The first time I ran to be alone with my fierce pummeling thoughts, the anxiety in my chest, the tears slick on my cheeks. The first time I ran with my hair down, floating behind me like a mane, up the grassy shaded path, up, up the hill, up higher until the blue of the mountains in the distance were swallowed by the leafy canopy of forest. I ran until my mind narrowed to only this: to my feet hitting the soft mud of the trail, crushing wild daisies and fragrant grasses; to the sound of the stream rushing downhill beside me as I ran up; to the almost instant giddy feeling of freedom that bloomed in my ribcage as I ran hard until I could hear my heart in my ears, surrounded by maples and underbrush and the liquid warble of wood thrushes.
The second time we ran together, sweat slicked, quiet, quick footed. I ran ahead, dodging low-hanging branches and he ran after, following where my feet landed among rocks, missing puddles, leaping mossy covered logs. The second time I ran ahead, but not too far ahead, and often I’d turn to look and grin seeing him there just over my shoulder; and I’d grin also to myself, feeling my own ease and strength and I ran fast up the hills, muscles bunching and releasing through the underbrush, darting with agility between tree trunks and over fallen branches ahead of him. And this is something that we have always been: athletes together and it’s a thing that has often saved us, brought us back together, gathered us into the same moment.
I want to do more trail running this summer. It’s a rush to pound up the single track traversed last by deer or the wild singing coyotes I just heard out my back door, and to leap in quick zig-zags on the descent. It brings my mind right to the moment, focuses me only in my breath and feet and muscles, leaves me empty of the impatience that has painted my recent days with tension as things unfold the way they should, though often beyond my control.
And maybe that’s what this is all about for me: being in control in a way that is finite and defined. Also, it’s just straight-up awesome. It's nothing like running on the gently hilly dirt road where our three mile run has become something so regular my mind dances off, seeking distraction from the repetition. If you can, if there is any way at all, grab your running shoes this week and go off road. Even for a short distance. Even for only ten minutes, or five. Run where the trail is uneven and unpredictable. Run where the woods smell sweet with leaves and summer. Run where the heat is lessened by shade; or among grasses waist high where you cannot see your feet. Run, and then tell me how it was. (I dare you.)