Off the grid

So, yesterday I did my third trail race of 2016.

The first was in February — it was a muddy, very long slog that was one of those awful/awesome experiences. I finished, but it took every last bit of willpower to keep going at times. Once it was done, though, it was all awesome and very little of the awful. Kind of like I hear childbirth is.

Then, last week I did a trail race out at Palos Forest Preserve, on trails on which I usually bike rather than run on. The fall colors were out in full force — like a technicolor movie after watching only black and white. I spent a lot of the race wanting to just stop and take it all in, but running there with my friend Mary just felt right. Felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right at that particular moment.

And then yesterday I did another trail race, a whim of a last-minute decision, and enjoyed another beautiful trail out at New Salem. I ran by myself this time, and though I started out taking it easy, it wasn’t long before I found myself welcoming back those old competitive juices and while I’m still not speedy, I worked as hard as I could to do as well as I could. I felt a glimmer of that feeling that I always chased while running — this weird, elusive, empowering, I-can-do-anything attitude.

In my training, I haven’t really gotten to the point where running feels good. It’s always something to get through more than something I enjoy. And now I’m wondering: maybe I’m just doing my training in the wrong place. I spend my time on asphalt trails or sidewalks through subdivisions or on a treadmill — little to get excited about. It’s convenient, for sure, but not inspiring.

I can still close my eyes and picture the hilltop during the Palos run where the trees were blazing yellow, the ground was a carpet of yellow leaves; it felt like an otherworld. The overwhelming feeling is one of peace and oneness, where appreciating both the awesome beauty of the place and my body’s ability to run comes easy.

And you know what? That “otherworld” is a short 35 minute drive from my house. Seems to me that I should spend a little more time rustling through the leaves (and then slogging through the snow) and enjoying the nature that’s not far from my front door.

It’s funny how just taking an activity and moving it to a different environment can make a world of difference. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to move west, move to the mountains, and while that’s not in my near-term future, I needed these runs to remind me that I’ve got some pretty cool places right here in Illinois. Maybe it’s not Utah or Colorado, but it’s more than enough for now. I mean, just look at it – you can’t tell me it isn’t beautiful.

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