I wake to the sound of the wind ripping through the trees. The ambient temperature is chilly with the fire in our wood stove having nearly burned out during the night. Like most mornings, I take inventory of how my body is feeling before getting out of bed. I have not run much, hardly at all really, in the past couple of months. Aside from a light, chronic twinge in my left Achilles and a tight hamstring, the typical aches and pains of consistent mileage have migrated to different areas of my body. My fingers and forearms are stiff and slightly swollen from climbing. My quads are fatigued from biking, but not strained or pounded like they can get with running.

After returning from Europe in mid-September, I needed a break from running, from any deliberate training or focus. I was worn out physically and mentally. After getting injured at Hardrock in July, I really should have ended my season, but instead I pushed on harder all summer and barely made it through the Tor des Géants. There was no rhyme or reason to this decision, no logical thought process, rather I just really wanted, needed to run. I was fully aware of the excessive-ness of my pursuits, but my desire for movement in the mountains was too great to suppress. I have found that while my primary drive is to be in the mountains, there is a uniqueness to running that I cannot seem to ever quite equal in other endeavours.

While taking a break from running, I still had to be out on the hill, in the woods, breathing the fresh mountain air. I hiked, scrambled, climbed, biked, and even skied a bit after the first snow. I love all of these activities and find great interest in further developing my skills and experience in each one of them. Yet, when I woke up this morning, I had that special feeling of excitement before getting out the door for a run. I decided to start back up again naturally, when that anticipation to lace ‘em up would return. After a stiff cup of Ecuadorian coffee, an omelette, and splash of eggnog (‘tis the season afterall), I head out into the crisp morning air. My legs feel springy and loose. I resist the temptation to get right up on my toes and start cranking, instead easing into the effort for long-term satisfaction over instant gratification. It is easy to get carried away after a long break, but I know all too well that running is a patience game, a process of slow adaptations. My mind has an eagerness and determination that my body cannot yet quite follow.

The trail is a mix of dirt, ice, and patchy snow, surprisingly tacky. I cut through the woods on tight, winding singletrack, letting my steps accompany the undulations of the terrain as I pick up speed. I encounter the first climb, my stride shortens, my breath hastens, and I begin to feel the burn in my legs and chest. The cold air and altitude sting my lungs. I unzip the neck of my long-sleeve shirt, searching for more oxygen. My face grimaces, while my hands fall to my knees. I stumble into a hard hike, hauling my thicker winter physique up the hill. I pause for a second at the top of climb, my whole body tingling.

I had forgotten this feeling, when physical engagement meets my surroundings. There are no distractions or obstructions between me and the environment, just direct contact. There is no feeling quite like it, when the physical, mental, and spiritual meet. I do not go looking for such sensations, or ever expect anything special to happen. It is a sudden occurrence, a meeting of sorts of the right chemistry, where I find balance and harmony in my environment, yielded through movement. The simple act of running, unintentionally, takes on all of its complexity, a common and shared feeling among those who practice. I love that feeling. It is good to be back.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What does running feel like to you once you re-start the ritual after a break?
  • When was the last time you took a long-enough break from running that its sensations felt renewed, different, vibrant once again?

Rituals c

Rituals b

Rituals a

rituals d

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.