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I could have run north through the trees forever.

February 3, 2010

Have you ever played soccer in the rain?

There’s a period of about 5 to 10 minutes when you first arrive at the field during which you convince yourself there’s a way to come out the other side of this ninety minute practice unscathed. All you have to do is run daintily on your toes and keep your arms out to the side for balance. Avoid all puddles, and if there’s bound to be a battle for the ball, instead of fighting for it, you jump out the way. You know that squinting your eyes and wrinkling your nose probably won’t help, but you can’t stop yourself from doing it anyway.

And then you trap the ball with your body, and there’s crud all over your shirt. And you realize that the mud drops flying up in the air with every step you take have to land somewhere, and the most popular spot seems to be your kneehigh socks.

You might as well give up. Give in. Take off after the ball, and even if you don’t really need to do so, slide the last few feet to try to get there first.

Just let go.

And the rest of the practice turns into some of the greatest fun on the soccer field that you’ve ever had with the coach’s permission.

You may not be able to stop the elements, but you can make sure the elements don’t stop you.

Yesterday’s run brought me back to high school soccer practice. From my living room window before I set out, I could see the thick snowflakes swirling their way to the ground. The forecast predicted that there wouldn’t be a break in the snow all day, so there was nothing to do but suck it up and get out there.

I left my hat behind because I hadn’t needed it on several previous runs. My ears, to no one’s surprise, froze within three minutes. What I didn’t expect, though, was my forehead following suit. I felt like I had an icepack wrapped around my entire skull.

As I started my Garmin, I started calculating how short I could cut my run without regretting it later. I told mysef I’d wait until ten minutes in to decide. By that point, maybe I’d actually be warm and thinking straight.

The snowflakes landed in my eye one after the other, so I blinked my way through the first mile and felt the precipitation mingle with wind-induced tears from my frozen eyeballs down the entirety of my cheek. I saw drivers take a moment from their intense concentration on the road to stare at me with amazement at the hell I was voluntarily putting myself through. I saw zero other runners.

At the ring road separating us from Eindhoven, I took a left onto a bike lane that navigated through the woods outside of town. Once inside the woods, the trees helped block the wet snow so that my face was clear and my eyes could fully open. I thought that was relief.

And then I turned north.

With the wind now at my back, the feeling of ice cutting into my body lifted, and I was suddenly on a different run that I had been up until that point.

I was warm. I was amidst the natural beauty of woods in wintertime. I was free.

The north-facing path through the woods didn’t even last a full mile before it deposited me back in the wind and the snow, but it was enough. To remind me why I run, to convince me I wasn’t ready to head home, to make me feel like a little kid on a muddy soccer field.

Now. With all that said, I cannot wait for spring.

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