I took a vacation last week. My intention was to take the week off of work while my kids were at summer camp and devote every waking moment to writing. At the last minute, I changed my plans.
I haven’t had a vacation without kids or work in decades. My vacations with kids are often as hectic as the daily grind of school, work, dinner, chores, errands, activities, repeat. With family hundreds of miles away, we’ve traveled to see them or they have traveled to see us. It’s a whirlwind of fun that ends in exhaustion while trying to catch up with everything that I neglected while “taking a break.”
I’ve been experiencing a higher level of burnout than usual lately. The more I get my life in balance, the more I am paying for my many years of neglect. Have you ever felt more tired after a good nights sleep than before when you were running on adrenaline and cortisol? It’s like that. The more I slow down, the more I realize I need to slow down even more. I am sinking into the slowness. The weight of everything I carried for so long, now lifted, holds me down. Is it a delayed reaction? Is it the process of healing? Will I ever find the balance of energetic drive and rest? I hope so.
I spent last week in Cambria County, Pennsylvania with my boyfriend. I brought my computer and never turned it on. I brought books to read and barely read them. Instead, I slept and I walked on the Ghost Town Trail. The trail is a rails to trails project. The railroad tracks have been removed and the trail has been lined with limestone. The trees are bright green and create a canopy over the section I was walking. It snaked along the Blacklick River. As I walked I reflected on where I’ve been all these years and where I hope to go.
When I was in college, I took a year off and went on a 30 day mountaineering trip with NOLS. (I wrote about this, in part, here.) Before that trip, I thought I “couldn’t run.” My boobs were too big and it hurt my knees and I could barely breathe and I hated it. I was convinced I just couldn’t do it. After the trip, on the day we returned to town in Lander, Wyoming, when we all had a day or two in the NOLS hostel before catching our flights back home, a woman who was on the trip with me challenged me to go for a run. I wore two sports bras, one on top of the other and borrowed her running shoes. I was doubtful but also hopeful. The trip was physically strenuous and at high altitude. I felt stronger than ever before. If ever I would be able to run, it was now.
I set out on a road outside the hostel in downtown Lander then cross crossed through the town until I took a road into an open neighborhood. On the other side of the neighborhood was an open road with fields on either side and the mountains in the distance. Captivated by the scenery and amazed by how light I felt in these worn out, borrowed shoes, I nearly got lost on that run. By the time I made it back to the hostel, I’d been gone nearly three hours and missed dinner. I didn’t care. I was thrilled that I could run. I returned her shoes, soaked with sweat.
When I got home, I immediately bought my own pair of running shoes and was officially a runner.
During the last two years of college, I ran and swam for fitness, but never had any official training or goals. I just wanted to stay thin and healthy and occasionally catch the runners high that I felt in the streets of Wyoming.
After I graduated, I moved to Seattle and heard some coworkers talking about a running club. I didn’t know such clubs existed. I joined a marathon training club that met three times a week. We learned about stretching and intervals. We did sprints and went on trail runs. As our runs got longer, some in the group signed up for races. There was something thrilling about running in a race. I did several 5Ks and was amazed by the women who were twice my size and twice my age but twice as fast.
One Saturday, I hopped in the car with several women at dawn and drove to a marathon and half marathon held in support of Leukemia research. It was $60 to enter and we had signed up for the half marathon. It seemed like such a long stretch, but I finished and felt great. I kept pushing myself and felt invincible and was sure I’d be able to run the marathon but two weeks before the big day I started to get shin splints and it was unbearable to run.
After that my running days waned. I got married, moved to California, got pregnant, moved to North Carolina and despite attempts to run on a treadmill and run with a jogging stroller, I never got the same satisfaction from it.
Last week in Nanty Glo, on the Ghost town trail, I was shielded from the sun by tall, lush trees with the babbling Blacklick River at my side. I walked two miles the first day, then four miles the second day. On the third day, to my amazement, I ran three miles and then on the fourth day as if by a miracle, I ran four miles. My legs carried me on the limestone trail. My $90 bra held me in place. My breathing was strong and steady and I got lost in my thoughts.
Where have I been? Where am I going? How is it that I”m 45? Where is the time going? Nothing is as I expected. But everything is great. I thought about my kids, my boyfriend, my house, my job. I thought about my writing and asked myself why I seemed to be stalling out. Where had my drive gone?
The run was similar to writing my morning pages. Each day I thought about the same things without resolution but each day I felt better about my worries. At least I was giving them time, and space and maybe, eventually, I’d leave them behind on this trail.
I’m now back at home at the beach and am laid up with a chest cold my son brought home from camp. I’m missing the tall cool trees on the Ghost Town Trail. I’m missing my days of leisure and relaxation. I’m missing my boyfriend. But I’m feeling like I’m becoming reacquainted with my runner’s legs and sound of my feet on the ground and my breath in my chest and I plan to make running part of my weekly workout again. Who knows, maybe I’ll even sign up for a race.