Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Claim Freedom -- Deny Opportunity

This spring my sails have opened along with the leaves. Take Sunday. I start slowly on a random greenway in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s called “10 mile greenway” and we bump into it near the hotel where most of my son’s soccer team is staying. We’re not actually staying there ourselves, but Gavin is hanging out before his game and while I run. I’m thinking a 10 mile greenway is perfect, because I would like to run 20 miles. I can just go out-and-back. So I put on my shoes and a waist-pack with water and start jogging. The paved trail meanders pleasantly along a creek, for about a mile and a quarter. That’s it. “10 mile” apparently doesn’t refer to the length of the greenway. I find a “road connector” to another greenway, which runs another buck fifty. After that, I take to the road, and head uphill. I run in a generally easterly direction, judging by having to squint into the morning sun. I’m not accustomed to running on roads, and I start to flow as effortlessly as runoff along the curbs.

I hadn’t meant to run long in Knoxville Sunday. Nothing about our trip, in fact, went exactly according to plan. I make a plan, I like to stick to it. If something sways me from my plan, I lose something. I want to argue that I lose my freedom. We sometimes associate freedom with spontaneity. What is spontaneity? I ran long Sunday because it didn’t work out when I tried to run long Saturday. The list of conditions that intervened on that day is long, but it started with a sleepy wife, had some marital strife in the middle, and ended with an imminent thunderstorm. The result: my run ended after 40 minutes. So I “spontaneously” ran Sunday after Gavin’s first game and before his second. I hadn’t planned to run long then, but ultimately I “had to” if I wanted to get it in. That’s not so free.

The last couple of weeks I have felt the surge of energy that you get when fitness builds on fitness early in a training cycle. After weeks of trotting 30 minutes every other day and focusing on the rehab of both achilles tendons, the bar was set low. That may sound like a frustration, but, in fact, the joy is in the ramping up. The motivation that comes from improving is facilitated by letting yourself get out of shape first. My recently renewed vitality does have a downside, though. I’ve begun to look for opportunities to race – and soon. I’m tempted by The North Face races that pit regional 50 mile race winners in a December championship. There happens to be a regional in Virginia in June. I could be ready in 6 weeks. I can run pretty fast for 50 miles. It would be fun to see what I could do. But what about my freedom?

I set a course for myself after the Western States 100 last year. I did not finish as I had hoped. That particular run has had its way with me 3 times now. What I want – what would prove to me that I have some measure of freedom in this world – is to have my way with the 100 mile distance. Last June I decided to race 100 milers -- until I got it right. I have figured out the 50 mile distance. I’ve got nothing left to prove there. My record at 100 miles is considerably more spotty. I’ve got some work to do. Running 100 miles is not fun for me. I don’t look forward to grinding through the hottest part of the summer day, choking down food and fluids that make me nauseous. I’m not tempted by the competition or the “fame” that come from running 100 mile races. I shouldn’t want to run the things. And that, finally, is why I will. The temptations of the world cannot sway me. I have set my course, and I will run 100s. If I take opportunities that arise to do otherwise, I will be at the mercy of contingencies instead of the master of my own fate.