Wildflowers on the uncut hillside were basking in the slanting rays of the morning sun as billowy clouds meandered across the bluest of skies. A Mockingbird on the wires overhead sang his morning ballad. This was my reward as I climbed the small hill at the far end of Thursday morning's run. Some folks I know carry a phone with a camera in order to snap an occasional photo when they run, but nothing would capture this scene, complete with the song of the Mocker and the feelings of exhilaration and lightness which rose in my heart as I experienced this gift of beauty. Thursday morning I was given the gift of a glimpse of perfect beauty.
I've started a new training plan with my running, aiming for a half-marathon. For the first time since I used the Couch to 5K program I am running by time and not distance. For each workout I have a time goal, so instead of going out for 3 miles I might be going for 30 minutes instead. This has me looking at my watch rather differently. Saturdays are my "long run" days, and last week being my first, on Saturday morning, according to the plan, I was supposed to run for 60 minutes, which for me is generally 6 miles, but it's been a long time since I've run either that long or that far.
It turned out to be a very warm and very steamy morning. By "very warm and very steamy" I mean, really warm, downright hot, and so humid that the heavy fog which drifted above the river when we arrived at 7 A.M. for our run was still there when I finished at 8. Four of the runners in our Saturday morning group met early to begin with a couple of miles before the rest of the group arrived at 7:30. By the time we returned to the parking lot to join the rest of the group I was dripping with sweat from head to toe and felt as if I'd jumped into a swimming pool. A hot swimming pool. Okay, a Jacuzzi. I still had 3.5 miles to go, or rather, 35-ish minutes, so I re-started my watch as we left the parking lot.
(This really does relate to my opener about the perfect morning— I'm getting there.)
Once I was 20 minutes out on the trail I turned around, figuring that I'd have a bit of a cool-down after my 60 minutes were up. This meant that I would not have a physical point of reference to aim for as I approached my finish. The entire run was a heavy-legs, depleted-lungs, sopping-wet affair. I mean, there was no air. Many of my hurdles from one run to the next are mental battles, and I was taken to the mat with this one. I finally had to disengage my mind altogether and simply focus on my running form: keep the torso upright, the arms moving steadily, land on center-foot, keep it together.
As I neared the area on the trail where I figured my time would be up I glanced at my watch: 58:52. Oh glory be— I'm almost done! But then, time stood still. I have no explanation for this, but the next 68 seconds seemed to take 10 minutes. I must have looked at my watch 7 times as the seconds ticked sluggishly away. When will it be over?! I set distance goals: when I get to that tree it'll be time—nope. When I reach that puddle it'll be time—nope. When I pass those girls who appear to be effortlessly gliding through the air it'll be time—nope. It made no rational sense in this physical universe, but time halted as I struggled through the final minute of that excruciatingly difficult workout. But finally, blessedly, it was over. My watch ticked over to 60:00 and I was DONE.
Now, if every run were that painful I wouldn't continue running. On the other hand, if every run were as blissfully transporting as Thursday morning's workout I'd be running marathons already. The actual reality is simply this: most workouts are average, mundane, run-of-the-mill (pardon the pun), forgettable. Crawling out of bed an hour earlier than I otherwise would in order to lace up my shoes and push my tired self up and down the road before the busyness of the day engages me elsewhere is rarely a treat, and usually a very difficult choice to make. When my brain is fogged over with "are you kidding me?", my expectations for the morning fall more into the "painful-run" than the "blissful-moments-ahead" category.
But continuing to follow the routine, lacing up, and hitting the road according to plan are what make the blissful moments possible. The self-discipline of the mundane allows me to enjoy being out there when the glorious breaks through. I'm already participating in the activity, I'm out there, and the unplanned ecstasy can break me out of the routine and flood right in when the time is right. But if I roll over in bed, break the routine, decide that it's not worth it, then I may never know what I'm missing.
And isn't this what everyday life is like? Every day can't be Zinfandel wine and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, but it won't be (hopefully) the Pit of Despair either. Most days are average, mundane, run-of-the-mill, and forgettable. But as we tramp through the average days, now and then the glorious breaks through and interrupts our run-of-the-mill day with unforgettable grandeur. If it were always so glorious, then glorious would become average, and then what would it take to break us out of that? No, we need normal, average, mundane, run-of-the-mill, and forgettable in order to maintain our wonder at the glory of the interruptions of perfect beauty.
And we also need the painful days, in order to realize that average isn't so bad after all.
So I'll keep falling out of bed early in the mornings, lacing up and pushing myself up and down the road because it's worth it. It's worth the self-discipline simply for discipline's sake, and it's worth the average— risking the pain— for the opportunity for beauty to break in and interrupt my routine.