I threaded through a rock field, trying to run. Up on the moraine, the glacier's leftovers, the trail dipped and lurched, following the curve of the mountain's back. Sometimes I was forced to an ungainly walk, stumbling over hidden boulders, crunching through old snow.
I used to be a faster runner. Back in the day, when I had an actual running log, I chronicled my failures and triumphs: a speedy half marathon. Intervals at the track. Two marathons. A 22 mile trail run with no training just because I felt like it. The Race to Robie Creek, a tough half marathon all uphill for the first several miles. Age group victories. A group of heavy medals hung in my house. I subscribed to Runner's World. I cared about gels.
I've fallen out of love with running, except on rare days like these when I find a rocky, high lonesome trail and let my expectations go. It's easy to berate my slow, lumbering body (at least it feels like it is slow and lumbering) and recall the way it used to be, easily sustaining a seven minute pace, nothing hurting, feeling limitless. I don't accept the aging excuse: I know I could go back to the track, run hill repeats, just run instead of cross train, and the runs would get easier and faster. But I don't really want to do that. I want my exercise to be fun.
I don't mean that I will always hold a meandering pace. I still like to push myself. But I loved running for so long. My identity became entwined in that one thing. A bad race, an injury: those were enough to send me off the deep end. I don't want to be that way.
When you stop being a person with an identity, it's a struggle to see where you fit. I can't really call myself a runner anymore. Instead, I'm a person who runs trails sometimes. I'm not really a firefighter anymore, or a kayak ranger, or a young woman. All of these things are hard to get over. All of these things conveyed something about me.
But then I think, who really cares how long it takes for me to run a mile, but me? I need to start leaving the watch at home and just running for as long as I feel like. I don't need to tick off the mile markers and think about how slowly I reach them. I need to find other trails that wind through the mountains. I need to fall in love with running again. Not as my identity. Not to prove anything. But just to recapture that feeling of first love, the way I felt at fourteen, running around the neighborhood with my sister and my friend Laura. Back then, it wasn't about times. Or distances. We never raced. We ran through sprinklers and talked about boys. We didn't have Ipods or Garmins or running logs. I want to get back to that.
I dropped off the moraine and picked my way back down to the car. I had no idea of how far I'd gone, or my pace. The lake whipped to a froth with whitecaps. A tentative sun peeked out from the clouds. I might not be a runner anymore. But most of the time, I'm okay with that.