Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Winter, still

Taken today of my deck and front yard after the most recent storm. Where, I ask, is Spring?

It snowed again yesterday. I tried to beat the storm, heading out for a run when the sun was still visible between the gathering clouds. Yet, as I ran North along Hwy 28, the light became gray and snow flakes struck my face, stinging my eyes. By the time I reached town-- 2.3 miles from home-- visibility had fallen considerably. By mid-afternoon, the snow began to stick, blanketing a hopeful spring in cold, white. Everyone in town (myself included) is quiet, watching. There had been hope of spring, of flowers and warmer weather, but despite high hopes, the snow returned.

The weather and outdoor landscape haunt me not only because I'll be on the treadmill once again, but also because it is an odd commentary on my emotional state. I have every reason to be happy: I'm running again and my foot no longer hurts at all. I ran a solid 45 miles last week and cycled like a madwoman, doing a total of 15 hours of training. I have to believe I'm fit and getting fitter by the day. However, I'm glum: what does a goal like "I want to run a fast marathon" mean when I can't run fast right now?

Last week, I drove to Moraga, California where I'll be attending the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at Saint Mary's College next Fall. There, Spring abounded: trees had bright, green leaves and flowers weren't afraid to bloom. Children frolicked in the many public parks wearing shorts and t-shirts. I even wore shorts and a tank when I ran with two girls from the cross country team.

The reason for the trip was simple: I wanted to introduce myself to the team before my position as "assistant coach" becomes eminent in August. Nearly every one of them was late (which didn't quite bother me. I mean they ARE college students) but nearly every one of them looked, I don't know, disappointed. This disappointment became most apparent (or was it sloth? I cannot decide) when only one girl (of a total of 17 athletes) said she would go for a run with me. I had made my intention clear in the email I sent preceding my arrival that I wanted to meet AND run with them. And yet, here they were: not wanting to run with me. Was I the snow storm in their expected spring?

What I mean by that is not so much that I was a fearful presence. Quite the contrary: did they take one look at me and decide, alas, that I am NOT a runner? Could they see the remnants of my injury? My insecurities soared as Rosie-- who was also coming off an injury-- and I began running. She began at a fast clip-- too fast-- and I began wondering, what have I gotten myself into? A mile or less into the run, we ran into (no pun intended) another athlete, Tess. They kept up the blistering pace, asking me questions and I, breathlessly tried to respond, all the time wondering: am I fat? I thought I was fit! What's going on here?

One block, then two and the two slowed considerably. We continued on our course (I should note, lined with trees and green grass and water which was oh-so-wonderful) up and over a grassy hill to a point where the two stopped, panting. I started back; they followed, noticably slower than before. Were they dragging because they went out too fast, or because they decided I wasn't so much of a threat after all? I suppose I won't ever really know.

But the episode has planted a seed of doubt: maybe I can't run fast anymore. I don't know if it's possible to suddenly become "too old" but maybe I have. I recall runs where I could pass every other person in the group and it felt as though I was weightless. What's happened to me? Have I gained weight? Lost muscle? Or is my head perpetually in the wrong place?

Prior to this latest storm, I ran early in the morning and then took my road bike out onto the highway. I rode hard into Tahoe City, then to Truckee and then up Donner Summit. The ascent felt fantastic. I felt like I kept a good pace despite the wind; that this was much easier than I remembered it being. In all, I climbed to the top in 27 minutes without breaking the bank. And yet, as I looked out over the Truckee Valley below, that doubt-seed nestled itself in the pit of my stomach. What if I'll never be good, not ever?

Perhaps doubt is a part of dreaming big, of setting goals. Perhaps doubt is the ground we stand on when we look at the sky, at those distant stars. There is a hard reality in my doubt: the reality that I am not, now, very fast. The reality that (for whatever reason) my athletes weren't too excited to run with me. Can doubt be a starting place-- a spring board-- upon which we propel ourselves to greater things? Or, is it an anchor which keeps us grounded?

Perhaps doubt is both: grounding and liberating, depending on how one interprets it.

Whatever it is, I hope this snow melts so whatever is planted within me-- doubt-- has a chance to grow, to change, and push me to prosper.

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