19 October 2015

"Sweaty, Gross, and Super Hungry"

That's what I said to Mike one morning when he leaned in for a hug and a kiss before he left for work. I was in the midst of my run streak and had just returned from the great outdoors. It was the peak of Malian summer, sometime in April or May. Every morning I was sweaty, gross, and super hungry. Mike laughed that morning and suggested it as the title of my memoir when I eventually wrote about the run streak.

I started on Thanksgiving last year and ran at least one mile every day for 199 days, ending in mid-June. I ran in Mali -- in Bamako and Segou. I ran in Paris. I ran in Salzburg. I ran on the pedestrian path between the hotels and the airport in Munich. (Or was it Frankfurt? I don't remember now where our twenty-four hour layover was.) I ran in West Palm Beach and South Beach. I ran along Ocean Road in Narragansett. I ran by myself most days but with sometimes with Mike or other friends.

I ran on treadmills sometimes. I'd brought one with us to Mali to get me through running during the worst weather here -- the dust storms of winter followed shortly by the intense heat of summer. The treadmill shorted out the electricity in the entire downstairs of the house every time I plugged it in, and by the time someone was able to fix that problem, I'd already run through the worst weather outdoors. The dust storm days when my lungs hurt after ten minutes outside. Long runs in the May heat that I broke up by running two miles to the gym, running on the treadmill under a full-blast air conditioner, and running two miles home.

I learned that I can run one mile under almost any conditions. Bad weather, minor injuries, mild fevers, after too much cider and chèvre-stuffed galette for lunch at a Breton café in Paris. I learned that eventually one mile wasn't enough unless I was extremely tired or pressed for time and most days I was going out for at least two.

I was always hungry. Even the low-mileage days left me ravenous and I ate like crazy. Yet, I started to fit into clothes that hadn't fit me in a few months (a few years, even, after my winter hibernation in Rhode Island).

Until one injury stopped me. We were back in the U.S. I was eating like crazy because so many foods were available that we don't have in Mali. I was running every day but pain was causing me to slow down and limit myself to less than two miles. I could have run slowly through the injury, limiting myself to one ten-minute mile each day. But I'd planned to run a half marathon with some friends, friends who I hadn't seen since we'd run a half marathon together the previous year. I ended the streak so I could get some real rest. A week later I ran with my friends and came within ten minutes of my half marathon PR, which I was thrilled with considering the horrible two-hour nonstop downpour we ran through combined with still nursing the injury.

I belonged to a handful of run streak groups online. Some people congratulated me on knowing when to end the streak and concentrate on having fun with my friends instead. Others sniffed at my decision, saying they would have chosen to keep the streak alive and forego the half marathon. Whatever. I made the right choice for me at the time. (And the people who supported my decision are people I'm still in touch with regularly even though I'm not streaking any more.)

Even though I kept running regularly, I did not go back to streaking. Yet I was still in the U.S. eating as if I were still streaking and training for a half marathon. By the end of our vacation, some of those favorite clothes no longer fit.

Several months later, some of those clothes still don't fit and I know that all I have to do is commit to running one mile every day again if I want them to. Without even really thinking about it I recently found myself running every day for several days in a row -- a week, maybe 8 or 9 days, I didn't really pay attention. I felt healthy and strong again. I also felt like there's not enough food in Mali to keep me fed through another streak and we don't have plans to get to Europe or the U.S. any time soon.

But aside from the health, strength, and fitting into of favorite clothes, I also found I was extremely productive when I started every morning with a run, regardless of it being ten minutes or ten miles. I wrote my novel during those run streak days along with a number of other projects. (I'm thinking I should try to write off Strava Premium on my taxes because of my productivity during the streak.)

I'm going to take it one day at a time. I ran yesterday. I ran today. I'll probably run tomorrow but I'll make that decision in the morning.

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