Monday, October 01, 2012

Checking in at the Track

I've been running a lot lately. No specific workouts. No watch.No predetermined distance. Just me and the sidewalk until I decide, yeah, that's enough for today.

It is pretty awesome.

I don't know how I am ever going to convince myself to go back to doing speed work or tempos or adhering to any sort of  "plan"--not that I really ever was that sort of runner. But I did use to wear a watch and try to stick to paces and some sort of loosely formed plan. There was method to my madness.

 I keep thinking, each week, that this is going to be  the week I am going to reinstate some structure and starting doing some regimented speed work. I said that at the end of August about September and here it is the last day of September and the closest I've come to speed work or a regimented run was a few times on the treadmill last month when I did a mid length progression run.

Instead of specific workouts and paces I've just been running and tacking on extra miles to most runs. Sometimes I even run twice a day and most days of the week I run at least an hour and a half but sometimes more than 3 hours. I've needed my time with the miles. I've been a bit stressed out lately.  And running is such a great activity for stress--at least for me-- because it keeps my body physically busy but my brain can be better occupied working stuff out.

 Like what?

Well, for example, I am currently in the process of looking for a full time job after spending the last 12 years helping Ryan's landscaping business and caring for our children.  I just can't imagine that there is anyone who ever found the job search process particularly fun--especially if you are in the situation where you really need a job--not just want one or want to change careers. I will concede that interviews are fun and I have enjoyed that aspect of the job search experience. It is fun meeting new people but the rest of it? Well, okay mostly the rejection part,  is quite humbling. Everyday I get to find out that no one else thinks I am as awesome as I do. And I am really trying to impress people here and 100% failing at it. At times, I feel a bit like a circus monkey doing tricks. In all instances I am never certain if am doing the correct trick, or if I am doing the correct trick if I am doing it in the correct way; and then when it is over I don't know if I am being applauded or heckled for my talents.

One thing is for sure though; no one is tossing any coins in my top hat.

On the very worst of days it  feels like I am being punished for the choices I made because I had children. I recognize these are choices *I* made. Most certainly they were choices I thought were best for my family and at the time I was happy to make them. But now, with the current state of our country, our personal  business and this economy definitely makes me feels like I may have made the wrong choices. To be clear, not the having children part--no regrets there-- but the part about not pursuing a career outside of our landscaping business. Sigh. It just really stinks to learn that after 12 years of doing something that you thought was the best choice was in fact not the right choice.

But nevertheless . . . choices I made.

So running is definitely keeping me from completely folding under the stress I feel. I need the extra miles, the time on my feet more than I do a quick pace. A quicker pace or regimented workout would mean having to actually think about running. (That would probably be even more boring than having to read about running.) But in running lots of easy miles I am keeping my body busy and my mind has time to contemplate the state of my shrinking universe.

And it is quite fortuitous that there is a fancy new sidewalk outside my neighborhood where I can find all these miles I am seeking. After 2 years of construction the DOT (I guess that is who to credit) finally has completed it.This has opened up brand new routes for me that after over 11 years of living here I am grateful to explore. I can now run all the way to Roswell  or to Woodstock on the sidewalk without having to worry about twisting an ankle on the soft shoulder of a busy road.

However, I've sort of grown attached to a particular route that is just over 9 miles.

It leads me out of my neighborhood up what I call a "stealth hill"  for the better part of 3 miles. I live in what is known as the "Piedmont region" of Georgia.The Piedmont is known as "the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains." These "foot"hills are definitely taller than a foot but I concur that from the eye they don't look like much. However, a 2-3% "foot"hill that spans several miles makes it feel like gravity hates you, only you don't know why. Your calves though, they have an inkling.

 After I turn the corner, the stealth hill ends and my route will roll for a bit and my calves will be happy.  Then I turn another corner and my route starts to slope down, my calves are even jollier. Then the route will roll up and down until I get home.

That is unless I "check-in" at the track to see what's going on.

And most times, I do "check-in."

I found out last year that the local high school track--previously just 3 miles from my house but now, because of the new sidewalk additions, can be as far as just over 5 miles. The track is open to the public 24 hours, 7 days a week. I've been there on Christmas. Open. As early as 5:30 am in the summer? Open. The track is definitely spooky at dark-thirty but nevertheless open and surprisingly, not underpopulated. Only problem with dark-thirty and I would guess the night time hours too, is that there are no lights.

But that is what headlamps are for, right?

This is such an awesome resource! This track is so nice: two sets of concrete stadium bleachers-- if you are the type to do "stadiums" (so far I am not), a synthetic turf football field, and, best of all, a wide rubber track. I can literally feel the bounce when I run on it. I liken the experience to when I was on the high school gymnastic team and we would visit the rich private schools (Pace and Westminster) and turned out our floor routines on their spring assisted floor. Our routines were awesome after having trained on the very non springy inch thick wrestling mats in our home gym. It was like going from doing flips in quicksand to doing flips on a trampoline.

Pricey and privileged education in this case was never triumphant.

