Since December 30th, I’ve been on a journey to save gas and make room in my schedule to exercise. It sprouted from the last year of travel. I took road trips to Florida and out west, drove as a pizza delivery person and commuted to my second job 40 minutes one way, drove back and forth between the Midwest and coastal Georgia a couple times, and eventually moved to Georgetown, Kentucky to travel 22 miles to get to work in Lexington. It was a lot of driving.
The nag to save gas was, however, generally superficial. At the drop of the hat, you can find me traveling long distances to hang out with friends, climb, work with sea turtles and hang glide. I am the queen of the road trip, with my custom half-size platform bed (made with unbelievable kindness by Tim Ettridge) tucked into the back of my Chevy Equinox, and an insatiable desire to get outside. I’m happy to admit most of my friends have the same wandering habit. But burning so much gas over the past year had left a residual oily guilt in my heart. For years, I’ve latched onto the idea that one day I’d live close enough to work that I’d commute without fossil fuels.
Finally, I found myself in a semi-permanent housing situation in January 2018. I had a temporary apartment just a half mile from work with a permanent place lined up in February. With very little hesitance and happy strides, I started running at least one way, and sometimes both through the pavement ghetto to get to the climbing gym where I work.
After those first cold January days, I realized my 18L REI Flashpack wasn’t cutting it. Although it was the perfect size for carrying snacks and lunch, my water and extra clothes, it had the nasty habit of rubbing my lower back into oblivion. I didn’t really notice until I took a hot shower and cringed as the water stung my raw skin. I knew immediately what the alternative was: my trusty green 36L Osprey Sirrus that carried me through Ireland. It was too big for just a short run to work, but it slipped on like a second skin and has since become an almost permanent fixture on my body.
Details settled, the daily run became both a thoughtless and thoughtful addition to my days. Sometimes the 6 minutes were a chore, leaving me in a rush to arrive and clock in on time. Sometimes the minutes flew by without me even realizing they had happened at all. And sometimes, after a long day, they provided the perfect cool down where I could re-tune my voice from Customer Service Sara to Regular Sara and bring my stress level back to a manageable level.
And then, the big move. February arrived and I left my temporary apartment and settled into my adorable little studio. No more was I a menial 0.5 miles from work; I now had a 3-mile one-way commute. I grabbed my keys and drove.
That first week, I managed to run to work one day, knowing I had a ride back home. It was beautiful! I’m a country girl and running straight through downtown Lexington with its shiny windows and artsy buildings was an experience. It still is! Even a city this small can give me googly eyes.
But that one run was it. I commuted like commuters do, until I hatched an idea.
Being in UK country meant that basketball is a big deal. YUGE. So you hear about March Madness all the time, and you have to plan your outings around the crowds brought to bars to watch the games. “Go Cats!” you say, with the most convoluted Kentucky accent you can produce. Hillbillies dressed in royal blue nod their approval.
Inspired by the coming spring and my affinity for alliteration, I developed my own March Madness (which had absolutely nothing to do with basketball). I would run to and from work for a week. 3 miles in the morning, 3 in the evening, for 5 days. It’d be a 30-mile week. Although it wasn’t the mileage I was clocking in Ireland, I kept reminding myself that it’d still be crazy challenging with a full-time job. And this isn’t Ireland anyway. 😉
So there it was. Ideas like this fester in my brain. This idea was like when I decided to be a hang gliding instructor, or when I decided to run, rather than walk that long-distance trail in Ireland. And, like those ideas, I act like there’s a possibility that I won’t pursue them. I tell myself that these are extremely challenging, and the likelihood of completion slim. In reality, I know the moment these ideas pop into my head that I’ll accomplish them. I dare myself to fail. That confidence hides somewhere behind my ears, and springs to the forefront when the day arrives.
In the coming weeks, I focused on mentally and physically preparing. I wouldn’t let rain stop me. I wouldn’t let 9-hour work days stop me, not even when I wrapped up already busy days with coaching a team of 6-year-old kids. I wouldn’t let early mornings and late nights stop me. I prepared to be tired. I prepared all my food. I prepared by running to work twice a week for a couple of weeks. I cleaned my studio, knowing it would fall apart as my exhaustion mounted.
Then the week presented itself. I was looking for two things: no plans and decent weather. I’d start on March 23rd and finish on March 27th. 5 days. 30 miles. It seemed easy enough on the surface.
Day one wasn’t hard. I felt like my mental preparation was substantial. I ran to work a couple hours early and even completed a leg workout at the gym. I worked my shift and ran home, unperturbed. I had grown to love the invincibility my pack afforded me. I rarely get catcalled or followed when I have it on. People literally cheer for me, or they get out of my way. Lady runners, you know what I’m talking about. A typical run includes lurid looks, a terrifying following of eyes glued to your ass, and the occasional vehicle slowing down beside you to taunt you and make your fists curl tight. My big green pack dissolved all of that. I felt powerful with my big green pack on my shoulders.
