Saturdays are my long runs. Typically I meet my running club at 6:30am and we run about 7 miles. During marathon training season, some members of the running club meet at 6:00 am to run 3 miles prior to joining the remainder of the group at 6:30. This system allows the trainers to run 10 miles in total, while still running with the same group. Since I too am in marathon training mode, I have been joining the group at 6am for what we call the “Pre-Three.” I know where they meet, so all I have to do is drive to the meeting point, get off the car and follow the gang. And as I run the route, I enjoy the scenery and chat with my friends…but I pay no attention to what route i’m taking. This is somewhat of a flaw I have. I’m generally distracted and don’t focus on the routes.
Last week, however, was different. My marathon plan instructed me to run 12 miles but I had an event on Saturday and could not run with my group. Chatting with one of my running friends, he suggested I run on Sunday – the first 6 by myself and then he would meet me at our regular running spot for the next 6. I said “O.K” and the plan was made. I did not admit this to him, but I was TERRIFIED of running the first 6 miles alone. Although I had run the same course many times, all the streets looked the same to me. Plus, 6am is still dark – what if I missed a turn somewhere? Would I find my way back? This idea haunted me for two days, and suddenly it was Sunday and I was driving by myself to my usual starting point. My friend had sent a blast email to the group letting everyone know that I would be running at 6 and he would be joining me at 7 in case there were any runners who needed the miles that morning. So I was cautiously optimistic there would be someone there waiting for me (that knew the way). Close but no cigar. Since I knew I was likely to run alone that morning, I had a backup plan. I always track my runs using mapmyrun. That app has a map feature that tracks your route – now it doesn’t offer me a SIRI like gps that says “turn right in 200 feet” it only shows me as a little dot and i’m either on the red line or i’m not. If i’m not, I know i’m off my course. So my thought was, I will concentrate on the roads to make sure everything looks familiar, and when in doubt I will verify with mapmyrun that i’m on the red line.
I started my run and I was nervous but focused and alert. I paid close to attention to my surroundings, noting landmarks, street names, and familiar homes. Every time I’d look down and see my little dot on the red line, I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment. I did reach a road that I could not remember if I had to run left or run straight. I made a quick judgment call and ran straight and about 15 seconds later I realized my dot had gone off the red line. I immediately knew I had made the wrong call so I ran back and went left. I was back on track. After that it was a pretty straight shot and I grew increasingly confident. I reached the water stop, drank some and headed back to meet my partner for the next half of the run. On my way back, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride in myself. Even though I had been afraid, I confronted my fear, I stepped out of my comfort zone and here I was on the right track. I realized even though I don’t normally pay attention to the route, my body instinctively remembered the way (with the exception of the left turn which really was more me overthinking it).
And I thought, “this is life in a nutshell.” We don’t always know the direction we’re headed. Sometimes we just follow the crowd and if we are lucky enough to have the right guidance, our course is comfortable and successful. But there are moments in life when we have no choice but to travel the road alone. We have an aim which at that moment is ours and ours only. Although there have been those that have traveled that road before us, we set out nervously and cautiously hoping we stay on the red line and finish what we started. Maybe its a career path, or raising our kids; maybe its a spiritual journey. Sometimes we have to trust our instincts and sometimes we have look around to make sure we’re on the right track. But if we focus, if we stay alert, and if we choose the right path…with every turn and twist we gain confidence, strength and pride in ourselves. And we leave our footprints on the trail so those that follow behind us can follow the red line.