What They Won’t Do
In two weeks I’ll run my first half marathon. It’s been a year of firsts. I opened my first restaurant. Sold my first story. And now this. Check back for 500 or so words a day on putting in the final preparatory miles.
There’s a stretch on the Boston side of the Charles River that I never set foot on except on my very longest runs, and only when I am feeling at my very best once I hit it.
On Sundays, without fail, I pack up my knives signaling the symbolic end of a long week of long shifts. This is an end in ritual only as I’ll be back to unpack these knives at just after six in the morning for one more long stretch before my staff gives me a day out of the restaurant on Tuesday. Regardless though; leaving on Sunday, hanging my white jacket and trading it for a pair of Mizunos always feels like an important benchmark.
I approach the river slowly to warm up and then run Charles River Park, where I grew up playing catch with my dad. I hated running then, anything more than the distance from home plate to first base. I think about that and laugh every time I stride along this river.
Some weeks I wind back and forth a few laps along the baseball fields and picnickers. Usually I just make a straight line toward the bridge on Mass Ave that puts me safely back on my side where I’ll continue to hug the river but with the comforting knowledge that I can cut to my left at any time and pick up a shortcut home. I rarely need to.
The stretch of the path between this bridge and the Central Square bridge is long. And lonely. I was conquered by this stretch on what was supposed to be an eight mile Sunday run at the beginning of my half marathon training. I made it across the bridge, but misjudged the distance to get there and at the farthest point from home; I called for a ride. I was late anyway for a planned night out with the staff to celebrate an important accolade.
The convenient excuse took me right off the road that night and haunts me as I follow the river as the path narrows and the signs beckon me home. I won’t take a step toward this bridge unless I am ready to conquer long distances; and past failures. It’s a hard two miles for me, every time.
Tonight I took those steps. A long winding route had taken me seven miles already by the time I faced down my choice. Heavy rain emptied the path of runners. I had crossed paths with just four or five in the last two miles. One of which ran the last mile on my heels and as soon as I made my choice she came on strong to pass.
I don’t like to get passed on this stretch of path. I don’t mind in general. But here, as far from home as I can get along this river on a route that has beaten me before; I like to hold my ground.
She shouldered past me, just barely, maybe fighting some past failure of her own, and held that lead for a quarter mile. We traded it back and forth a few times. The rain increased. We smiled. We chose to keep up in these conditions when most of our usual companions are missing from the path today. She ran up ahead and I follow suit. She dodged a few puddles that I run straight through. I’m at my best in the rain. Especially along a stretch of road that I know wants to see me quit.
I take back the lead and look straight ahead as I increase the pace just a little past what is comfortable. The rain gets harder still. I love the river in the rain.
I text a couple friends who are planning to run a prep race with me next week “fingers crossed no rain ;).” I do hope for good weather, really. But too, just a little, I always want that chance to outpace the competition through bad conditions. Head down, one foot in front of the other, stoically trading a past version of myself for a better one; one step at a time that others won’t take, seeing what others can’t see by doing what they won’t do.