As the treadmill and I connect I think of Mount Baldy. Here in L.A. on the Alter-G machine (more on this in a bit) I am moving like I haven’t in months. And my minds drifts to the day I ran with my new friend Andy. He was younger, faster and lighter, but I had one thing going for me: experience. Some core strength, too, but mostly experience. So on that sunny Thursday in June I stayed with him as we charged up the mountain, reaching the 10,000 feet peak in a state of exhaustion and exhilaration, drinking water and taking pictures before charging down the dangerously steep and rocky trails.
That climb, the 5 hours of running, the motorcycle ride to our starting point, the glorious day as a whole brought together what running means to me. Freedom. Friendship. Health. The testing of boundaries as they proved, once again, to be malleable. Pushing through them. Finding a new perspective on the world – literally, too.
As the year comes to an end I am grateful for that run and the people I have met through trail running here. Mount Baldy stands out, but there were several amazing, early-Sunday-morning adventures with this welcoming group of hard-core athletes.
The Alter-G allows me to emulate the feeling. It’s a little weird to step into tight shorts with a circular zipper on top, attaching that zipper to the cover over the treadmill, and feeling the air pressure decrease on the lower half of the body. But as the machine reaches 35% of my body weight, I become lighter and I sense the need for speed. The possibility of speed!
My first steps are hesitant. But my knee feels normal, strong. Running on the moon would be like this, I imagine. Then I gain confidence. The rhythm comes. I move my arms, relax my shoulders. I am running.
I am running.
I am also tearing up as I increase the pace, feeling corny but genuinely happy, even moved, to be back on my feet. So I run and run, hitting a sub-6 minute pace for a mile, smiling and sweating. A physical therapist stops by and checks in. He seems worried; most patients here tend to walk with ginger steps on the treadmill. I wave him off assuringly – talking is a bit of a challenge at my 5K pace.
My leg feels fine afterward. The post-run high is making me glow, I think, as I chat with fellow recovering athletes at the amazing Select Physical Therapy. While I rest, icing my knee, I go back in my mind to Mount Baldy once again, feeling grateful for what I did have in 2013.
Merry Christmas to all, running or not.