I am wrapped in twin layers. Legs, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers, swathed and coddled.
I step onto the road, and I start to run.
This road has been many things over a short period of time. It has been crisp with white overnight frost, slick with ice, flooded with torrential rain, and utterly lost in thick fog. Not so long ago it seemed to throb with the heat of the sun.
Not so long ago, but a lockdown ago, at least.
There were races somewhere between then and now. There was a thought that things were perhaps, possibly, maybe, getting back to normal, but now we are entering the New Year in a renewed state of anxiety.
The road has been many things, and this morning it is slippery and my hands are so cold that I tug the sleeve of my top down over my gloved hands and clutch them to form an extra layer, a mitten of sorts. When it’s this cold rhythm can be a little hard to come by, but I trust that it will. 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles, it will come, eventually.
My watch is there, beneath all that fabric. I don’t need to look at it between the first step out onto the road and the last. I could, I suppose, but what would be the point? I’m going as far as I need to go, I’m working as hard as I need to work. These are things that I feel, things that I know. This road, no matter what it is – wet, dry, frozen, invisible – leads so far in one direction, and then so far in another. I’ve watched the watch tick away the miles many, many times, this year. The 10 mile loop, 7 mile loop, 5 mile, 4.2, 2.3…I know them all.
The watch doesn’t lead me on this road, I lead it.
Whatever gains in speed and endurance I’ve made over the course of the year pale in comparison to the confidence that I’ve found by repeatedly stepping out onto the road, again and again and again. I could dig out my times from the beginning of the year, and my times from the end, and compare them to see what gains I have made in a quantifiable sense, but I don’t think the progress that I have made is best measured by data.
Yes, I’ve got faster because I’ve trained more, but I trained more because running has been more than just training for me.
I remember the decision which shaped my year, very clearly. I had just heard that I was going to be working during the lockdown (something that I have come to appreciate, but didn’t at the time) and I knew that I would be working a lot to cover for those who had to shield. I took my annoyance, my frustration, my fear, and made a simple decision. I was already running. I already had this blog. Why not step it up? There was so much we couldn’t do, but outside exercise was singled out, exempt. There was, amongst all the restrictions, an opportunity.
An opportunity to ask: how far can I go with this?
And then I spent the year finding out.
I’m still finding out.
In the process I have found focus. In training, a centre. Which is to say, the road has been there for me. The trail, too, that’s been new. I’ve seen beautiful places. I’ve felt wonderful, smooth, and fast. I’ve also suffered, and hurt. I’ve been too hot, and (now) too cold.
In the glorious sunshine and ghostly quiet of shutdown spring, in the sweating summer, through falling autumn leaves, and now in numb winter frost, I’ve run.
We are all hoping for changes next year but that, at least, is one thing that I hope will stay the same.