Training for a half marathon can be mentally freeing on the days when you have good runs. Other days, it can be frustrating. Yet there are days when it can be both – on the same day, on the same run.
Saturday was one of those runs. My longest run before Grandma’s Half Marathon next month, I was staring at the prospect of 12 miles. Six miles out, six miles back; literally uphill both ways. There was a northwest breeze that promised to help keep me cool as the sun rapidly warmed the land.
My route took me southeast of town along the Heart River and into the bluffs above the bottom lands and the Missouri River. It’s a beautiful run any day, but Saturday morning was crisp, sunny and bright. I headed southeast along the ancient river where thousands of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Indians once made home. Lewis and Clark came right up through the Cottonwoods seeking to make contact with friendly natives after being put to flight by the fighting Sioux to the south. It was right here in these parts while exploring the Big Muddy’s western banks that the Corps of Discovery met its first grizzly bear in 1804.
The bike path from town to the state park six miles south follows a rusted old Northern Pacific line that sought to unite isolated cattle towns in west-central Dakota Territory with the big city of Bismarck. A few miles south of here, the rails and ties disappear into the overgrowth of a grade that has long been abandoned, no longer making its way to its terminus. However, the railroad had laid claim to the first modern conquest of the upper Missouri River when it built the High Bridge across it in 1882, opening wide the path from Minnesota to the Pacific. The bridge still stands on its original piers and receives use daily by trains hauling grain, oil, and coal east on the main line.
In order to protect the railroad outpost burgeoning in central Dakota, the US Army sent two companies from the 6th Infantry to build a post atop a bluff overlooking the ruins of a Mandan village. Shortly thereafter, the 7th Cavalry followed, lead by its infamous commander, Colonel (ahem, call him “General”) George Custer.
Running along the bluffs, the meadowlarks, pheasants and robins serenaded me, as they likely did the 7th Cavalry with Custer leading them west out of the Missouri River valley on a May morning 140 years ago. The men that marched west that May morning never returned to this valley, they found their way into the history books and infamy. I was not to bear such a fate, and for that I should have been thankful.
The entire outward run, the wind gusted over my right shoulder and across my face, but mostly behind me. As I reached Cavalry Square and began my about-face, I noticed the state and Union flags snapped straight out away from me. I was turning headlong into the wind. This is North Dakota, buddy. Buck up.
I turned smack into the teeth of a 25 miles-per-hour wind and I was looking at 6 miles of this new adversary. This is North Dakota, its windy here; you know that. No big deal. There were hills and trees that would surely break some of the wind for me. How bad can it be?
I found out how bad. And every time I figured the wind couldn’t get any harder or worse; it did. It seemed that every little turn in the path, change in grade, shelter promised by trees just served to square me up directly into the wind a little better.
I muttered something under my breath and into the wind. The wind laughed back. This brought about another choice word or two. The wind blew them back into my face. The futile curses, complaints and mutterings continued on and on for miles until I reached my car.
Though done with my run, I felt that my senseless anger at the wind served only to create an occasion of sin for me. So I found myself in line for Confession on Saturday afternoon. The priest in the confessional pointed out that little things build into larger things, and how those mutterings underneath my breath are really small ingratitudes, which can build into larger ones.
Reflecting on his words in the church afterward, my first reaction was, what on earth could I ever be thankful about the wind for – especially a 25 mph one? Then the reasons I should have been thankful flooded down. First off, that wind kept me cool both ways. I didn’t need to be cooled as much on the out route, but when I’ve run that route on warmer or calmer days, the hills have me sweating and bemoaning the heat.
Next, in an ironic way, that wind served as motivation for me. I felt horrible the last two miles of the run. For as peaceful as the first 6 miles were the first 4 back into the wind and hills were a killer on the mental aspect. Add to that the fact I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and all my thoughts were focused on just quit; just walk; slow down; all the while, the wind taunted me, I’m going to beat you. I didn’t want to be beat. Not by my aching stomach, and not by the North Dakota wind. I don’t think anyone would have sympathy for a guy who quit running because the wind was too strong. You live in North Dakota, buck up!
Finally, I’ve heard horror stories from friends who’ve run the Grandma’s half marathon. When its nice – its hot and you’d die for a wind. When its windy, its Gitchie Gummie-windy, with rollers and breakers and all. So on one hand, I may be longing for this very wind in a month when I’m running. On the other, I may be running into a Lake Superior gale and, if so, thank God I know what its like to run into a 25 mph wind!
As Taryn said last week, “we are told to give thanks to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), not just when the going is good.”
I guess I should have been thankful after all.
As I walked out of the church, the wind caught the door and whipped it out of my hands. Instead of muttering under my breath, as I had earlier in the day, I just smiled.
“Thanks for getting the door for me.” I chuckled and this time, the wind laughed with me.