This morning’s run was not good. I knew it wouldn’t be when last night I was already trying to talk myself out of it. I was tired, stressed, and up late too many recent nights. I had too many work deadlines, emails to return, a class birthday celebration to plan, unfinished writing assignments, plus a few episodes of Top Chef I’d missed. The last thing I wanted was another early-morning wakeup, but I’d skipped my run the day before and my guilty conscious wouldn’t allow it.

The run was rough. The gradual uphill of the first few blocks through my dark, still-sleepy neighborhood felt demanding and borderline rude. My breathing was labored, my muscles sluggish and apathetic. I got through four miles before I zipped back through the front door to join my husband in making breakfast, packing lunches and backpacks, and shuttling kids to school. I was glad I’d run. But mostly I was glad it was over.

I’ve been a runner for the better part of two decades, but I haven’t had a really good run in a while—the type where at the end I feel strong and proud, and, most importantly, happy. I think this is my normal for March, when the best parts of winter (the snow, the holidays) are often behind us and we’re fully immersed in the dreary pre-spring. It can be a real drag.

And a real drag is not what I signed up for. I count on running to make me feel good! I keep going even when it doesn’t, though, because it’s become an essential part of my life. It’s still what gets me outside, makes me stronger, gives me time to think, and to not think.

Running is everything I didn’t know it could be when I had to do those demoralizing two-mile runs in high school PE, my bookworm self straggling behind a group of fitter, faster people. Running was, quite frankly, the worst. But starting in college, when I needed to do it only if and when I pleased, running and I gradually transitioned from enemies to casual acquaintances, eventually becoming friends. Many years passed, and as they did I kept running, several times each week. There was never a formal commitment, but I think somewhere along the way we must have crossed the threshold into common law marriage. I dabble in other things—kickboxing, yoga, weights, hiking—but running, if a happily married woman may say so, is my life partner.

That doesn’t mean every run is a joy. But we don’t expect constant joy from our life partners, do we? They’re part of us either way. Even when I don’t love it, running always gives me something. When I’m strong and healthy, every run reveals it. I feel good. I get faster. I’m energetic, eagerly tacking on extra miles. When I’m not taking care of myself, running makes it obvious. I dread my early wake-ups and drag along my usual routes, tempted every few minutes (sometimes every few seconds) to crouch down on the asphalt and needlessly re-tie my shoes. Running reminds me of what I need to do: drink another glass of water, tuck myself into bed earlier, eat a real breakfast. And when I listen, everything becomes better—running, and the rest of life, too.

As with any long-term relationship, sometimes it’s important to shake things up. When my enthusiasm for running wanes, it’s time to switch the routine, maybe shift my schedule to run in the mid-morning when the sun is fully up, register for a race distance I’ve never tried, plan a long run with a friend, or download a new book on Audible to pass the miles. Or, maybe, take a week off and then try again, giving myself a chance to miss running a little bit. Because I know that before long, I definitely will.

This morning’s run was rough, but it brought gifts, too. I could have done without the damp air and the soggy leaves on the ground, but I got to watch the day edge from dark to light, the inky blue sky and deep clouds just starting to reflect the tangerine and grapefruit hues of early morning. Without my having to force it, my feet sped up during the last mile. The view just down the road, I knew from past experience, would be even better. I wanted to get there while the sun was still rising. //

 

Sarah Hauge will be running Bloomsday and accompanying her daughters in the Marmot March this May. She wrote about Six Ways to Beat the Winter Blues in the January issue.

 

Feature photo: Winter running at its best. //  Jon Jonckers