40/300: On Pushing & Pride

I had to do it. There was no way I could face myself in the mirror if I didn’t. But I was tired. I haven’t been sleeping all that well and Penny doesn’t care how long I’ve been asleep when she wakes me up in the morning with a paw to the chest and a lick to the cheek. It had been a long day. Work had been a blur, dotted with pre-travel day necessities. I came home to three excited children and a wife on her way out the door to a PTO meeting and then some friends were taking her to dinner. I knew I had to run, that it would the longest one I’ve ever done and that, deep down, I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t want to do it because I was tired, but also because the last time I’d pushed myself to run in the evening after a long day, I’d bonked badly. And that time, just a few short weeks ago, the run was comprised of intervals of three and five minutes. This one was 2.5 miles on a 25 minute pace. I thought I’d bonk for sure.

Two days earlier, I’d run 2.25 miles at a similar pace and felt great. But that was different. It was a bright, brisk morning. Snow was in the forecast. I hadn’t slept well, but I also hadn’t spent the day working and commuting, checking in on meetings, emails, calls and travel details. Last night, by the time I got to thinking about it, it was dark. The warm day had faded to a cold, almost blustery night. Even the streetlight outside our bedroom window seemed somehow dim and foreboding.

Six weeks ago, seven, I would have talked myself out of it. I would have found a reason not to go. I certainly had plenty that would have, then, qualified as reason enough not to do it. But something has changed in me since the first of the year, something hard to pin down and define. I’ve begun to weigh my choices both in terms of benefit and cost of action and inaction. If I ran, I might bonk. I might hate myself for bonking. I might be discouraged. If I didn’t run, it would be at least Thursday before I got a chance to do so.

I needed to be up at 3:38 again this morning, the same flight to Atlanta as two weeks ago, then on to Raleigh for a four hour meeting, then back to Atlanta and, eventually, home some time after midnight. If you’re reading this today, Wednesday the 17th, I’m either in the air or in transit. Tomorrow morning, will be even tougher to get out of bed, unrested as I assuredly will be.

Waiting for Thursday was an option, but not one I was willing to take. Skipping the run last night would have been the worse of two evils. Inaction would cost more than the potential for action and failure.

So I cleaned up the dinner plates, put the food away and got the kids into their pajamas. They’re old enough to spend a half an hour at home watching TV. I changed into my running clothes. I’m used to doing that on the other end of the dark and was sitting on the stairs tying my shoes, dreading what I was about to do. That’s when Penny came to me, she sat down and licked my face. She knew what we were going to do. I know dogs are emotionally intuitive, but the more time I spend with my golden retriever, the more empathic I feel toward her. She’d had a long day too. She needed a run. At least that’s what I told myself. She didn’t even struggle when I put on her Gentle Leader, which she hates, but it makes it a little easier to contain her enthusiasm.

And so we went, stepping out into the heavy, cold night air, like stepping into a felt cloud. The five minute warm-up, a brisk walk according to the app, was filled with trepidation on my part and excitement on hers. She wanted to run. She knew the route, knew the driveway where we step out into and across the street to rejoin the sidewalk on the other side.

The first couple of minutes were fine, but my form was off. I was hitting the ground with the heals of my feet, causing a jarring of energy in my joints and back. Three minutes in and my form got a little better. My arms relaxed, my weight striking the balls of my feet. But my breath was labored. I was keenly aware of every step, even as I tried to fool my mind with a podcast. The whole situation felt ripe for a bonk. Then, at around eight minutes, a strange thing happened – I began to lose myself.

Maybe it was the way Penny bobbed and weaved in front of me, the gentle whooshing of her tail back and forth. Maybe it was the interview I was listening to. Maybe it was a lot of things, maybe it was nothing in particular. But my mind began to wander. My breath became more regular. I relaxed and, when I did, I went from pushing myself to run, forcing myself to do what I needed to do, to just running. For the next seventeen minutes, that’s what I did. I ran. Just ran. The podcast played on, but it became static in my ears. I could see my breath in the air but was unaware of it. Sweat dripped from my temples and soaked into my knit cap. My muscles felt like warm plasma. My heart rate, elevated, settled into a rhythmic groove and I became a part of the darkness outside.

It was only the sonorous ‘bing’ of the app telling me to begin my cool down just as I turned left and back onto my street that snapped me from the revery. I ran. I didn’t bonk, I didn’t blink. I didn’t think, fight or fail. I simply ran.

When I got home, I gave Penny, whose tongue dangled from the side of her mouth, a bowl of water and some treats for being good. I took off her leader and hung the leash on the banister, then sat with my kids and before putting them to bed. I stripped off my sweaty clothes and put them in the hamper, took a shower and put on my pajamas. I laid in bed to read until I drifted off to sleep and, when the alarm sounded at 3:38 this morning, I realized I’d slept better than I had in days, even if it was only for a short time.

I combed my hair after another shower this morning, brushed my teeth and shaved and as I took one last look in the mirror, I smiled a little. I had pushed through and the push had become a gift. I’d fought through my better demons, I’d overcome my propensity for excuse and sabotage.

I’d gone for a run with my dog when I really didn’t want to and I felt, even if just for a moment, proud.

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