Well, this has been an unusual, extraordinary summer. Unusual because, as the word implies, much about it was “not” usual. And extraordinary because, well, before I explain that, I’d like to look at that word: extraordinary. It’s been bothering me for a while. At face value, it seems to mean “extra” ordinary, or “super” ordinary, or “very very” ordinary, but that’s not what it means. No, it means “beyond” ordinary, “better than” ordinary, and that fits because this last summer has been, well, let me tell you about it….
First, as you may know, summers past I’ve focused on getting in as many workouts as possible. All the way back to high school (back then getting ready for cross-country season) that’s been my focus. With my job teaching, because I have more time in summer and the weather’s great and there’s more daylight and I have more energy, I’ve kept it up. Lots of years, a fall marathon was that big goal to work for. Since my knee surgery, it’s been, “Just get back into the best shape you can. This might be the time to really get back to being yourself again.” But no matter the goal, I’ve spent my summer stacking up runs, rides, and swims until my body couldn’t take any more. I mean, within reason, of course. I was never a superstar, just enthusiastic, and enjoyed throwing myself into it and the feeling of getting in shape made me happy. So why not?
But this summer, my perfect lovely wife was taking a sabbatical. Partly because she wanted (and had earned a break) from her job and partly because she always gets a little envious of my summer schedule. She’s an athlete too, super fast in the pool and she also enjoys running, but she’s got probably a healthier, better outlook on what one should do with one’s time in life. So our sabbatical summer would not be endless days of: wake up, enjoy a lazy morning, get in a workout, recover, work out again, eat a big dinner, stay off our feet, and get to bed early. We were going to do more with the time we had and we’d been dreaming of a big trip for some time. After much deliberation, we decided on….South Africa and, uh oh, I can feel myself falling into a detailed travelogue, which is not my intention, so let me just say we left for South Africa July 11th, returned home on 30th, then pick up the kids and went to the wilds of Alaska (where my wife’s brother and family live) from Aug 3-11th. Both trips were fantastic, but instead of describing them, I’ll share some pictures:
The Wild Coast, South Africa:
Bulungula, an African village:
Franschhoek (wine country):
Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope:
And then Alaska:
As you can see, only a fool would complain about trips like these and I’m no fool and I’m not complaining and I had no hesitation in going full-on forward for our adventures. But I was also aware that for a full month in the heart of summer, my prime training days would be otherwise spoken for, and I’ve got to tell you, I was a little worried about it, both how it would feel and to what extent I’d lose the fitness I’d been working to regain.
I knew that even if I’d been in racing shape, this would’ve been worth taking time off for. No doubts. No regrets. Still, it was strange, to not be plotting out my summer schedule, not doing workouts, wondering where my training would lead me. And when I did run, it didn’t feel like summer—it wasn’t hot, I wasn’t sweating and thirsty and spent like I’d usually be in July and August. This was because I wasn’t doing hard workouts and also because it was winter in South Africa with moderate temps and we got about the same in Alaska (40’s-50’s at night, 60’s-70’s during the day).
We didn’t plan any of our days around running, but ran when we could and over the 32 days, I was able to get out 17 times, more than I’d expected, with some great runs on the beach along the coast of the Indian Ocean…
and along a beautiful strip of highway in the Alaskan wilderness (bear spray in hand)…
But none of these were timed, none very far, or fast, and I didn’t really think of them as training (as I had nothing to train for), just running.
So the point I sat down to make today is that I expected to return home mid-August feeling out of shape (I’d been feeling good before we left—ran Steamboat Classic 4 miler in June in 25:29 (cutting 1:20 from last year) and did a triathlon in July and was able to run the 5th fastest run time of all entrants (it was supposed to be a 10K but my time was 39:02 and I know I didn’t run that fast, but it was still a good run). But I’m not feeling out of shape. My legs, in terms of strength and form, actually feel better than they did when I left. Maybe it was my less ambitious schedule, or the beach runs, or the long, hilly hikes we did in both South Africa and Alaska, but my legs feel great. I don’t know how far I am from racing shape because I haven’t timed myself yet, just wanting to enjoy it as long as I can, the feeling of feeling good running. And it’s been so nice to run again in the heat and sun and I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, feeling good on my feet in the middle of nice, long summer.
But that’s not true because summer is nearly over. I mean, I’m back to school next week, cross country season has started, the Packers will be embarking on their run to the Super Bowl (I hope) in a couple weeks. It’s back to work time and I know I’m going to break out the watch soon. I may even do it today—I’m heading to the track as soon as I finish this morning’s coffee, and I might run some 300’s just to see where I’m at. Of course, 300’s won’t tell the whole story. I’ll need longer runs to see where I’m really at. I know I’m not in great shape, don’t have that lightness that comes with being fast and fit. But I’m in a good, solid place. My knee is good, my form feels good, I feel strong, healthy, optimistic. Over the course of the next couple months I do hope to get in some good weeks, some fast workouts, then maybe a race or two in November if I think I can really do them with some level of success.
So it’s been a great summer, unusual and extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime, at least only once so far in my lifetime, but this summer, even more than most, is going to be over too soon. I want these last few days to slow down. It’s like, I’m finally ready for summer, but summer is ready to leave.