As you might have read, building up a running routine after two years of ‘almost nothing’ has been quite the thing for me lately. A few days back, my partner and I visited my parents in Rosenheim, in the Bavarian Alps. Looking forward to the chance of trading Berlin’s concrete for unpaved trails in the woods, I packed my training gear and managed to make the most of a few hours of running and hiking around the lakes and hills of my beautiful hometown.
My excitement was greeted with quite a few showers, as is customary for South bavarian summers. The black sky with its big, fat, gray-blue clouds was clearly shouting ‘welcome Jonas, we’ve been waiting for you’! But, if there is one trait that characterizes me is this: once I make a plan, I stick to it 100% of the times, particularly if it involves something I have been looking forward to. So, screw the ominously black sky and its somber greeting! I changed clothes and went out! And to be fair, the rain was almost nice, warm and refreshing when the drops came down.
The distance separating my parents’ house from 'my' woods is 1.5k approximately, passing both through the university and the skatepark where I spent so many afternoons when I was about 12. After a few more turns, I ran through a few newly built houses, an area that used to be a parking lot back in the days, and that brought curious memories to my mind. It was there that my dad, in his early thirties at the time, would park the car to go for a run with me. In his prime, or at least so I thought, he seemed tall, strong and had so much endurance. We would set out together, 30-some-year-old dad and 7-year-old me and, while he ran two laps, I’d complete one and wait for him, exhausted, in the car.
From there, I run up a gravel slope to the gate marking the entrance of the woods. I had to fight hard not to fall back into routine and sprint up through it like I would probably have done during interval training as a 400-meter runner… What can I say, old habits die hard and I certainly have to make an effort to pace myself and run slowlier during long-distance training. But it was then, as I entered into the woods with the big black sky over my head, that the warmth of the rain against my skin as I run through the green struck me as simply wonderful.
I bet many of you can relate: to hear sounds no big city can offer and inhale the moist smell of the summer rain over the compact gravel as you cruise through the woods --your t-shirt already off and hanging from the back of your pants. I dwelled on the simplicity and beauty of this unpretentious moment. It was as if some part of me I was not even aware of had been longing for this ‘communion with nature’ for quite some time.
A few hundred meters later, I took a left turn onto ‘the long straight’ --a long (1.2k) straight path known in the area by that name-- with one of the most scenic views I’ve ever seen as a runner: a 180-degree panoramic view of the Bavarian Alps standing much like in an oil painting right in front of me. To be honest, as a professional runner this was a place I had always hated. While incredibly beautiful, this was the spot chosen by my coach for incredibly tough interval training sessions during the fall and the winter, where the merciless wind would blow over the fields into my face, slowing me down like a fly against a fan… My coach always referred to it as the 1km straight, which, in retrospect, explains why, despite my efforts, I was never able to achieve the required times…
From here I ran back into the woods through narrow trails, ducking my head slightly down not to get hit in the face by all those branches flapping instead against my arms and shoulders. Quite spontaneously, I decided to take a small detour and cut back to the first part of my lap, to do the same section again. But after a few minutes of meandering, I ended up in a part of the woods I had never seen before. The thought dissolved a few seconds later as I realized that this part of the woods had been recently reforested. And so, running through it, now in my early thirties, I realized I had seen three generations of trees grow in this area.
From this point onwards I got into autopilot –aka cruise mode, aka flow– absolutely absorbed into the moment with the monotonous metronome-like pounding of my feet stilling the otherwise continuous rumination going on in my head. Approaching the end of the woods, I crossed paths with a group of young runners cutting through the area off-path. I remembered their coach: a runner that has been in the area for forever, bringing running to hundreds of kids over several decades. He seemed to recognize me too and greeting me with a cheerful »Hi, Jonas«, I felt at home, as if not a day had passed since I packed my furniture and moved out off my parents’ to go to university 11 years ago. Physically exhausted, though emotionally recharged, I made my way back to my parents realizing I had had one of my best runs in years.