A couple days ago, I went for a run through Massapequa Park. It became my go-to place while training for the Tough Mudder over the summer. Running during the height of the fall season is absolutely amazing. It instantly reminded me of walking through the paths on my property upstate. My last run was cold and not fun, but there was a moment about half way through that struck me deeply. I couldn’t not write about it. One moment was enough to distract me long enough to get through the run, and was enough to create this post. Enjoy.
Seeds from the tall grass surrounding the stream floated in the wind as I ran by, catching the light of the morning sun like snowflakes. Fallen leaves litter the dirt path, the aroma bursting with every step forward. I said a mile ago I would stop to take a break, but I knew I would find an excuse to turn back and try again another day. My lungs are always first to give out. Years of lifting strengthened my legs to the point where they never feel tired. But it doesn’t matter if you can’t breathe. I can’t run if I think I’m about to die. The inhaler in my pocket validated these thoughts. Four miles? The red oaks are the last of the trees to drop their leaves, a good enough distraction for me.
I can tell how far I’ve gone not by the mile markers, but by the surrounding landscape. If I look at the numbers on the path, the ones that other people have gone out of their way to clear, I start thinking about how much further until I finish. If I’m thinking about the finish before I actually finish, I’ve already finished. As long as I don’t know where I’m going or don’t know how far I have left to go, I can enjoy the surroundings and allow them to clear my mind. On the other side of the stream, a father and son are fishing. The father must know the fish are inactive this late in the season, but the son must know what the rush is like from hooking the unknown. I look back to the pond upstate, and my first blue fishing rod still hanging up in the garage.
I left my phone in the car so there is no real way of guessing how long I’ve been running for. I do it by feel. Almost immediately, the cold, November air blasts my lungs, the taste of maybe blood lingers in the back of my dry throat. The water I brought with me does nothing to help. The sun was still low enough in the sky to pass its soft light through the trees. I loved the way it danced on the passing bike riders flying gracefully down the path. After a certain point, around mile three, I ran under the potential widow-maker that tells me I’m getting close. Up ahead is where the stream goes under the street I have to cross, where ducks and swans congregate and sometimes rest on the path.
It was hard to breathe before, but now it’s impossible. The only thing I can think about is getting to the train tracks on the far side of the pond. My thoughts are short and quick, timed perfectly with every breath I take. No one else is around to cheer me on. I accidentally looked down at the .3 mile marker and nearly psyched myself out. I said I would stop now and take a puff from my inhaler so I can run a little more on the way back to the car. I looked at my water bottle and noticed it was almost empty, and almost immediately I began to feel my sides rip me apart from the inside out. What’s the point? Maybe I’ll just walk the entire way back. It’s been a long time since the last time I ran. I need to start slow. Build endurance. Can’t breathe. I need to slow down. But I would be walking. Control yourself. In. Out. One foot in front of the other. You’re doing great. You’re almost there. Don’t stop. You wanted to stop two miles ago. Two miles ago. The train.