Three Hours of Grace

I’ve been dealing with the issue of grace lately, and if I’m to be completely honest, I don’t even really know what that means. I just know I’m dealing with it. I think it has something to do with calm and patience and… grace. See, that’s how dire things are. I’m defining a word with the word itself, the cardinal sin of the literary faithful.

I know what grace isn’t, however, which is why I know I’m looking for it. I know that grace isn’t desire, self, or control, and those are the Big Three I’ve been trying to duck, but they keep kicking my ass anyway. I’ve been fighting this body for months, believing I’m entitled to run it hard simply because I want to run it hard and because it’s mine, and isn’t that virtuous and so shouldn’t I be able to? Well, no, stupid lady.

I’ve watched my body soften while I try to beat it, coax it, ignore it into submission, and I’ve gotten completely pissed off by the softening and its unwillingness to cooperate with the aforementioned desire to run it hard. You simply can’t control most things, even your own damn body. It ages and hurts, and it tells you “too much” when you know you haven’t had nearly enough. I hate when things I want to control have their own agenda. I also hate when I think I know something so intimately as one knows one’s body, and then it turns out it deal me hurt and pain. It completely blows.

Which is how I came to look for grace because I know that kind of relationship is most definitely lacking in it.

Saturday morning, I played with grace for three hours.

The first step was to not say, “I’m running for three hours, which will be 20 miles, and so is the word forever and ever, amen.”

Step 1: Give up control.

Instead, I said, “I am going to try to run 20 miles. It might be 15. It might not be 15. I will have to see how I feel.”

This last sentence is the most impossible thing I’ve ever said to myself. I don’t like to see how I feel. I’d rather run.

Then I took care of my body for a while. I iced my shins and knee. I stretched and massaged my Achilles and the baseball that took up residence in my left calf sometime in the last month. I drank water. I walked around a lot.

Step 2: Immerse self in mindfulness and ritual.

Then I did the things I always do. I shoved Gu in my pockets, strapped on my Garmin, filled two bottles with water and Nuun to plant in my mailbox and filled another smaller handheld to carry with me. I made sure the water was room temperature so it wouldn’t freeze outside. I braided my hair and rubbed Glide in my pits. I trimmed my toenails. I went to the bathroom 3 times. And then I did my favorite thing to do before a run: I procrastinated.

This habit is handily cured by the need to hire a babysitter for long runs. Procrastination means cash for Rachel, so I didn’t indulge in much of it.

I decided to do multiple out-and-back courses because I was worried enough about my knee and foot that I didn’t want to be too far from home if things went bad. I was pretty sure I’d have an hour in me, so I left for a 7-mile leg. I had my Garmin, but my attempt at grace meant I was going to run by feel and start as slowly as possible without looking at my watch for any of the splits. This is very difficult. At one point, I caught a mile split from my wrist and winced a little, not in physical pain but in ego pain. I had seen the same woman jogging my route at two points already, and I was not happy to have been caught twice at a mosey.

Grace me now and grace me hard.

The first seven miles went by unremarkably, which is to say, painless. I left for the next out-and-back, which took me out of suburbia and into the rural void of windy roads, high snow banks, and tall pines. I savored the windless and mild air, which was about 38 degrees. I felt good, and I was enjoying the run, which might sound like a bland nonstatement, but it’s a huge achievement for anyone who’s been running with discomfort for months. My foot was fine, and my knee only hinted at tightness, like it remembered being tight last week but had changed it’s mind.

So I ran further out, turning around after 5 miles instead of 3.5. When I’d finished that out-and-back and grabbed a shot of water at my mailbox, I had somehow made my way to the 17th mile. I still wasn’t watching my splits (much) and my body was holding up. I hadn’t hit any walls of crushing fatigue, either, the prospect of which still fills me with prerun anxiety 15 years after I started running.

I only had three miles left to go. I started out on that itty bitty less-than-5k run like I owned my body, which is not very graceful, but hey, I’m a work in progress. On my way out, the babysitter passed in her car with Henry on their way back from the bookstore. They both waved to me as I ran, my first spectators since my last race in August.

I’d forgotten what it feels like to be cheered for. Even from inside a station wagon and by two people and in total silence, a cheering crowd is a cheering crowd.

When I was finally in the 20th mile, I did what so many of us do. I said to myself, “Maybe I can go 21…”

But I stopped myself. My shred of grace spoke up, clearing its throat to get my attention. The Garmin reached 20 shortly before my driveway. When I got to my mailbox, I just stood there for a little while. I looked up into the trees and felt my breathing, labored but easing by the second. I listened to Bruce sing “Wrecking Ball” and got teary at the line that always makes me cry: “Hard times come and hard times go and hard times come and hard times go… just to come again.” It’s so sad, that idea, but that is why we need grace in this life.

I got my 20 miles, 2:59:57, run entirely by feel/effort. I felt blessed by grace for those few hours. It was probably the endorphins, because then I went to the salon and ended up a blonde. True to form, I think my ego transmuted the lovely and modest idea of grace to the lovely and desired Grace Kelly. I guess I still have some work to do to get past issues of desire, self, and control and find grace with a lower-case G.  I do like my hair, though.

My 20-miled three hours of grace did lead me to finally book my flight to California for Big Sur. I added on travel insurance in case I’m hurt. Not sure if that has anything to do with grace, but it seemed sensible and these days, I’m trying to protect my self and body by practicing more sensibility, too. As my blonde highlights suggest, I have some ground to cover on that front, but hey, maybe I’ll have more fun in the process.

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