Time on Your Feet

My supportive family practices the "time on your feet" philosophy with me.

My supportive family practices the “time on your feet” philosophy with me.

Once upon a time I used to run marathons. Like, the whole thing, the 26.2 mile enchilada. And I loved it! Loved training for them, the camaraderie of waking up basically in the middle of the night on a Saturday morning to run long mileage of twelve, fourteen, seventeen miles or more in 36 degree weather. Who was that crazy woman I used to be??

I don’t recognize her now. The woman who inhabits my body today sounds like Rice Krispies breakfast cereal. She has achy feet and snap crackle knees, and she would much rather wake up mid-morning on a Saturday, and go for a leisurely paced hike with her family and the dog.

However, as I train for this amazing Newfoundland backpacking trip with my Writing Walking Women I am reminded of a couple of things from my marathon training days.

  1. Mimic the conditions. In marathon training, that meant studying the route. If the route was hilly, I ran lots of hills. How would I fuel myself? Would I need to wear a belt with electrolyte drinks and GU? (For my non-runner audience, GU is an unappetizing flavored paste runners often squeeze into their mouths to fuel a long run). Depending on the marathon city’s local climate, I ran early in the day when it was colder or later for hotter desert weather, or indoors at the gym where it was stale and humid. Training depended on where the race would be held.

Even though Newfoundland is still a few months away, I’m already practicing by wearing a daypack full of water. This is to get me used to carrying the extra weight and also to get used to wearing the pack. I can tell you I already have chafe marks on my chest from an errant strap. It’s important to practice things like this. I would much rather find out now where I’m prone to chafing, and make adjustments. I don’t want to find out on the trail where I’m not prepared to take care of it.

As far as the climate is concerned, I live in the desert, and I hear Newfoundland is a damp, wet place. What to do? So far, I’m really just looking at how to dress for that. Although, my daughter and I did one long hike in the rain where I found out the dirt turned to clay, and clung to my shoes. Hopefully, this won’t be the case in Newfoundland.

  1. Second tip? Time on your feet. I once had a wonderful running coach. He had us run long, but only up to 3 or 3 ½ hours at a time. For the really long runs, 16 or 17 or 20 miles, he pushed us right up to the 3 1/2 hour time limit. He said anything over that and our muscles would be breaking down. But it was important to run that long, however slow we did it, just to get our bodies used to the “time on our feet.”

This tip, more than any other has resonated with me. It is absolutely true. This is the tip I think will transfer over beautifully in training for the Newfoundland backpacking trip. It doesn’t matter what kind of great shape I’m in if my body isn’t accustomed to the time just being on my feet.

For the last five or six weeks, I’ve been doing one long hike of 3-3 ½ hours while wearing the dreaded daypack with water. It’s usually around 11 miles. The first few weeks my body was sore and achy the next morning. Think snap, crackle, pop! But I can tell you the last two hikes I bounced right back, and even had enough energy to run the next day.

Time on your feet. Believe in it!

Here we go hiking!

Here we go hiking!

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Date Night

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It’s like this. Friday night, and your husband calls on his way home from work to invite you out on a night run. With the smallest sliver of moon for guidance. You’ll be on the trails with trees on one side, canyon walls on the other, and the smell of a seasonal creek running below. Glowing coyote eyes in the distance. Bob cats? Most certainly. Your husband runs very fast. You run excruciatingly slow. What do you say?

If you’re me, you say yes. But you make him promise to stay close to you, and not run ahead. You don’t want to be left alone in the dark where you can’t see your feet and you have to trust they’ll land in the right places. He has to stay by your side. “Promise?”

He does. You leave the house feeling the cool air against your face. The night envelops you in a comfortable embrace. You forget all the things you have yet to do tonight, and think only of how nice and cool, and quiet it is out here. Your heartbeat slows and you’re cheered at the realization no one else is out. The stars glisten above and you’re alone in the dark with your husband. This is going to be fun!

The traffic light at the end of the street is still green, and you both laugh knowing without words that you’re going to try to beat the light before it turns to red. Your feet hit the crosswalk as the warning light blinks seven seconds to red. Six seconds. You make it across in the nick of time.

Running down the sidewalk together, your feet beat in rhythm with your husband’s. Your breath becomes rhythmic, too. Everything working together. Slow, pant, pant. Slow, pant, pant.

You can do it, you tell yourself. You can run the whole distance without walking. You’re not going to think about the big hill toward the end. Not yet. You’ll think about it when you get there.

He knows you’re not used to running in the dark so he warns you before you reach the trailhead. “Be careful. The asphalt is broken up here soon. It’s easy to trip.”

You can’t see the asphalt, much less where it might be broken up. But you lift your feet a little higher. And in a few moments you feel the distinct edges of lifted asphalt beneath your shoes. You note the change in texture of this brokenness in other places. Potholes, rough dirt, tall grass, mud. Broken, bent, and missing sidewalk.

In the dark your senses are heightened. Your eyes adjust to the smells, the sounds, and the shadows of darker shapes within other shadows of darkness. Over there, a cluster of trees. Next, a trash can. Above, the slit of moonlight grins down. A cold air thermal passes through you. And you’re not afraid. Of anything.

“I love how it smells,” you say.

“Oh yeah? What does it smell like?”

“Water.” And it’s true. There is water in the fog and water in the stream below, water on the grass. On your face. You taste it. Pores open up the creosote and chaparral around you. The bushes smell of delectable goodness. Fresh.

A cacophony of frogs greet you as you run the mile-long stretch of night time creek songs, bushes rustling, dew drops mixing with sweat rolling on your neck before you reach the biggest hill of all. Dreaded hill. The one you’ve never been able to walk up without resting, much less run. Will you do it? Why do you think you can? You’ve never done it before. But you don’t want to let him down. You want to show him you’ve been working on endurance.

So you start up. Small steps. You can’t see your feet. But they don’t need to see where the ground is. Your feet have faith ground will meet them. You can’t see the top of the hill, but you trust it is there. You tell yourself: take small steps. Stay in this moment. Don’t try to go too fast. Slow will get you there. Only work on this part of the hill right now. Don’t worry about the rest.

He stays right beside you.

The top is nearing. Don’t stop now!

So you keep going. Five more steps, four, three…

You make it. This is such a major feat. A milestone. You want to cry. But there is no time for such ceremony. You’re not done yet. There is another mile to go before you’re back at the crosswalk and nearly home.

But wait. He’s coming in close for a kiss. He knows this was difficult for you. It’s enough that he knows and he acknowledges that you did it. Your heart wants to burst.

One and a half miles left.

The light is red at the crosswalk. Another damp kiss, waiting. Together, you walk up the last hill home holding hands sometimes, sometimes laughing. You discuss the milestone, the run, the night, the smells and sounds of the dark, and the slit of moon grinning down from above.

And you’re in love.

It’s the best date night ever.

The End.