By Alyssa T.
I can feel the training as soon as I coax myself out from my pillowy cocoon and place my feet on the hardwood floor. Each morning brings a new set of slight twinges and subtle aches — a tugging sensation on a calf muscle, soreness in the arch of my left foot, a strange imbalanced feeling in my hips. I raise my hands above my head and feel my back as it realigns with a few muted clicks. Then, like just about every other day in recent memory, I pull on my running clothes and lace up my shoes. There is a larger goal here; the pain is a part of a process of getting stronger and faster.
The deeper I get into marathon training, the more my body resists the first mile of the morning. I feel slow and disjointed as I shuffle through Brooklyn’s streets. I have to remind myself that my body is rebooting, preparing to ease into a smoother stride. Soon I’ll feel that sense of calm I know so well. Yet sometimes, as I pass a neighbor out for a morning walk with a coffee in one hand and a leash connected to a good-natured scruffy dog in the other, I fantasize about starting my day with a slow meandering stroll instead. If I’m feeling really rough, I might even fantasize about being the carefree dog who only runs when overcome with exuberance; retrieving a ball or running to an owner’s embrace.
Alas, I am human, and as I make my way deeper into the run, my body begins to shed the rigidity and a familiar rhythm returns. It’s a rhythm that has hummed for hundreds of miles in preparation for race day. It’s a rhythm that reminds me that I am a body, with a pulsing heart and lungs to absorb the air I inhale with each breath and each step. Most days my goal is simply to settle into this rhythm and rack up miles for my weekly mileage goal. On these slow steady runs, I take in my familiar surroundings— the other runners breathing heavily alongside me, the lines of preschoolers waddling by, the trees shifting to their warm autumn colors. On other days, I have a specific workout and my mind doesn’t drift far from the task at hand. Circling the buoyant oval of the local track, I snap into my body at a pace that requires focused effort.
My training comes in cycles. Three weeks up with increased mileage and intensity, one week down. Over time, the intensity of the training and my fitness climb together. Like most things in life, the progress rarely feels tidy. On the worst days I worry that somehow I’ve regressed— when a workout is more painful than expected, or an easy run never shifts out of an achy shuffle, does it mean my body has given up under the weight of all the miles? On the best days I feel the ways in which these training cycles have rewired my body. A workout or distance that may have felt brutally challenging or even impossible a few months ago clicks into place.
As I come to the end of my run, the discombobulation of the early miles feels distant and I’m left with a buzzing feeling; a feeling of determination and calm. Regardless of the looming race, I am empowered by the routine and discipline of my daily run. I have tapped into the rhythm of training, of movement, of existing in this body, and it is this process that centers me.