Unplanned Spontaneity

Running is repetitive — meditative, even. Left foot, right foot. Breathe in, breathe out.

There’s a pre-run routine and a post-run routine. There’s a set menu of foods to be eaten at certain times. There’s a calm sense of knowing that comes with having favorite shoes, favorite trails, favorite neighborhood loops where when we return to that familiar space, we know we’ve got this. I love this aspect of running. Life is complicated and chaotic enough, so having a place to put on my blinders and isolate my focus is a gift to my sanity.

Perhaps my blinders were on a bit too tightly today because I took a wrong turn. I’m still getting used to my new neighborhood, and I overshot a loop I thought I had memorized.

I couldn’t be happier with that mistake.

My error led me to a secret urban trail, and I felt like Lucy discovering Narnia. One minute I was running on the sidewalk next to traffic, and before I knew it I was on dirt trail next to a stream.  How could this hidden place be right there in my neighborhood? Since I hadn’t planned the route out in advance, I had no idea how far this trail would take me. I ran by instinct and by feel. I turned left every time I had a choice, and eventually looped back to where I’d started. It was without question the most fun I’ve had running recently, and as I jogged the short distance back home, I half wondered if I’d imagined such a beautiful place.

Structure is necessary for training, but perhaps only to a certain extent. As much as I revel in routine, I very well may be getting in my own way. The Chicago Marathon is a month from tomorrow, and my training has, uh, not exactly gone as planned. There’s been extreme heat, there’s been dangerous air quality, there have been work stressors and personal stressors, and for good measure I moved in the middle of it all. In real time, I’ve been frustrated with these hurdles as each has made me wait or rest or reassess.

But with the end of training nearly in sight, I had a realization — running today was still fun. This will be my sixth full marathon, and I don’t recall being at this point during previous training cycles where I wasn’t completely burned out. As discouraged as I’ve been with the numerous setbacks, each one has kept me from diving in too far and overdoing.

Today I had an absolute ball exploring wherever my legs carried me. For once, I let go of the plan and just enjoyed the experience. Despite all its complications, perhaps this crazy summer has been just the antidote I need, and as I gear up to complete my final long training runs this month, I hope to stay focused on the joy of running and not miss the forest for the trees.

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