Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heeding the Hills

Something strange started happening a few week ago. The hills and valleys of my lovely, leafy neighborhood, augmented by crisp autumn breezes and the grand annual color show, seemed to call, "Run, Tara." I told Dan, "I don't know what's going on, but I feel compelled to start running, like it might be fun." He said, "That's weird," and I agreed. Still the compulsion remained. It was an unprecedented urge, and unlikely to recur if I didn't act.

I've embarked on several neighborhood runs over these past few weeks. For those of you who are runners this is no big deal, but for me it's a revolution. I thought I hated running. Until three years ago, I never ran of my own volition. Treadmill jogging was enjoyable during pregnancy, mainly because I wasn't allowed to over-exert myself and still felt like a badass. Once Bernadette was born, I went back to hating it.

And running in public, where my neighbors could see me all slow, sweaty and sputtering? That fear was the last vestige of grade school gym class anxiety. But something broke in my brain and I just stopped caring about that. Or rather, my yearning for a specific sort of exhilaration overcame concern for what others might think.

So I listened to the hills and valleys, and they were right. I love my runs. They leave me feeling so vital. I usually start by jogging down the steep part of the ridge beside my house, which helps me build momentum for the jog up the side of the mountain. Every course is a little different. The distance and altitude changes depend upon various factors like time, traffic and whether I'm alone or pushing Bernadette in her stroller. I try to make each new journey a little more challenging. Halfway through, I like to reward myself by landing somewhere with a beautiful view (usually at the end of the mountainside lane pictured below). I slow down, catch my breath, let my well-worked lungs enjoy the sweet, piney air. And once I get going again, I don't stop until I get home.

It's a fun way to take in my favorite neighborhood sights - the stately Victorian palaces that line St. Elmo Avenue, the yellow brick Baptist church with the picturesque spire, the row of stubborn, still-leafy pear trees at the center of the valley, the goofy, geriatric Jack Russell terrier down the block. I see it all in such pleasing succession, like a montage - faster than a walk, slower than a drive.

The best part is how I feel at the end. I'm immediately energized and later I'm really, really calm. My breathing is improving so the finish isn't as overwhelming as it was initially. T, my fitness guru, explained it well. "Your blood is pumping and your muscles are moving fast, so your lungs start to think they need to breathe rapidly. But they don't. Eventually, you'll get to the point where you can finish a three mile run and immediately carry on a normal conversation." This recovery check is my favorite measure of progress. How quickly can I return to conversational breathing? I prefer tracking that over time or distance, I guess 'cause I'm a weirdo. But that's just another thing I enjoy about running, the freedom to take whatever course you like. The options are infinite.