Since January I’ve been training for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon on May 10. The race follows the 10-foot-wide asphalt bike trail from Holdingford to St. Joseph, Minnesota. Registration is capped at 450 runners. It’s a Boston-qualifying flat course, but life has me training for this one on my own. I’m running it simply for the love of running. In that spirit, here’s a little ditty about today’s 19-mile run.
Last night I prepped for the run. I love the ritual of it, setting out the layers, choosing the right socks, finding hand warmers, placing ID in the arm band and GU in my jacket pocket. It’s too cold to carry liquids, I decide, making plans to stop at the Caribou coffee shop for water on the way out and back. I know better than to take it for granted things will go well at this stage of training, and the anxious anticipation is like a quilt that wraps other worries for the night.
The alarm rings at 5:45. I tiptoe across the hall and slowly close the kids’ door. Breakfast is a carefully conducted orchestra, microwave and coffee pot buzzers meeting in crescendo. Weather still looks good, says Google. I briefly second guess the course. Should I just go out the door? No, no, the trails will be clearer over there. 19 miles is too far to mess with that.
I tie my shoes. Stress rises. I hate this part. The left is definitely slightly too tight. No good, my foot and ankle will ache. I redo it. Walk across the living room. Too loose. One more time. Okay, that’s better. I’ll test it again when I get to the club.
I open my hand warmers at the club, shake them, and place them inside my mittens. I pull the balaclava over my head, freeing several neatly combed hairs from their tight binders. Hat, armband, keys in pocket. The shoes. Always the shoes. I retie the left one last time. Okay, let’s get this thing started.
I run down the hill from the club toward the Mississippi River. I feel the sun on my face, briefly break my concentration on the icy sidewalk to look up and greet two runners. I hope they didn’t notice the shoulder roll, a bit of choreography that somehow made it’s way out from the dance scene in my head.
Huh, American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama let me be
Don’t come hanging ’round my door
I don’t wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin’ old with you…
I cross the bridge over the Mississippi, feeling a light breeze on my face. The river is a sea of white dotted only by a line of red buoys down the middle. As I turn onto Minnehaha Parkway, heading toward the lakes, my left foot and ankle throb. Ugh, it’s going to be one of those. I know I’ll have to stop and shake it out several times in the first three miles, but then it’ll be gone.
Now woman, stay away
American woman, listen what I say
American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be…
Worries run with me for a few miles. I’m still chilly. Did I wear enough for 19 miles of sweat in the cold? Caribou, Caryn. It’ll be okay. A little acid reflux bubbles in my throat. Shit. It’s been getting better, I reassure myself. Let it go. The icy sidewalk pulls my attention back to my footing.
You can reach me by railway
You can reach me by trailway
You can reach me on an airplane
You can reach me with your mind…
The music lifts my feet, like strings on a marionette. I’ve never included slow songs in a running playlist before, but had decided to go for it on a leisurely long run. Good move. Nice. I hear a voice in my head, the pleasant woman in the MapMyRun app, tell me I’m at 2 miles. I stop to shake out the feet again. It’s getting better. One more mile and I’ll be in the clear with this business.
I don’t care how you get here
Just get here if you can
You can reach me by sailboat
Climb a tree and swing rope to rope
Take a sled and slide down slope
Into these arms of mine…
I cross the street to the bike path that follows Minnehaha Creek. I think of the three 20-milers I did for Grandma’s along this route, each one on my own. I reach the part of the trail where, in a thunderstorm last spring, I’d seen the first runner in a couple miles and we high-fived each other as kin.
You can jump on a speedy colt
Cross the border in a blaze of hope
I don’t care how you get here
Just get here if you can…
Three miles, the voice in my head tells me. I take inventory. Legs, good. Feet, good. Spirit, soaring. “Dancing in Heaven” comes on, an ’80s pop song that I’d performed as a solo in a high school dance recital, choreographing it with a beloved dance instructor who died a few years ago. God that was a long time ago. It’s 1990 now and I’m in my 18-year-old body, dancing my heart out.
Dancin’ in heaven
I never thought
I’d ever get my feet this far…
The creek narrows, icy water giving way to a moving stream and…ducks! Can it be? A sign of spring! I’m running between the seasons. Suddenly I have the urge to write. Writing is dancing to me now.
Rhythm is a dancer
It’s a soul companion
You can feel it everywhere
Lift your hands and voices
Free your mind and join us
You can feel it in the air…
I reach Lake Harriet, where I started running 10 years ago after my first son was born. It was like a mini La Leche League with two girlfriends as we shared tales of breastfeeding, sleep routines, tender moments, and little scares in that early period of motherhood. Tender flashbacks halt when I suddenly realize I’m surrounded by green people. Oh that’s right, there’s a race here today! A St. Patrick’s Day race! I veer off at the Lake Harriet Bandshell toward Lake Calhoun.
There’s a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch, it’s bringing me out the dark…
The voice in my head says 9 miles. Where did the last couple go? Back at the Bandshell I decide to risk the green people and run the rest of the way around the lake. The race hasn’t started yet, I gather as I run past the lines at the porta potties. The sight of a water stand makes me salivate. I skipped the Caribou stop and deep freeze still grips the faucets that normally punctuate the route. I need water. How bad would it be to ask for a cup…what are you thinking? Just run, Caryn. Caribou on the way back.
Throw your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow…
The headphones died just before I ran into Caribou, and I tuck them away in my jacket pocket before leaving the shop’s warmth. It’s just you and me now, I say in my head to the voice that used to be in it but will now come directly out of the phone on my arm. I consider sticking to the sidewalk as I head back toward Minnehaha Falls. The rhythm of my foot strikes pulls me out of any decision-making.
Thump, thump, thump, thump
They’re even, like a drum. I feel proud of this, given the unevenness of the terrain. It’s warming up now and the stretch that seemed so frozen in winter a couple hours earlier now begins to melt toward spring. I veer off when I reach Minnehaha Falls, the cherry on top that I saved for last. The power harnessed by a deep freeze will soon make itself known.
I observe my thoughts now, the openness, joy, confidence. This is me, the layers of worry and inhibition having been peeled like an onion. I breathe and feel the crisp air fill my chest. Authenticity rolls over me in a wave that will carry the day.
This was my 19-mile training run for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon. Just a run, like any other.