Run Full Circle

There is sound advice that goes, “Run like clockwork”, which is to say, set a time to run each and every day, keep it consistent, never waver, and translate the act into a part of your day, part of your being, like breathing air, drinking water.

It is legitimate advice for the athlete so privileged to have enough leisure time in the day to set their biological metronome at will, to be free of the inconveniences and burdens of responsibility that get in the way for the rest of us. We have to simply make do with the fluctuations, dodging and ducking, bobbing and weaving, finding the moments more than making the moments to run. But this is ok, like I said, we make do. Maybe the primary difference between those of us that make do is our dedication to just that, making do, making time.

When I first started running again, making time took precedence, but it was also facilitated by the nap time of my son, allowing for a good 90 minutes of afternoon running. This setting of the biological clock, however, only lasted as long as he was lulled into this fragile scheduled sleep, which any parent will tell you is so fragile as to be almost non-existent. Still, the routine held. Until certain changes took place in the cooperation with his mother and the only time I could make to run was after work, when I got home from a 45 minute drive…at 1 am. It sounds absurd, but being primed to run in the country, under an open, dark sky, with no cars or people around is a running environment most never experience. I made do with the 1 am running experience for a month or so, but with a change in work schedule, I made new time with afternoon runs yet again, back on the nap schedule of my boy, who took to the rhythmic pace of running as gently as he could, falling asleep for the entire 90 minute run.

These afternoon runs became our thing, after a morning of hard playing and increasing restlessness, we took to the streets for some needed rest for him and an expenditure of energy for me. With a bit of wavering of the schedule, even through a change in residence, we kept to our schedule, until…fast forward…he was gone elsewhere (a tangent of this story too long and complicated to summarize). The rhythm of our routine, however, had become engrained and every day, at the same afternoon time, I went out for my run, unsure what else to do in my solitary state. The clock was set.

More life and job changes came and went, but the afternoon run time was as necessary and intuitive as breath and water.

Until suddenly it wasn’t. A new relationship. A new job. A new residence. With these changes came a forced adjustment to my running schedule and my afternoon runs got pushed to later evening, which turned out to be a prime time for exertion. My body was loose, my mind set to explode with a releasing of stress, and a strong 10 miler or exhausting workout was exactly what I needed after getting home. I had found the optimal time of day to run for the needs of my mind and body, and so for years I stuck to this schedule. Like clockwork, every day, my routines revolved around priming myself for the late after noon / early evening run. My days were full and fulfilling and perfectly exhausting. I set PRs. I felt grounded and in control.

Then I wasn’t. The obligations of a relationship that I didn’t forecast as a failing endeavor took precedent, and in an effort to save what I thought worth saving, I switched my running efforts to a pre-work alarm. To keep my running from cutting into time with my family, I set my alarm for absurd times, getting in 10, 12, or 15 miles before I had to be at work…at 7 am. I forced through dark mornings, passing mile markers in a state of pseudo-sleep, waiting for the pumping of blood or rising of sun to wake me enough to keep going. It was hard, but I believed it was worth it. On and on, every day, early, so early, I would wake to run and get it in before the day really began. Admittedly, this was nice, as if my suffering proved my dedication and commitment to doing what was necessary for new PR’s and goals seemingly out of reach. I was a martyr to myself. The post-run feeling of getting 15 miles in before people even woke, and having the rest of the day and night to just relax also turned out to be somewhat addictive. Morning runs reset the running clock, so that even when I didn’t have to get up and run, the compulsion to get the run out of the way, to build the fitness first thing, became compulsive. I couldn’t stop, running as early as I possibly could. I’m not alone in this slippery slope. A friend often gets up at 3 am, runs, then goes back to sleep, so he can work the next day without the obligation of a workout burdening his mind. The running compulsion is a powerful force and I am certainly not exempt.

Of course, then came disease, and the clock hands spun out of control. I didn’t know if I could ever run day to day, depending upon how my feet felt or how strong my mind seemed. I gave up keeping time and the truism about running like clockwork solidified into something like scripture. Without a routine, a goal, a compulsion to keep going at the same hour, I felt like I’d never find the rhythm again. Fortunately, this didn’t bear out and over time I was able to set the alarms, make time in the day, and find routine again, even if the concept of clockwork became a little more relaxed. The exact hour didn’t matter so much as just the day now.

With each passing month, however, the attempt to make do settled back into my familiar routine of early morning running and the comforts of getting done first thing what most couldn’t imagine doing in a full month. Over time, however, with a body compromised from so many surgeries and a refocus on the self-interested values I get from running, I wavered with my clockwork, letting the hands swing loosely, or just hitting the snooze button until calling it a day again and again. I had lost the drive to get up and get at it. Like, truly lost it. There was no more clockwork. There was barely a clock.

A new job came again, this time one I don’t want to see go, and a solid routine was set, but I still couldn’t bring myself to wake and run before beginning the day. The compulsion to get the run in before work burdened the effort with a sense of urgency, so much that I couldn’t run mentally freely, always pushing to get home as soon as possible, thinking through all the tasks I had to complete before getting to work on time. Running was like clockwork, yes, but more a bomb ticking down rather than a starting gun. The clock simply made running a chore, until I felt most compelled to put it all aside.

It was like the clock ticked down from three to one to zero, and if didn’t blow up, then simply shut off. I was done. And I didn’t care.

Sort of.

Cause that’s not true. That’s never true. What happened was probably a combination of missing running and seeing the distinct changes in the air that signal a transition from winter to spring. The visions of warm runs and opened skies triggered something in me and I was willing to try anything to get back into a groove, which is when I realized just how unhindered I was to run after work…again…like I used to, during the late afternoon / early evening. I’m not sure why this didn’t come to me earlier, but what I understand to be the optimal time to run for my mind and body was wide open to me, but the compulsion to get the run in first thing for so long veiled my vision. Whatever the impetus, it became clear I could after work, without restriction, without undue obligation. I could run as release, as lightened, as childlike. I could do it like clockwork.

Just four days in and I’m clocking 10 milers, not rushed to stop, not rushed to get anywhere else, but rather rushed to start! The excitement of getting home, jumping into my running clothes, and getting back out and down the street is consuming. I keep kicking myself for not coming to this conclusion earlier, as if the clockwork became robotic instead of a helpful guide.

It’s not just the rediscovery of running like clockwork of course, but rather the rediscovery of running for the unburdened joy it once embodied. Sometimes going back to the beginning is impossible, but in other ways it just takes some adjustment of time. I’m just thrilled to be back here again, full circle, like clockwork.

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