The second day came with a little gastro stress because I ate my breakfast too close to my morning run. It wasn’t bad and I adjusted by waking up earlier so I could have more time to eat and digest before running. Along the way, it started sleeting. The sidewalks slicked over and I had to concentrate deeply to keep from sliding off my feet. I dried my shoes, pack, and soaked rain jacket with a space heater, and had come prepared with extra clothes and footwear. Work was absolutely exhausting with tons and tons of customers in the gym, but welcome to Saturday.
As the day wore on, sleet turned to snow turned to freezing rain. By the time my 8-hour shift was over, the two inches of snow we got in the morning had melted, and the roads and sidewalks were flooded. The temperature had dropped fifteen degrees, and the rain was unrelenting. I called it off. I called a Lyft home. I almost regretted it, knowing that I would choose soaking wet, freezing shoes over a rude driver whose minivan smelled like cigarettes. But after a draining day, my bed was a welcome sight.
Sunday was a very long day, but I was in a fantastic mood. I had to go in early to teach the lead climbing clinic, but I LOVE teaching that clinic. I was slow that morning, but I 100% expected it. Three days on is a sure formula for heavy feet. My mind was mostly focused on my audiobook, called Endure. Hearing outlandish stories of heinous endurance feats alongside the science that helps explain it, I was reminded that I could always be pushing myself harder. This was a walk in the park. After a 9-hour day, my run home was not memorable.
Just like that, I had made it to day 4. This was the day I would introduce some helpful supplements. I chugged a mug of black tea in the morning, and halfway through my run to work, I popped an energy chew. These helped me make it through the crunch I knew would be there, but I honestly felt stronger and didn’t mind the run at all. I had my second bout of gastro stress, but any runner knows it’s just par for the course. I remember being happy during my run home, zoned out after a 9-hour day and coaching wild children.
Then the finale. Day 5 was here; the weather was perfect, but I was not. I hadn’t been able to fall asleep, even with a double-dose of melatonin. When my eyes finally closed, my brain only let me rest for a few hours. Let me be clear: I am a sleeper. I require eight to nine hours every single night, no supplements necessary. Without it, I am a zombie. So when I woke up again at 3:30 am I wrestled to reclose my eyes, unsuccessfully. I read my book to keep my thoughts from wandering, and at 4:30 am, I turned out my light to try sleeping again. I gave up 45 minutes later.
Knowing that nothing could be done, I cleaned my bathroom and the floors. The dishes were done already, so I organized my closet. I did 50 push ups. At first light, I went for a walk. Then I needed something else to do, so I made my regular breakfast of 3 eggs and veggies and threw it away after a few bites. After choking down some tea and preparing for my run, I set out the door, aggression my motivator.
Just as much as sleep is a cornerstone of who I am, so is happiness. My best performances are inevitably fueled by positivity and affirmative visualization. But not this day. I completed my audiobook in 5 minutes, and switched to music, some groovy weird hip hop that Spotify suggested, and let my aggression take over. I was flying. I could see my reflection in the windows of downtown Lexington, and my stride was long - a strange sight for this distance runner. I felt an intense runner's high as I rounded my halfway point.
I bound and leapt and dodged and ducked and eventually arrived at the gym. Every single run to or from work has taken me 28 or 29 minutes. It’s the perfect pace. This one took 26. I was amazed.
However, this wouldn’t be a Sara story if there weren’t any tears. Exhausted and emotionally starved by the thoughts that kept me up the night before, I collapsed on the picnic table in front of the gym and bawled my eyes out. Thirty minutes later, I was opening the gym for the day and hiding behind my peachy facade. Life can be hard, and you deal with it the best you can.
My run home was one of the slower ones, drained by three hours of sleep, a wild morning, and 8 hours on my feet. But I ran the whole way. I usually walk a lot when I run, but this week I kept the pace up the whole time. The results aren’t stunning, but I'm really happy with what I was able to do.
My butt looks great.
I still run to and from work 2-3 times per week, so my effort was not wasted.
I’m a little faster.
I was able to complete my goal even through an intense emotional block.
I feel really good about meeting my goal, about undertaking another idea that wedged itself into my brain and wouldn’t be ignored. I’m happy I saved gas, and glad to report that I felt very awkward my first time behind the wheel after tackling the world on foot for a week.
Do you have any creative exercise goals? I'm a sucker for 1 week and 30 day challenges. Share yours with me! I know what my next goal is, and I can't wait to share it with you when I meet it!