A new start on running

I was out with friends at South Street last night, and at around 10:30 I knew it was time to go home.

"I'd love to go to the next whiskey bar, but I want to get up to make sure I can run," I said to them. Off they went, and off I went to my home.

This week I signed up to go on the Sunday Sixer put together by the Charlottesville Area Trail running club. I have been looking for opportunities to run socially for a long time and now that I don't have two jobs, I decided to sign up so I went home to prepare.

I woke up at 7:00 am, and wanted to keep sleeping. So, I did, drifting into a deep sleep with multiple dreams. I have incredibly vivid dreams about my real life all the time, and I remember most of them, at least for a little while.

So, I woke up at 8:40 am again, taking every second I could to dream.

But, I knew I couldn't stay there. I knew I had to get out and live a dream.

I drove there, not sure what was going to happen. Our departure point was The Park behind the law school, past Dsrden. I was so thirsty and did not feel like I was hydrated enough. I thought about stopping for something, but I was late and did not want to hold things up. So I drove there, and got to a parking lot on a beautiful sunny morning.

I got out. Three men dressed in running attire were waiting. One was bald with a beard and short and stocky. The other two were tall, lanky, and looked like they could run rings around me. I turned my watch on, and as soon as it synced, we were off on the trail.

I've not run the Rivanna Trail much lately. The only part I usually do runs east from Fifth Street Extended, but it's been closed as the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority have been doing work.

I love running on a trail. You have to pay so much more attention to each and every footfall. There could be a root, a rock, a patch of mud. Your body moves in different ways. A part of your brain kicks in that doesn't need much work if you're just running down a road.

So, there we were, four people off on a Sunday morning run. Kurt, my fellow stocky guy, was right in front me as we took off. I watched his movements to try to anticipate what I should do. Where would his legs go? How would he move through? We set off fast.

I didn't pay attention at all to where I was for the first two miles. I didn't talk. I just kept my mouth shut and tried to keep up with the pace. I didn't even really look at my watch much. I just wanted to stay in the pack, three out of four.

As a person who writes about transportation and urban planning, I knew a lot about the land we were covering. But, while I was huffing and puffing to keep up, I wasn't thinking at all about that. I was just thinking how much fun it was to be out with people running. Footfall after footfall on a nice morning in late winter.

At one point, I had to tell the guy behind me I needed to slow down to catch my breath. He obliged, and we started talking. Drew runs 100 mile races and I peppered him with questions about what that felt like. How did he train? Did he really run straight through? What was it like crossing the finish line?

That experience seems alien to me, but there we were running on the trail together. We went through two tunnels under roads, which felt incredibly urban to me, even thought the rest of our setting was woods.

And then we got to this impossible hill. I was told that on the other side was the Meadow Creek Parkway. I was amazed at how far up we were into Albemarle County, because we were only two and a half miles or so away from our origin. Up and up and up we went, and then down and down and down we went and suddenly we were on the trail built alongside the parkway. We saw lots of people on it, and ran past them, and it was here where I confessed I was a reporter.

And we just kept running, on the streets we had to run to get back to trails. It was one of the best mornings I've had in a long time. I remember how communal running can feel, something I've not really done since 2009.

Earlier in the run I had told Drew, the guy who runs the 100-milers, that I was concerned about the mud because I didn't want to end up with an injury.

"Just go right through it," he had said.

But I was skeptical. I ended my communal running shortly after getting an injury during a 16-mile run.

But, as we came towards the end of the run, I found myself deliberately attacking the mud, feeling the slippery connection between foot and wet ground, splashing mud all over the place. I felt alive! And in those moments where I felt weak and like I couldn't go on, I conquered that doubt by putting everything in perspective. I was being human, doing what my body is capable of doing. Running through space, pushing myself as fast as I could, to keep up with others. I am not alone. I am part of something. I am part of a system of humanity that's been with us since our forebears ran to hunt, ran to escape, ran for survival.

And sometimes, I think, isn't that why I run too?

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