Sunday, March 20, 2011

dolce far niente

When I was training for my marathons, life was pretty simple. Everything revolved around the schedule. Horizontal rain, forty degrees, gale winds? Time for an eighteen miler! Nice, rare sunny day and Laura was out in her kayak? Too bad, this was the day slotted for a pace run. In the Alaska darkness I treadmilled around the track, intent on my speedwork.

Now that I am only training for life, things are a bit more disorganized. It's hard not to wake up and roll into a ball of anxiety: mustexercisetodaywhat?Hikerunskipilatesyoga? Oh crap haven't been to the gym in ages! I only ran once this week! It was MUCH easier when I was a mono-exerciser.The choice was: Run.

Because there are no benchmarks, such as the first time you run for two hours and survive, I find myself second guessing my choices. Is a walk enough? Maybe I should run another mile. This ski, is it raising my heart rate enough?

Which of course defeats the purpose and makes it a lot like work. One of the reasons I don't run marathons or race at all is to be free of training tyranny. To be able to do what I feel like. But the opposite side of that freedom is obsession. Without race times to measure myself against, how do I know if I am staying in shape? Must do more!

I need to get better at dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. Well, not nothing. That's not me. But in listening to my body, which is an old hand at this. Maybe it wants to stroll. And that's okay, as long as I make up for it another day.

With that in mind, I headed out on the Chief Joseph Trail. I knew I couldn't cross the waterfall, so that would keep me from mindlessly  pressing onward. It felt strange at first. There had been some slowshoers on it and it was nice and packed down. I should be running! I berated myself. But the trees were iced over with frosting, the trail a soft hush, the river a distant murmur. Dolce far niente. I took pictures.I tried to silence the voice in my head, the Coach that likes to drive me onward.

Dolce far niente. I trudged at a walker's pace. Far below the lake shimmered in the pale sun. Tracks skittered across fresh snow. In a second, the mountains changed their minds: a curtain of snow dropped past the sun, snow sugared my hair. Winter was back.

Dolce far niente. The waterfall was a silver braid, disappearing under a mound of snow and ice. I tentatively stepped out onto a rock. It was slick and dangerous. I stared longingly at the trail on the other side of the crossing. If I made it I could hike for hours up the flanks of the mountain, get a really good workout in.

My boots slipped on the rocks. I could probably do it, I thought, scamper across and be fine. But maybe this was enough. Every day did not have to be gulped down, measured by a certain amount of miles. This, I could savor.

Dolce far niente. I turned back. And it was sweet.


  1. Dolce far niente is something I cherish very, very much.
    My training routine these days is very unstructured but I am finding that this is what works for me. I have better muscle tone and not only in my legs, I run further, lift heavier weights and I am a lot more flexible, I am enjoying my workouts more and while it is not like doing nothing (those Italians know how to enjoy life) it sure feels like it.
    Love those pictures!

  2. cool ... one day ... when I have done everything ... then I will relax ... one day

  3. Great post. I am much happier now that I am not a mono-exerciser. Tyranny indeed.

  4. We ALL need this. Thanks for the reminder.


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