There is a pond that we visit most summers, out near the end of Cape Cod. This pond has a small, rectangular, floating dock about 40 meters off its narrow, sandy beach. During most of the day, the dock is dripping with kids, and things sometimes get chaotic out there, lots of pushing and shoving and splashing, the platform itself shifting around on its tether.
When my kids were very young they dreamed of making it out to the dock, and I remember clearly the first times they were able to swim all the way out on their own. Maybe they climbed up and dove off again a few times, before things got out of hand, before the teenagers made the thing inhospitable for the younger ones.
I think of that dock sometimes when I’m running.
Because my Achilles hurts and because I’m tired and because the First Mile Is a Lie, it can feel like I’m just swimming out to that dock, struggling, looking for a place to float. If I have a friend along, it’s like swimming along next to the kids, feeling more confident because I’m not alone. Sometimes I look to the dog for that reassurance. His tongue lolls around, and he glances up at me, and his eyes say, “Isn’t this great?”
When I’m alone I have to fall back on the faith that going forward is always better than going back., and so I keep going until I find that place where the run is running itself, my legs just falling forward through space, my breath in rhythm, my mind calm.
It’s like pulling yourself up on the dock after the swim, the sweet relief of getting there. If you’re a kid, you’re heaving for breath, water running out of your hair into your eyes, and you smile, because you finally made it. If you’re me, there just comes a moment where the discomfort ebbs away, and I can shift my thinking more towards trying to run well, to dance through the rocks and roots, to power through harder sections. Life seems bright and easy, sitting on that dock.
So, I float there as long as I can, until things start to get out of hand. I catch a toe on a rock and stumble. I feel my legs getting heavier. My breath goes ragged.
And then, like a kid who can’t quite believe he made it to the dock in the first place, I’m just trying to get back to shore.