Anyway, that is what it is like running on the track after hammering out miles on the concrete sidewalk-- it is trampoline like. Because of this I often check-in when looping back home. The track is a nice break from the hills and an easy way to add miles. Most times I just tack on 2 or 3 miles but sometimes it is more. The problem, of course, is my pace. At first I will be all reigned in and controlled, possibly even still plodding along. But then, I don't know. After a couple of 400 meter laps my legs recover. They get all tingly from the rubber reverberations. I will try to hold back but then the next thing I know; I am all out sprinting.

Dear lord it is awesome.

I love how the wind will be at my face and then halfway around it is at my back. People on the track become Monet like blurs and I feel like I am flying. I swear, my body makes a swishing sound as pass them.

I am the Nike swoosh!

But once I start that sprint  it will be game over. There will be dues to pay for my lack of self control. My legs and lungs will burn, my skin will itch. My heart rate will take forever to recover and I will still have to run those rolling 4 miles home (3 if I go the short way). Most times, by the time I even get to the track, before I have even put in my bonus miles with an all out sprint, it is hot--blazing full sun on the black rubber track. Or worse, hot and humid. And, of course, I never have water. So those final  miles can be punishing. A complete buzz kill. Or, rather, endorphin kill.

But that's okay. My choice and really, complaining aside, I do love it.

Getting to check-in at the track is totally worth eating the paste and paying for it. It is non verbal social interaction on my solitary runs. It makes me feel less alone because  the best thing about checking in at the track are the people. Not just the high school athletes but all the other people that are always there.  The "pedestrians" like me. The non high school athletic stars.

There are usual suspects, depending on time and what day.

On Sundays, and occasionally during the week in the mornings, there is an older gentleman with an impressive thick shock of white hair. I guess he is in his 70's but he could be significantly older. He doesn't acknowledge me even though I always wave at him and smile. (I don't take this personally because I have never seen him talk to anyone.) His legs are so muscular. They belie the old man socks he wears. He will show up and run 1-2 laps slowly. Then he will switch his shoes to spikes and do 100 meter repeats or maybe it is 200's. He never takes the curve. He stays on the straight a way. My guess is he is a competitive grand master racer. I like him. I want to be running sprint repeats when I am his age and be serious about it.

See, I still have plenty of time to be serious.

There are also, of course, "the moms" that walk in pairs, emphatically gesturing with their hands as they chat. Okay,  I do not know for a fact that they are "mom's," but they are of that age. There are other runners--men and women of various ages and stages of fitness,  running loops like I do and are either  "in the zone" or  zoned out to their ear-buds. There are also boot camp participants who do sprints and stadiums and push-ups and squats. They look simultaneously like they are having the time of their life and that they have never been more miserable. An attractive young black man, who is the boot camp sergeant, and stands like a sentry on the field and yells orders out to them  as they run up and down the concrete stadium steps. He smiles at me when I pass by him, as if he and I are in on some joke together. I pretend like I know what that joke is, but I really don't know. There is also the young ground's keeper who I am fairly certain is a smoker and drives a Gator vehicle around the field; moving things and cleaning up trash and debris from the track and the field. I can tell he has an opinion about the boot campers because I caught him smirking at them one day and then he winked at me when I passed him on one of my loops. I think we also must have an inside joke but again, I am not certain what it might be.

On weekends, when there isn't a school sanctioned event, there are always young men or teenage boys playing a pick up game of football, rugby or soccer. Sometimes I have to dodge the occasional rogue ball. Most times, except during school hours, there are dads coaching their kids-- utilizing the turf, rarely the track, and, even rarer, the stadium steps. I love it though when the dad's have a stopwatch. Sometimes the really little kids, who are there with their parents, will race me  for a few hundred meters  before they are distracted by a butterfly or run out of steam or just decide to lay themselves flat out in the middle of their track lane.

 Sometimes I will see runners with evidence of being in the injury clink--an ankle or knee brace, a slight limp--walking loops with starts of trying to run only to be defeated within a few strides, frustration coloring their face.

I identify with them the most.

During the week, when school is in, what I assume is the special needs class comes out to walk loops.I don't know if this a PE class or part of therapy but I would guess not recess since there is no recess in the high school. They do  not seem to be chaperoned by a teacher--at least not that I have seen but someone must be watching them. None of them actually run but most do walk loops. A couple of them do not walk around the track at all. Instead they stand on the field, near the fence or in a fixed spot on the track near the gate from which they entered. They will just stare up at the sky and occasionally flap their hands. They look  lost and confused. But I will admit, they could be neither lost nor confused and their standing and staring might just be an act of defiance against forced exercise. There is one boy who always walks very quickly as if he is really angry. He even looks like he is having an argument though I can never figure out what he is saying. From my perspective it is like he was given an assignment to walk x number of  laps and he is going to get that done as fast as he can but he is not one bit happy about it and he is not afraid to show it! He makes me a little nervous. A few of the girls do seem to interact with each other, socializing as they walk. One girl, with Down's Syndrome and a short blond pony tail, always smiles at me and I always return a hello to her. I have tried to say hello to a few others but for the most part they act like they don't see me.
But to be certain.

I see them.

And I am reminded  that they are not afforded the same luxury of choices that the rest of us at the track are.


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