Each weekend—with rare exception—I do a long training run. Yesterday was the appointed day, and this time around, I did a 22-miler with about 2,500′ of elevation gain. From our home in the mid-Hudson Valley, I ran north to the FDR National Historic Site, then turned onto the Hyde Park trails. It’s a beautiful trail network that links three National Park Service-managed historic estates plus several Scenic Hudson parks and preserves.
The trails meander through meadows, over forested bluffs, along the shores of the Hudson River, in and out of wetlands and stream-filled valleys, and along the remnants of old carriageways. I took the run at a comfortable pace, finishing in just under 3 hours 20 minutes, which equates to about a 9-minute-per-mile pace.
That run brings my 2012 trail running to just over 610 miles. That’s a pretty good tally so far, I think. And it doesn’t include all sorts of other wonderful activities—weekly core yoga sessions, early morning surf sessions at the beach, day hikes in the mountains with Kelli and the girls.
Long trail runs such as yesterday’s are important to me for many reasons beyond pure training. One of those reasons is time. The “long run” that is a staple of every ultra runner’s training program quite simply takes time. You have to settle in for the long haul, be patient, and give yourself to the run. It is time well spent … because such runs give you time to think, or if you like, the time not to think and just be. Or both.
When I’m not thinking about nothing and instead thinking about something, all sorts of somethings pop into my head during runs. Yesterday, the theme of “rhythm” kept returning to me. Maybe it was the undulating flow of the trail—up and over a rise, down through a hollow, back up and over. Regardless, I was struck by how “rhythm” weaves its way into most every corner of my life.
There are, of course, the circadian rhythms; the way our biology and our psychology are linked to the alternations of day and night. And there’s the rhythm of the seasons. But there are other rhythms as well: The annual rhythm of our garden, from planting to weeding to tending to harvest to consumption and preserving. The rhythm of the waves during a surf session, and the way sets periodically and regularly roll in, while you’re bobbing on your surfboard to the ocean’s own rhythm, waiting for just the right wave. The rhythm of blogging, which often takes the form of: inspiration for a new recipe, conceiving the recipe, testing the recipe, photographing the recipe, sharing the recipe.
And then there’s the rhythm of my training. On a grand scale there’s a macro rhythm: the off-season fitness maintenance, the pre-season work to build a strong base, the in-season competition, the immediate post-season “do nothing whatsoever.” On the smallest of scales there’s the rhythm of my foot-falls, the cadence of my stride over rocks and roots and dirt and mud and crushed gravel.
There’s also a micro-rhythm that takes shape in-season: a race, following by a period of rest and recovery, followed by a short block of intense training to prepare better for the next race, and then a taper in preparation for the next event. Then repeat.
I’m in the midst of one such rhythm as I write these words. My last big race (the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Bear Mountain) was just over four weeks ago. My next big race—the Finger Lakes 50s Ultramarathon—is just under four weeks away. My training at the moment is intense, but in a few short weeks it will taper drastically to get my body ready for that next big race.
All of these overlapping rhythms are like a silent metronome for my life. They are a way to find my pace. When I think back to the times in my life when I’ve been the most stressed, the most sick, the most irritable, they are times when I’ve lost my rhythm. Sure, at times the pace accelerates or decelerates, but ultimately, the rhythm continues, sustaining the flow from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.
What’s your rhythm?