Give me trails over pavement. Irregularity over consistency. Rough over smooth. I live in a city though. If I want to run from my doorstep, or my office, at least part of that run will be on tarmac, flagstone, pavement.
I’m sucking air in. Filling my lungs. It isn’t enough to sustain the pace that I’m turning my legs over. It doesn’t matter, I’m near the top of the hill. While the pavement doesn’t have the rocks, mud, gullies, rises and irregularities of a trail, it isn’t uniform. I can feel the minor imperfections through my minimalist running shoes and adjust my body to absorb them. All it requires is the most delicate, subtle of movements. A small twist of the hips, throw my hand out a couple of inches further, a measured shortening of my stride.
I’ve run too hard to be truly fast. I’m at level of oxygen-debt fuelled lactic haze that means I’m no longer efficient in any kind of way. I’m bones and jelly. I don’t drive forwards, I just fall into my next step. I’d stop, but I think it would take more effort to engage my muscles to put on the brakes than it does to just keep putting one foot in front of the next.
Uphill becomes downhill. It always amazes me how quickly that self-generated hell dissolves. Strength returns. I consciously try to not over stretch my stride. It is tempting to slap my way down the hill in long, lazy leaps. My speed increases, then again, until I’m at terminal velocity as the gradient bottoms out before the final climb home. I come to a near halt as I try to break free of gravity. We were working so well together seconds ago; now it just wants to hold me back.
Turning on to my street, I wearily allow myself to slow to a stop. After shallow, grasped for breaths return to regular, deep, luxurious lung fillers, I open the front door, fill a cup with water and return to the front step. Clumsy fingers prise apart the double knots in my shoes. I feel in shock. I don’t feel fit, or healthy, just abused. I also feel deeply lucky. The last 40 minutes or so haven’t been hardship; they haven’t been a chore, or a burden to bare. They have been a privilege. I am fit and healthy enough to run when I want to. To run hard when I want to. To play games, to train my body, to free my mind, to escape. I can choose whether to put myself in pain, or to ease off. I am free.
Every single run, every ride, every day is precious.
I’m a lucky lad.