Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sweet Sixteen

My running streak came to a halt when I spent a large part of the day riding a bus to the gulf of Kavala, Greece. I think the longest I have run continuously during any streak was six days. This time, the streak is a not-very-impressive 16, but a sweet sixteen nonetheless.

The hotel lies just steps from its private beach. A beach that under better weather conditions would be a dream. As it happened, the weather did change for the better the last two days there. Now, I have never been a fan of beach running, even when the sand is well packed. Alas, the highway fronting the hotel was WAY too busy and the cars just flew by. Not ideal. Definitely not ideal for an easy sixer.

I donned my retired classic response adidas and headed to the deserted beach. Deserted because it was cloudy and raining lightly. I start what I thought was running and slugged for a couple of minutes before checking my snail pace. It was a mind boggling 13:40ish pace. The sand is really lose and my feet sink almost to ankle level. My calves are protesting. I quickly readjust my goal of running six miles and hope to complete four. I reach the end of the beach and turn. As I am heading back to my starting point, I see a paved access road. I decide to follow it and thoughts of doing hill repeats are more appealing exponentially by the second. I ‘crest’ the access road and see that it changes into a dirt road that goes under the aforementioned highway. I follow it.

Now I am on the other side of the highway and the dirt road with its sexy curves is calling me. The only problem is that the road is ascending and my pace does not get faster than 10 mpm. Man am I slow or what? I question the sanity of setting a sub 3:10 marathon as a goal. I am having a hard time ‘running’ 10-minute miles for crying out loud. How am I going to sustain 7:15s… for 26.2 miles. Am I setting myself up for disaster? Maybe. So it goes.

I continue running in light rain and the views are rather beautiful. I run through some vineyards and my mind takes me back to the ONE marathon I want to run more than any other, and that is the marathon du Medoc. I actually was going to run it last year and did register, but had to cancel my plans due to my 'forced' sabbatical. So it goes.

I smell the salty ocean air, more like I gasp the saltiness, as I pass yet another vineyard. My infatuation with wine and olive oil would make a place like this a dream vacation home. The road is made up of fractured rock; it is no longer covered by lose sand like at the beginning of the trail. At one point, I can discern where the backhoe scraped though the weathered but still strong rock. I see a puddle that covers the width of the road and I sidestep it but manage to sink my right foot and it is now completely wet. On the way back I would sink my left foot for good measure. I am not worried about potential blisters for the obvious reason: it’s only a sixer.

I continue through more of the same and reach the end of the mountain road and turn right on another highway that appears to be less traveled. My Garmin ™ says 2.6 miles. I run on the lean shoulder against traffic for just over half a mile and I am rewarded with stunning views of a medium size village with mountains and the blue ocean in the background. I turn at, you guessed it, another vineyard.

I am now back on the mountain road and my legs are a bit more springy. They are moving with more ease. Yet, I am barely under 8 minute pace and doubts continue to linger in my mind about a sub 3:10. No matter. I am having the time of my life. The rain has stopped. But, I am doing the rain dance, or so it seems for I find myself skipping here and hopping there. This is to avoid a boulder, or a miniature creek, or a toad – or is it a frog?

The ocean is in clear view and memories of my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains come to mind. And I cry. Yes, you read right. I cry. But it is tears of joy. Slow ones. Pearly ones. I am having a climatic run and I am enjoying it one hundred percent. [I would say 110%, but I am not mathematically challenged :-P] I reach the bottom of the road and head toward the busy highway. I run for a short stretch on the shoulder while several vehicles zoom by me, including a couple of semis. No matter. I have just had one of the best running experiences of my life.

This run is only comparable only to those days when I would run as a child for the sake of getting to the other side of the street; for the sake of tagging a friend; for the sake of kicking a ball; hell, for the sake of running. Yes folks, that was running in its pure, unadulterated form. No Beantown dreams. No, just a smile on my then chubby face because somewhere, somehow I knew running was a gift. A gift only US can truly appreciate.

I finished my run in a less than stellar time. But, really… who cares? Life is good. So it goes.


Sempre Libera said...

Hear, hear!

Love2Run said...

Great run! Nothing like being at one with nature.