I’ve been adrift without a plan since sometime in late January, without even much in the way of running goals. It became apparent that I wouldn’t be in Toronto in April when most of my spring races are scheduled. I managed to find one 10-miler and a trail 25K in Santa Barbara, and then sort of lost steam. Even before I fractured my rib, I was biding time, waiting to become impatient with the race-shaped hole in my training. For a while, I was treading water with a two-week cycle of a long run, 3 trail runs, one tempo and one interval workout. Two weeks felt a little long, so when my injuries allow, I might shorten that cycle to 10 days, but it feels mostly right.
It feels so right that I don’t seem to notice that race-shaped vacuum. The SBER 25K that I’ve ambitiously registered for is now in doubt, which would normally fill me with anxiety and disappointment. Not this time. My biggest frustration is that I can’t run mountain trails if there’s rain in the forecast. Under other circumstances, I might attempt it, but I can’t take the risk of another fall in slippery conditions. I’m missing out.
On what I’m not sure, but it’s not a PR I’m thinking of. Maybe I’m missing the chance to see morning fog spill over the mountains in a slow-motion avalanche, while the sun climbs golden and benevolent over the sea.
My habits as a trail runner are very different from the way I run on roads. On roads, I gather a flood of data: date, time, distance, route, heart rates, effort, time for each mile, cadence, calories, altitude gained and lost, two different algorithms for effort, by heart rate and approximated VO2max by pace… in total 15 independent measurements, a further 30 calculations, trends, and statistics based on those measurements. The nature of road running permits control, and therefore comparison. Data can hold meaning. As a scientist it is anathema to my nature to discard data.
On trails the same data is recorded, but my memories are richer than any number. As much as I can, I write about my run while I re-fuel in the half hour afterwards. My thoughts are chiefly about the trail, what I saw, what has changed, where I got lost because I always get lost, and what may remain to be discovered. There is less of me, and more of the world. I feel the urge to go farther and faster, not so much for personal satisfaction, but out of fascination — to see, touch, smell more of what could be above, below, around that bend…
Outside the tidy limits bounded by curbs, there is a world that defies control, and my meagre collection of data captures nothing about it. Performance measures, my own or anyone else’s, taste a bit flat.
This doesn’t make for good racing. For me a good race effort requires drumming up some aggression. Aggression I don’t seem to feel for running these days. I haven’t stopped dreaming about running though; I flit aimlessly around vague ambitions of leaving a tread-print over every trail in the front and back country, top to bottom, but it doesn’t amount to a goal. I don’t know how many miles that is, how many thousands of feet I’d have to climb, or how many weeks I have to do it. I’m uncharacteristically content to let those numbers rest in ambiguity.
They say you should make your goals specific, so you can judge your progress towards them and take pride when you’ve achieved them. I’m not impervious to the sway of ego, but right now my imagination is not captive to self-improvement. Self-esteem, self-realisation, self-anything seems beside the point. If I should manage to trek every trail within 50 miles of the mat where I dry my muddy shoes, I’d probably just want to do it again.