Friday, October 10, 2008

On the Right Track

Every couple of weeks I find myself staring down that large oval in a local park--the white lane lines, the orange rubbery surface, the grassy green football field in the middle, and the silver metal bleachers lining each side. 

It's on that track there where I doubt myself most. Ironically, it is also where, week after week, I prove to myself that I am a different person--a different runner--than I was just six months ago.

When I arrive, I slowly start jogging around the surrounding neighborhoods to warm up, gingerly weaving my way up and down the steep side streets of Bangor, PA, where my father grew up. I can't help but think about him on those days. My route, after all, takes me right past the cemetery where he rests, past the headstone that marks his grave, where I said goodbye to him nearly 21 years ago. 

But it's never sadness that overwhelms me when I'm making my way back to the track. It's a renewed sense of the discipline, strength, and courage he infused in me so long ago. I enter the gates ready to give it my best shot, shuffling through one more mile to get my legs ready, and a few short strides to prep them for the workout ahead.

And then I take a deep breath through my nose, let it out through my mouth, and hit "start" on my watch. I take off. My heart begins racing as fast as my legs, the sweat inevitably pours, my breathing is deep and loud and labored. It is uncomfortable. And I know that it will only get more difficult from here. My internal voice--that alter ego who is constantly questioning why?--starts telling me to quit, that it hurts, that it's not worth it. 

I tell her to shut up.

There is work to be done here and it's hard, lonely work. Everybody has that voice, I know, that whispers that it's okay to let yourself off the hook. Everybody faces that choice of whether to listen to it or forge ahead, confident that you won't come face-to-face with the disappointment and regret that is sure to follow giving up.

And I take off again. Seven times I run 1000 meters, consistently hitting my target time, recovering for 200 meters between each interval, fending off that annoying girl inside who relentlessly begs me to stop.

As I round that last curve, head for that last straightaway, and hit that last finish line, I've completed a task that an hour earlier seemed nearly impossible. I am relieved. I am also exhausted, thirsty, hungry, smelly, and sore. However, more than anything, I am happy. It's the kind of happiness reserved for when you have achieved something that didn't come easily, but in your heart you knew all along was worth the struggle.

With many more miles and trials ahead, I know it's not the last time that kind of joy will be mine.


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