Even though I knew I’d pay the price for my lollygagging, I couldn’t have gotten out of bed any earlier than 9 AM, and I had no inclination to leave the house any earlier than 10:30 AM. I’m on vacation, people, and that means maximizing the good sleep that the cool, quiet Pocono air affords me, and exercising my right to sit on my deck drinking coffee, zoning out as my trees wave their leaves at me in the breeze, trying to capture my attention. I knew I’d be running my 14 miles through the noonday heat, but I didn’t give a shit. I wasn’t out to set any land speed records; I just wanted to complete my 14 miles and then go shop for bathroom tiles. It’s about the simple pleasures here in the Poconos (translation: there’s nothing else to do).
It was 10:41 AM when I set off on my long run, tracing the same route as my two 10-milers from last week through the Timber Trails and Lake Naomi communities, except today I would add on a second loop through Timber Trails at the end to convert the 10-mile route to a fourteener. Each time I run this route, I want to share it because it is so lovely. It’s half-shaded, and lined with mountain cabins, lakeside lodges, and cute vacation bungalows. By now I have run these routes enough times that I have favorite houses which I look forward to passing. Sometimes I stop and stare, taking in the harmonious lines of an Arts & Crafts style house, or the look-at-me angles of the one Modern structure in the whole development. The swaths of forest, the winking glimmer of Lake Naomi, the voluptuous growth of rhododendrons: they add up to a curated wildness that keeps me coming back to trace its curves time and again.
Tell me: are you plagued by the If Onlys? Do you spend time evaluating your life thinking, If Only I had x dollars for y project; If Only I had bought three years earlier, If Only I had said no/yes? I spend an awful lot of time during my long runs with my mind whirling through hypothetical situations. If Only I was braver. If Only I was stronger, faster, smarter, prettier. If Only I was younger, If Only I could go back ten years, If Only I could fit into my lucky pants, If Only I could get through this week without throttling my boss/colleague/mother/Husband/self. Sometimes I feel like “if” is called upon more than any other word as my thoughts stream during my long runs. My compulsion for planning comes out, and I dream about bathroom renovations, finished basements, new kitchens and a dinner party held at my grandma’s vintage art deco maple dining room table (which I have in storage). If only I had five grand and four free weekends in a row, I could totally transform the master bath in the Poconos house from cheesy 80’s to something out of Mountain Living magazine. Or how about: If Only I had a few months to freshen up my Italian, and then I quit my job, and took all my safety savings? Then I could go live in Italy for a few heavenly months and spend the time cooking, reading and running. That’s a recurring If Only, one I return to time and again because it brings together some of the best moments of my past with my sweetest hopes for my future into one perfect escape. I even know the region where I’d rent a house. Sometimes I talk about this dream and my heart clutches closed with sadness (I’ll never be able to do this); and other times it pounds with excitement (Yes! Fuck it all, I’m going!).
My If Only’s can be debilitating. Sometimes they seem entirely unattainable, the whimsy of a dreamer who’s too inept to start the slow march towards actualization. They articulate regrets, they define the ways I’ve changed and outgrown parts of my life, even as the shape of my life has remained the same and has become ill-fitting.
Other times my If Only’s spur me to action, and the If Only’s morph into What If’s. What if I actually had a better apartment in Sunnyside, what if I moved, and had a dining room for my grandmother’s dining room furniture? So I call a realtor. At work, some If Only’s are out of my control (If Only I never had to work with that person ever again), but most I can turn into What If’s by merely applying myself, by digging in and breaking down a campaign or a brainstorm into project steps. What If I launched a branded & integrated social media campaign to raise consumer awareness about this category of books we publish? Well now, that I know I can do, and I can persuade talented people to help me do it. If Only I could BQ. What If I took a year off, dedicated myself to speedwork and whole body fitness, and then raced a smaller Fall marathon? Oh, I can so do that, people! And I am doing it.
With my If Only’s doing their highly effective job of distracting me from the 14 hot miles in front of me, the two hours of my run passed quicker and cooler than anticipated. Sure, I sweat like a faucet and my hamstrings and lower back reminded me who was the boss. Sure, my pace fell off the last 5 miles. But like I said, I just had to get them done, not PR. I felt my breathing even (it only got ragged on that one steep hill I had to clamber up before heading along Miller Road), I felt my arms pull me along, I felt the soothing breeze as I ran through the dappled shade of the roadside. I imagined a better life, yet I still recognized the vine of happiness that creeps through my present. At the end of it, this run was as sensual an experience as it was intellectual, including the side cramp that kept me company the last two miles.
14 miles run in 12:11:13. Fastest mile 8:45; slowest mile 10:03; average pace 9:23.
If ever you wanted a navel-gazing playlist, definitely sort your music by the Letter I–literally every one of these songs start with the first-person pronoun. Songs I ran to: “I’d Come for You” by Nickelback, “I’d Love to Knock the Hell Out of You” by Hank Williams Jr., “I’ll Be Around” by The Damnwells, “I’ll Be Around” by Joan Osborne, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” by The Little Willies, “I’m A Cuckoo” by Belle & Sebastian, “I’m Bringing Home the Good News” by Merle Haggard (‘You can tell all your back door daddies that your Big Daddy done blown a fuse’), “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, “I’m Not Afraid” by Fleming & John, “I’m Not Angry” by Elvis Costello, “I’m Not Down” by The Clash, “I’m Not Gonna Call You” by The Films, “I’m Not Running Anymore” by John Mellencamp (well John actually I was still running at this point in the playlist but it’s so rude to point out when celebrities are just plain wrong), “I’m Ready” by Jack’s Mannequin, “I’m Still a Guy” by Brad Paisley, “I’m Wondering” by Stevie Wonder, “I’ve Been Waiting” by Matthew Sweet, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” by Billie Holiday, “I’ve Got to See You Again” by Norah Jones (is this song about a prostitute?), “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, “I Am a Leaver” by the Damnwells, “I Can’t Be with You” by the Cranberries, “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops, “I Can’t Say” by The Killers, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by Prince, “I Could Say” by Lily Allen