First of all, you may rest assured I don't mean running naked, as I suspect that would cause quite a bit of unfortunate chafing in sensitive areas. Among other issues. *ahem*
But in all honesty, I am having a hard time coming up with a better term to describe this evening's run. Perhaps unencumbered is also a good description, but to me that word denies its definition - it's clunky and comes off the tongue like a chunk of something heavy and awkward - and certainly is not of which I experienced.
My intent was to do one loop (roughly 4.4 miles) of my beloved Tualatin Valley Nature Park, in which I have come to love running almost more than anywhere else in the area. Tonight, though, I was not all that pumped about going - I was vaguely headachy and hadn't hydrated much during the day, but I knew it needed to be done. As I was trying to psyche myself up during the short drive to the park, it occurred to me that perhaps a little deviation from the routine might be what I needed to have a successful workout.
Lately I've gotten in the habit of taking my Nathan handheld on every run, no matter the length, and my iPhone for music. I also have this ridiculous looking money belt contraption that I've been using for months to hold my iPod and gels and such, but I have to secure it with safety pins to my shorts or it rides up past the waistband and chafes. Ergo, it is a royal pain in the ass to set up. Another piece of equipment to join the fray of late has been a Headsweats visor, since the summer heat sends my already teeth-grindingly fierce sweat mechanisms into hyperdrive. So my shake-up was this: no tunes, no visor, no handheld and no wrestling with the belt. Nothing to weigh down the hands or aggravate me before I even started - just me and the trail, and may the sweat flow where it will. With the welcome blessing of cooler temperatures than normal, I thought it just might not be too bad. I realized as I got out of the car that I'd even forgotten my watch.
After some brief stretching and nice big drink of water, I hit the trail.
Now, I've run in this park over a dozen times at least, and I'm pretty familiar with the trails - but this time, something was different. Without the visor blocking my overhead vision, and the sound of my iPod tunes to distract me, the beautiful, tangled green mess of trees, shrubs and plants all around loomed larger than life, as if I was seeing them for the first time. Being early evening, there was no sun coming in through the canopy, and the trail was bathed in gently muted pre-dusk light that seemed to illuminate the serene energy of the surroundings. For the first time, I really watched the trail and everything around it as I ran, and for the first time in memory, I had no trouble passing through the normally tough first 10 minutes as my legs and lungs figured out what I was doing.
It was as if I was running in my body instead of trying to rise above it, striving to block all of the resulting sensations with the distractions of music and the concern over hydration, and having to switch the Nathan from hand to hand as they tired from holding it. I purposely kept my pace at a level that was completely comfortable, rather than even a little bit challenging, which of course means it was not particularly fast - but something about the sturdiness of it - the perfect rhythm of my feet hitting the ground at regular, reliable, and friendly intervals - was exactly what seemed to be feeding me the power I felt.
The entire time, I marvelled at how my body was working and how it seemed to finally be doing what I've been asking of it for months - to run without demanding I constantly zero in on what was hurting at the moment. Instead, I was simply reveling in the experience. And in being able to revel in the experience - I found that relatively little was hurting at all, and that the running....it was simply there. The breath was there, the legs were there, and my brain was there.
For the first time since February, I ran my intended distance without even one walking break. When I reached the end, I knew I could go further - and I wanted to - another loop, perhaps. But it was almost dark, dinner would be waiting, and the mileage was sufficient for this particular day. As I walked back to the car, I felt absolutely incredible, practically giddy with excitement and accomplishment and to be sure, a boatload of endorphins...if ever I'd experienced a true "runner's high" it was most certainly this evening. I honestly felt as if I could run forever.
This day it became clear to me that running is not a means to an end - it is a process to be experienced, enjoyed, and felt.