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I was two miles into my twelve-mile run when a duck flopped out from the woods. It rapidly waddled along the trail, trying to escape the daunting footfalls of the intrepid marathoner. The duck quacked, flapped its wings, and rose a few inches before hitting the pavement. It complained loudly and hobbled down the path, as quickly as its webbed feet and odd body would allow.

If this were a story of fiction I would say, as I drew near, the duck suddenly launched itself into the air, soared above the river, and led a column of its compadres to the safety of the nesting ground. I would then tell you the duck inspired me to keep moving, no matter how inelegant I felt.

But this is not fiction.

The duck flopped back into the bushes. I heard a splash and a lot more quacking.

I had ten miles left to contemplate this message from nature.

The literal interpretation suggested I was a creature out of her element: waddling along looking ridiculous, while the real runners passed by.

If the interpretation hinged on flying, then it meant I would be unsuccessful in my attempt to soar. Nature was telling me to fling myself through the bushes and plunge into the easy stream of my pre-running life.

Or maybe, just maybe, I was reading too much into things.

Sometimes, ducks just fall into your path.

I read messages in nature: they are the Creator’s sticky notes, attached to the massive calendar of my life. Some notes challenge me, in order that I might grow. Other messages encourage me to press on, to stay the course.

At mile nine, I saw the swan.

Stats:

Blog Neglect: high.

Family and training neglect: low.

Miles: last week 26. Monday 5.

Total Miles (since training began): 222.

Weather: Last Tuesday I did the treadmill, and subsequently vowed to do the treadmill only if tornadoes were actively ripping up my running paths. Otherwise, I had good weather. Saturday was gorgeous (though a little too hot), and today is also sunny and in the 60s.

Something New: I began doing pace training. 200 meters fast, 200 slow, 400 fast, 400 slow, etc. I did that for the first two miles of my four mile run, and while I thought I had slowed down for the last half of the run, I was actually running faster than ever. I ended up averaging a 9:16 mile (on the roller-coaster route), which is a personal best.

Some things I Never Thought I’d  Say:

“It was too sunny on Saturday.”

“After the first five miles, I was ready to really run.”

Something Funny My Six Year-Old Said: “You have a LOT of muscle! I can’t even feel your bones!”

Aches & Pains: I was fairly rubbery-legged after the 12 miles. I discovered muscles I never knew existed. Also, my fingers swelled up like sausages after my long run. I quickly pried off my wedding ring. The swelling was most likely from the way my water pack had been pressing on my shoulders. Nothing serious—just weird.

1 bottle of wine shared between 2 friends over 5 hours does not a hangover make. Rather, it was staying up until an hour I’d not seen since the last baby was weaned, which made me a little less than sporty for my eight-mile run.

I couldn’t help myself. Not only were my brother and mother here, but so were two friends. One was a new friend, but the other knew me when I was still feathering my bangs. When everyone else retired, my dear friend and I stayed up, talking until the candles burned themselves down to nubs.

Hospitality and marathon training can live in harmony.

Sunday morning found me on my scheduled run, with my brother, who had skipped the high school girl giggle fest, biking beside me. Even with nearly half a liter of wine in my system, and only 4 hours of sleep, I could still keep under a ten-minute mile. The delightfully flat trail by the river Main (pronounced “mine”) helped immensely.

Marathon training is entirely doable when you have company. In fact, training is better when someone you love is riding a bike or running with you. I was blessed with good running weather while my brother was here, and he was able to see firsthand my tangled maze of running trails. Together, we happened upon an idyllic trail, which ran for miles along the river Main.

While the path along the Main will be a perfect place for my weekly long run, I can never see it again without being reminded of my brother, and the five thousand miles that lie between us.

From this point on, the river trail will be a place where joy and sadness are forged into kinetic energy.

Stats: I am proud to report I have not slacked off during training. I didn’t do the half-marathon, but I can catch the next one.

Miles: May 3rd-May 9th a weekly total of 21 miles.

May 10th-May 16th a weekly total of 21 miles.

Terrain: my brother was able to do the shorter runs through the countryside with me without his knees killing him. On the long runs, he took a bike. We went all through ‘my’ territory. Then we ventured to the next town, where we found the trail along the Main River. These were the best runs I’ve had. My brother sets a good pace–and talking to him made the time fly by. He also motivated me in a way only brothers can by simply saying, “I’ll race you home!”

“The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances:” so spoke Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice.

Once, I was enrolled in a German class, where the instructor went around the table, asking where people lived. I told him I didn’t live far. When I said the name of my village, he scoffed: “Not far! That is fifteen kilometers!”

“Yes,” I replied, “only fifteen kilometers.”

Apparently, our definitions of near and far were different.

Some of my German friends (and some of my American friends) are astounded I drive to coffee group once a week, which takes exactly fifty minutes. “You drive all that way?” some people exclaim. Yet, while visiting family in the states, nary an eyelash is batted when I drive from one side of Des Moines to the other, which can take 45 minutes. In the end, near and far are simply matters of perception.

In a few weeks, a ten-mile run will seem short. Already, six miles doesn’t seem far. Four miles—ha! An easy day. My training schedule currently has me running two miles on two of the days, which seems like nothing—I can still see my house from a mile away.

Ten miles. I took my usual route up the hill and into the adjacent agricultural labyrinth. Since I didn’t want to simply run in circles for two hours, I explored some of the dirt paths that stitch together patches of wheat, corn, and sugar beets. I found a new hill: a long, twisty, steep one, which bordered a canola field.

Now that the canola is blooming, the countryside has taken on the appearance of a soft, yellow and green crazy quilt. It is stitched with reddish-brown paths, dotted with deep green poplars, and bursting with pale-pink pom-poms of apple trees. Like some kind of migrating animal, I instinctively followed the canola trail.

My son left his bike at the top of the hill and followed me down on foot. He was exuberant and cheerful, and asked me every few seconds when we would turn back. To him, we had gone far.

I have been to most of the great capitals of Europe. I have seen the astounding works of man. But nothing is more beautiful than being in the quiet countryside, with the gentle fragrance of apple blossoms on the breeze, the yellow field of flowers glowing as it catches rays of the unseen sun, and my child, waiting for me at the top of a hill.

I’m certain a day will come, when I feel he is too far.

Stats:

Miles: Friday 5, Saturday 0 (swim training), Sunday 10

Weekly total: 21 miles

Overall feeling: When I returned from Sunday’s run, my husband said, “You don’t look exhausted!”  That must be a good sign. I have to admit, my legs were rubbery. I also took a power nap. When I woke up, I made a pot of coffee. And took some ibuprofen.  The only thing that hurt was my big toe…and I’m still not sure why. I feel great though. Even my big toe is better today.

The Crazy Quilt