazing but I was suddenly walking faster and without pain! There is a ChiRunning instructor in my town and I am thinking about going to her when I start my 5K training in mid-August.

    Great post!

  2. christy says:

    That is kinda how I feel about my running. I miss when I don’t but not always happy about it when I do. I put the Chi running book on reserve from the library and then forgot to go get it. But I have been looking on the website and enjoying that.

    Can’t wait to do my first 5k run,

    • christy says:

      BTW I am jealous of your temps. I get up and run at 6 and it is usually already near 80. Even in the evenings it isn’t getting lower than about 75. The days have been over a hundred for about 2 weeks now.

  3. Dear Mary,
    I thought of you today as I ran for the first time in 20 years. Run a little, walk a lot, run a little, walk a lot. thanks for the inspiration!