Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Run-Down

This has been a rather hectic, unstructured, running- literally- in every direction, sort of Summer.  I will not attempt to re-construct the entire past several months now, but merely share the highlights.  I may even miss some of those.  Here's one aspect of my summer...

Last spring when I resumed my running I must have felt awfully good about it.  In a flush of optimistic confidence I registered for not one, but two fall races.  While one of those races was a repeat of last year's half-marathon, the second race was a full marathon.  (Yeah, like I said, I must have been feeling pretty good...)  Training with any regularity was difficult during the school year- and especially last May when we ended up in a hurry-scurry of events and commitments that had us all over the map, from Hyde Park, NY to southwestern Virginia, (another story entirely).

Once summer really began, however, I was able to get outside for regular runs most mornings.  Once Isaac's summertime cross country training began my routine became even easier to keep.  I'd drive Isaac in to the school for practice by 7 am every weekday, and then go to a nearby park for my own run.  Sometimes I'd even see the team out in the same park.  Summer being as warm as it was, it was nice to have my run finished before the day actually began, while it was still - relatively - cooler.

Saturdays I joined the group from A Running Start at nearby park trails for longer runs.  The encouragement and camaraderie were priceless as I reached for higher and higher mileage each week.  One week when one of the regular long-run leaders was to be absent, the organizer of the weekly run asked me if I would be able to "lead" the long group!  For several weeks I 'led", (from behind, most often) the group running the longer distances.  Eventually I managed to pull out 15 miles which included two different trail systems and an extra mile up into a wooded hillside park.  Another week one of the women from the group met me an hour early to run the first 6 of 18 miles; just so I wouldn't be out there alone.  That was a tough, but blessed morning.

Team Nick!
Wednesday evenings, mid-way into summer, I began joining a group at a local track for speed and tempo workouts with a trainer.  There's more to running than just putting in time, and going to these workouts taught me some of the more technical  aspects of training.  I also learned that I am tougher than I believed.  I'm still slow, mind you, but the encouragement at these sessions, being treated with dignity, even though I'm merely me, was also priceless.  Several mental hurdles were cast away at these sessions and I'm a stronger runner for them.

Early in August I got a message from a friend inviting me to a very unique run.  Once a month, under the full moon, a running club in Lancaster County goes for a run together in the moonlight.  What's so unique?  The runners are Amish and Mennonite.  Having read about this group in Runner's World magazine I jumped at the chance to join one of the moonlight runs.  Jim and Erin also came to run, Erin having recently returned home from Virginia, (which is another story).  We arrived at the appointed location, an Amish farmhouse right at the edge of town in Ronks, PA.  Sure enough, the young Amish man sitting outside with his father was hosting the run that evening and we were warmly welcomed.  As others arrived, eventually 37 altogether, we met a mixed group of Amish- in traditional dress- and Mennonites- in more modern running garb.  Everyone was so friendly.  The Amish men changed their traditional shirts for race shirts and they wore running shoes, but otherwise they wore the same black pants with suspenders that they always wear.

Once introductions were made, reflective vests and headlamps were donned, the route was clarified, and we were off.  Erin and I ran with the shorter-distance group, only 5 miles, while Jim ran with the longer-distance group, going for 10 miles.  We began running down a farm lane that led to a back-country road which wound through farm fields.  We passed a peach orchard; standing corn and other crops; pastures of cows, horses, mules, goats; and even llamas and alpacas.  I found myself running alone for some of the distance once the ten-mile group pulled ahead (they were pretty fast).  The sun dipped below the horizon and the moon took her place as the 5-mile route took a turn down an unfinished road, removing us from any possible traffic.  Erin and her running partner, Lillian, a sweet but quiet Amish girl, (Yes, in her dress, apron and cap) caught up to me.  We were soon joined by another new guest, Chris, running barefoot, who happily supplied the conversation.

Once we found our way back to the farmhouse, with the now-darkened yard illuminated by a couple of lamps, we were treated to homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.  I know there were other snacks available, but, O, the homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream!  Sitting at the picnic table we visited with Ivan,  who shared that he ran his first 5K at the Bird-in-Hand running weekend last year.  "Your husband Jim tells me you're from Berks County," says Ivan.  "I ran the Ugly Mudder near Reading last March.  It was a lot of fun."  (Seriously, I can't make this stuff up!)  We left with the promise of seeing the group at the next full moon, predicted to be at the end of August, a week before the Bird-in-Hand half-marathon, at which we'll also see many of our new running buddies.

Homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream!

I learned a lot about myself this summer.  I learned that I really like having a disciplined routine, but I need the extra bit of encouragement of some outside accountability to keep it up.  I learned that I don't need to be the best at something in order to enjoy doing it anyway.  I learned that "gutting it out" on the tough days makes the opportunities for "fun runs" more possible.

I also learned that I am not defined by what I do.  Running is an enjoyable and rewarding activity, but it's not who I am.  Running gives me the opportunity to go be who I am in new and different places and with new and different people with whom I may not have anything else in common.  It's a way to enjoy people and places and blessings in a new and fresh way.  And running allows me to enjoy a late-night snack of  homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream guilt-free!

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