Running on Dirt

When I was little my daddy ran five days a week. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. He ran his five miles, watched the sunrise, stretched, drank his coffee, and read the newspaper in solitude. He used to say there was no better time of day than the stillness and quiet of the morning, when the rest of the world was asleep.   

It was 1977. I was 11 years old, and I decided I wanted to be like my dad. So that summer, I put on my Ken Rosewall tennis shoes, great for the knees.  (She writes with sarcasm.) I was ready to walk out the door and give running a try.   

 

Beaumont, Texas is 45 minutes from the Gulf Coast. Picture air so humid and thick that you are practically swimming in it, as you attempt to move and breathe. The wetness creates grand trees, lush landscapes, and, for some women, pretty bad hair. That first day, sporting a ponytail, I set out to hit the pavement on my street, Thomas Road. It is an older, towering, tree-lined road sprinkled with established estate-like southern homes and expansive, landscaped yards. Oh yeah, not to mention, the unsidewallked street is composed of black asphalt, radiating the unforgivable hot-as-H E (double hockey-sticks) Texas heat.  And let's raise the stakes a bit. It was summer and around high noon. After a few miles, this 11-year-old, daddy's girl had sweat generously dripping down her forehead and raining down her backside. All the while, she discovered she truly loved the challenge, sweat, solitude, and view of the beautiful homes with their accompanying landscaped yards. I topped off my run with a deep sense of physical, mental, and emotional accomplishment. 

I just knew my dad would be so proud of me, and I couldn't wait to share the news. No selfies or texting back in the day, so I had to wait five long hours to tell him. When he returned home that evening, it was true, he beamed and said all the words an 11-year-old girl could hope for. I was hooked!

He began to share his Runner's World magazines and wanted to discuss the articles with me. Even better, over the years he would periodically wake me up at 4:30 in the morning to say, "Hey, Boof, want to go for a run with me?" I am super futuristic, so my exhausted middle and high-school teenage self would think, "I'm so tired, but my dad might not always be around, so I will say yes, because I will be glad later." And off we would go into the early dawn, with him coaching me on my running cadence, pointing out a lightning storm, and encouraging me to run as fast as I could at the end of each final mile.  

I am glad I periodically said YES to my dad. Oh my goodness, I haven't thought of these memories in a VERY long time.....pause....

For the years to follow I:  RAN TO PONDER.....RAN FROM BOREDOM....RAN WHEN I WAS MAD AT SOMEONE IN MY FAMILY.....RAN TO AVOID A FATTENING DINNER......RAN TO MEDITATE ON THE BEAUTY OF THE OUTDOORS........

As a teenager I:  RAN TO MEMORIZE LINES IN A PLAY......RAN TO BE ALONE....RAN IN THE RAIN.....RAN TO BE THIN......RAN AND CRIED OVER BREAK-UPS...... 

Running became a very good friend to me.  

When high school came, I joined the track team. I ran long-distance and trained weekly with my running partner, Colette. There was something sneaky and almost magical about being able to leave campus during a school day and go for a run. We ran on the street roads of Beaumont near the school and talked for hours. Our coach used to call us all candy butts, I suppose to motivate us. I loved the practices. I loved my friend Colette. I loved being on a team in an individual sport. The best of both worlds. But when the meets came, I sucked. I felt bad when the gun sounded, and the race began. I had no desire to "beat" anyone. My coach would say in her gruff voice, "Tracy you're the only athlete I know whose times are worse in the meets than in the practices."  

Running was never about speed for me. I didn't need to be seen or measured. 

High school came and went. Here I was, married with two kids 18 months apart. Our big investment was a purple jogger stroller. By now, my road-weary knees were starting to be tender, and my hip was compromised from being pregnant for nine months, while simultaneously carrying that baby boy on my right side. After all, he was still a baby, too.

So, as our parenting continued, my running slowed into more and more walks. And, since I'm always thinking about my choices and how they affect my future, I don't ever want to do anything that would compromise my exercising at 80. So walking was a good consolation prize.  

For 10 solid years it has just been walking....walking.....walking....you know, lots of walking.  

During her high school years, our daughter, Caroline, would join me on many of my walks. As a matter of fact, they became our walks. We canvased our beautiful trails and neighborhoods as we laughed, studied for tests, talked about boys, friendships, family, and God. Lot's of God talk with that girl. Over those four years, Caroline evolved into my handy-dandy-supersonic-pal. One walk, a few months before she left for college, I was lamenting about my knees and how I missed running. She said, "Mom, our bodies were not made to run or walk on pavement. Why don't you try running on grass?"

Now, fast-forward two months. Josh went off to college, and right behind him was Caroline. One morning, a few weeks after she was gone, I began to search our house in my mind for Caroline. This empty-nest thing was starting to have it's way with me. I put on my tennis shoes and went for a walk. I have a playlist for cardio work-outs. As I rounded the corner, a poignant tune came on my i-Pod, "Annie's Song" by Dave Barnes.  I played it over and over that day and wept.  

I was genuinely overwhelmed with emotion and didn't know what to do with myself. Then I had a faint memory of Caroline's voice saying, "Mom our bodies were not made to run on pavement. Why don't you try running on grass?"

So on my neighbors' grass, I began for the first time in almost 10 years to run and run and run and cry and cry and cry, until I made my way home. Ahhhhh, It was like an old familiar friend who showed up at just the right time. It's been almost a year now, and I have been gently running 1-3 miles a couple of days a week since. Here are some things to consider.  

RUNNING:

Running on grass and dirt:

I have had twisted ankles before this season, and running on dirt and grass has its risks. But for me, since I have been running again, so far so good. I spend a lot of time scouting out the ground before me. I am very careful with my steps and whenever the ground seems unsteady, or if there is dog poop, I step off and walk for as long as I need to on the pavement, until the next safe patch. The grass and dirt paths require more energy and finesse from my ankles and lower leg stabilizing muscles; however, my knees seem to be quite pleased. The ground absorbs much of the shock.  Here is an added bonus,  your shoes last a lot longer. I run about 6 different routes; the safest for me is a soccer field.  

Here is a LIST OF PARKS in Tarrant County.  

Running on asphalt and concrete:

Asphalt and concretes are more predictable and you will be faster. Google told me that concrete surfaces are five times harder than asphalt. Also, consider 4.5 times the runner’s weight per foot strike on that hard surface. There is a significant “shock absorption” requirement. All that pressure has to go somewhere. I've decided much of mine needs to go into the dirt.  

So, that's my running story.  Hey, I triple dog dare you. Give dirt and grass a try when your neighbors aren't looking, and tell me what you think.  

 

Tracy Levinson - outsidethenest.net

 

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