Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Onion Run

In my area of Pennsylvania, a late spring snowfall is often called the "onion snow." This phenomenon is so named because industrious gardeners' onions are well up, and their green tops poke up out of the wet snow, which usually melts off quickly. This year it’s doubtful we’ll get an onion snow, but it’s still possible.

Regardless of the time of year, one of my most satisfying moments in running is what I call an "onion run." The onion run comes a couple of days after a tough effort. The term tough, of course, is relative. By tough, I mean any run that leaves my legs noticeably stiff and sore for more than a day. However my legs came to be stiff and sore—that first run afterwards can be very special.

After the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, I took a full week off running. During my first run afterwards, the feeling I had as I started out was one of fatigue, soreness, gimpiness. I started out at a slow shuffle, but as the run proceeded, the sluggishness gradually worked out. I know I didn't set any speed or distance records, but I could just feel my underlying strength.

It's as though my fitness or conditioning can be measured on two levels. One is the day-to-day surface more type of fitness ("How do I feel today?") as measured by locally varying feelings of stiffness or looseness, soreness or the absence of soreness. The second, more important type of fitness takes the longer view of not whether I am sore today, but rather how strong do I feel deep down? This type of fitness is a reflection of my underlying core fitness and conditioning, the results of being in running for the long haul.

So, what does all this have to do with onions? For me, following a tough effort, my legs are analogous to an onion—dry and wasted outside but with an inner core of vitality and strength ready to spring forth. An onion run is affirmation that everything's OK, that I really am fit, that all those months and years of training have counted for something. My residual fitness is there in spite of day-to-day variations.

The onion run can be truly something special, even magical, as those first halting, stiff-legged steps give rise to an effortless power glide. It is something to be eagerly awaited and then savored.

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