Monday, February 2, 2009

A Dirty Run

For two years, I ran everyday. Relocating across the U.S. both started and ended my serious running career.

Photo by Sandeep Nandy

Born and raised in Colorado, my roots go far into the ground there. I spent my whole life in Colorado, grew up with friends, fell in love with downtown Denver, had favorite cafes and bookstores. Then I met someone. I graduated college, married, and because my new husband was more transient than I - he proposed we move to Florida. Why not? I wanted adventure too. We settled in Miami, blocks from the beach. But something unexpected happened. This was not an adventure, it was an emotional catastrophe. I became angry, I cried. Although I just married the love of my life, he was new and somewhat unfamiliar. I had never moved, never been away from my family, from my twin sister. I did at least four life-changing events all at once: graduating college, moving, marriage, first real job, first time move away from family. I missed all that was familiar, and I hated Floridian culture (Miami is three times as transient as L.A. with even more drunk people roaming the streets every night). I began to run - a way to siphon the thrashing emotions. I pounded it out. I was in the best shape of my life. Then, we reached two years and decided to move again. Florida to California. I was burned-out, both physically and mentally; we settled in but I couldn’t shake a newfound distaste. I didn't want to run. I now connected exercise to heartbreak and exhaustion. I had pushed myself too far, what would I do now?

First, you go to counseling and second, you re-introduce yourself carefully to avoid injury. Running gave me clarity, time to myself and a feeling of unconstraint; could I get that feeling back?

I’d never run a race before, except against my personal best, but I found out soon enough that it might be worth considering. During my time of cautious re-introduction to running, a few friends of mine brought up the famous Camp Pendleton Mud Run. Curious and partial to doing research, that’s exactly what I did. I found that the four Mud Run’s in 2008, and one in January of 2009, were very popular and thus sold out. Bummer. Sold out status be damned, there’s always an alternate route.

It’s not Camp Pendleton, but Skyline Sports sponsors its own dirty run at Skyline Church. A dusty, hilly, hot spot near San Diego. That afternoon, determined to run again, I signed myself up for a run in the mud. I had four months. On the weekend of November 16th, the temperature reaching above 80 degrees, I met my sister and a friend for the ambitious event.

As beginners go, I felt ill-prepared for even a three-mile run, let alone one that included 20 mud puddles and a 500 foot incline (a little fact I found out about just before the outset). Clean and in a white t-shirt no less, I checked in, got my free t-shirt, checked my bag and pinned on my race tag. One hot dog, three waters and several bathroom trips later, I lined up at the starting line - 3, 2, 1 – and I was off. Our friend darted ahead but my sister and I remained in stride. I just hoped I wouldn’t need the medic. Fire hoses sprayed gallons of frigid water over us as we pounded the pavement in a roundabout from the parking lot onto the dirt trail. Now sopping wet, I faced the first immense mud pie, which turned out to be superficially deep but nevertheless left sticky mounds of dirt around my ankles. Water stands met us at intervals, a relief from the dust runners kicked up at dry patches of the track. People lost shoes, started walking, joyously jumped into puddles and politely passed their competitors. My sister and I continued to stick together, splashing water and ensuring generous amounts of sludge stuck to the other at every opportunity. I was having fun. 18 puddles, one pipe crawl, countless hills, 500 feet and a rocky mud slide ending in a neck-high puddle turned small lap pool; I finished the race at 39 minutes and 36 seconds.

The 5K was hard, no free-wheeling feeling in this run, no adrenaline packed bursts of energy, just a need to finish, and finish dirty, maybe with one shoe left stuck in the mud at 450 feet – a victorious nod to fighting in the trenches. At the end, I was happy and relieved. I was elated, accomplished and inexplicably energetic. I came out on the other end revived; I faced a challenge, finished a race, muddy shoes my badge of honor – ready to run again.

I still run. I run sporadically and for fun. It's not quite the same, but it's not different either. I neither hate it nor love it, but it feels good.

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