Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Inspiration (Point?)

There is a trail I used to run once a week when I first moved to the bay area three years ago to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. That was back when I was an "elite" runner, or so I thought. Moving from the Reno/Tahoe area, I thought the difference in elevation would make all the terrain down here easy and, well, moot. Just like I thought running held the key to the meaning in my life. How wrong I was... on both counts.

Yet, this was the first trail to challenge me: it was my introduction to "rolling" terrain: constant ups and downs, I was forced to learn to change my stride to match my pace unlike those long, steady climbs I knew back home which taught me to be steady and consistent.

But aside from that: this is a special trail. Maybe it's due to the name of the place it starts-- Inspiration Point-- or maybe it's the view: on a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge (even the color of it), the Marin Headlands, Suisun Bay, among others. I remember early mornings-- long ago, when running was a part of my life like breathing-- when the fog would literally roll over the crest of the hill and I'd run right through it feeling the cold moist that had just recently been ocean water. I remember running there at dusk just as the sun went down and I'd trace my way back in the low-light of summer-evenings. I remember the way I learned to run that trail and how, after months of practice, I could do the entire thing at a sub-7 minute pace and feel as though I was ready for more.

But then there is a period of time two years when I stopped going to Inspiration Point. I was injured, after all, and was unable to run-- first due to a ruptured Achilles tendon and then to a nagging and sharp pain in my foot that was diagnosed first as plantar's, then as cancer of the bones (I never did have the scan done to confirm this) and finally, as a severe sprain of the Lisfranc joint which may never heal. It was a horrible, challenging time: a time when I had to find a new definition of myself and a new source of meaning in my life. A time when I wondered what it was all for: all the running, all the miles and all that belief I'd conjured up in myself that vanished the second I could no longer run. 

Well, I'm running again-- sort of-- but that question I began to ask myself two years ago is still here. Still, even, as I ran from Inspiration Point today at 5:00 pm when the summer sun wasn't set yet, but the difference in temperature from the inner and outer sides of the coastal hills causes a strong breeze to sweep across the trail.  I set out despite having swam for 80 minutes with the Master's team this morning, knowing I'd probably feel awful the entire run. Past the iron gate and up: running the periphery where there's gravel and dirt and not the hard pavement trail most walkers use. Not a single other runner on the trail at first: the first quarter mile I struggled to find a pace. But after that, I settled in and the running became how I remembered it. Like dancing: fluid; a negotiation with myself and the terrain around me.

It was funny how quickly all that old passion came back; how, when spotting another man running, I increased my speed and passed him, not caring how uncomfortable I was. And all those old thoughts: that I am a runner, an athlete, that I matter in a way that is larger than myself and that my life has meaning. The wind in my face, at my side, at my back; the cows looking on as though they are watching something extraordinary (or do they stare for some other, secret reason?) How I began to wonder when I could race again; when I'd get my name back; when I'd go back to the track and run intervals, faster and faster and finding meaning in that silent struggle, something which said to me, again and again: you matter. 

The entire (paved) trail is 8.25 miles out-and-back. I normally only run 5-6 on days I swim. Today, I made a deal with myself that I'd split the difference and run 7 miles-- adding an extra mile to push myself but not the additional 1.25 since the thing I want to avoid more than anything right now is injury. Out and back. Not stopping. Not even up some of the hills which made my heart beat fast. Not even when I wanted to. Coming back, I passed the man again and my heart cheered, silently. My total time: 52 minutes for a bit over 7 miles.

Nothing extraordinary, even though I felt as though I'd conquered the impossible, today. Some silent something, somehow. Something real. 

But that thought-- and feeling-- isn't quite what it was two years ago. Today it was tempered with-- what? age? wisdom? I'm not quite sure-- but the sense that a person's worth is more than a number. We aren't entirely our social security numbers or the figures on our bank statements, the number on a scale, the time it took us to run this distance, the number of years we've lived, the cost of the house we live in, the number of times we've been married or divorced, the number of facebook friends, the number of carats in your diamond ring and the culmination of voices which say "I approve of you." Are we more? Or, I should ask: am I more than all those numbers?

I honestly don't know.  My rational mind says "of course." But running was my measure. And the thing that replaced it-- my writing-- has  been no more helpful. I get rejections in the mail nearly every day for the things I write. Maybe I'm just an awful person, I wonder? Maybe I'm not good at anything?

And so, that's the allure of Inspiration Point. Of the Lafayette Rim Trail. Of all the places I run. It's the way I tell myself you matter in a world that tells me again and again-- in spite of those rejection letters and injuries-- I might, one day.

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