By Mariah Mottley
Because of the wet weather, my husband and I decided to do our weekend run without the children and dogs. Better, I thought, to be miserable without interruption. We began on the Rim Trail, across from Taughannock Creek, which was swollen with rain and the color of chocolate milk. The path uphill was empty of other hikers.
We have been running together on the weekends in preparation for a 15K in July. Grumpy and sore, I glared at Sean’s calves as they contracted and lengthened on the stairs ahead of me.
“They’re bigger again,” I told him.
“Really?” He twisted around to look, pleased.
Sean’s male ability to quickly build muscle galled me. He also emerged from our childbearing years with a master’s degree and a job, while I had holes in my resume and stretch marks. Now, his legs were getting shredded from a little extra running on the weekends, while mine remained jiggly and sore. It seemed monumentally unfair.
After the second set of stairs, we began to jog, the ground soft and littered with pine needles. My legs creaked, like sailboat rigging in a stiff wind, and my shirt rode up with each elbow swing.
I sidestepped puddles, not ready for wet socks just yet. My leggings were creeping down over my hips, taking my underwear with them. Worse, a faint smell of cat pee wafted up from my jacket. Minor wardrobe malfunctions have been the keystone of my spring training regimen. I yanked at my pants, pulling them comically high, in an attempt to extend the time before they fell down again. Why am I doing this? I wondered. This sucks.
I like to tell my kids that distance athletes are built, not born. That it’s OK to feel tired, the key is not to mind. But I did mind. Oh, how I minded. We continued on, and I grew more and more irritated.
An opaque fog rose off the roaring water, occluding the landscape, making it look like a painting on a Chinese scroll. We ran and walked through pine trees and safety fencing, finally approaching the bridge, upstream of the Falls themselves. Birds flew below us.
Ahead lay a puddle I couldn’t find a way around. It ran right through the grass and under the fence, joining the water in the gorge. We stopped to look, the difference between puddles and streams suddenly philosophical. Dimunitives came to mind. Rivulets. Streamsicles. Creeklets. I stepped into the moving water; there was no other way forward.
“We’re really in the watershed,” I told Sean, who had stepped in beside me. It was cold as it made its way through the mesh of my sneakers, across the path, then down toward Cayuga Lake.
“We never weren’t,” Sean replied. He started to jog again. I followed, my socks squelching.
The real reason I run is to turn off the word salad always running through my brain. A quiet comes when my legs get tired. It can take awhile, though.
Past the bridge, we turned south on the Black Diamond Trail. To distract myself from the downward pants, the upward shirt, and faint smell of pee, I prattled.
I teased Sean that he was bringing sexy back with those tiny running shorts. Bugged him about what his distance training spirit animal was. We came up with the Water Rat from the Wind in the Willows for him. Mine was Lightning, our corpulent and Napoleonic miniature horse.
I filled him on the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) event I went to that morning, how much everyone cares about kids in public school, how proud I am of our daughter, and what a nice group of friends she has. Told him about the bone broth at Core Life Eatery, how the cat food dispenser I’d seen at the ReUse center sale was gone when I went back for it. It had been white and red. Then I was done. Silence in my head. Nothing left in there but my feet hitting the ground.
We jogged down the other side of the Falls, splashing through the temporary, serendipitous creeks in silence.
“Your form looks great,” Sean said, about 20 minutes after my cat dispenser comment.
“Of course it does,” I said. “My calf muscles aren’t getting in the way.”
Then we were quiet again, closing the distance back down to the car.
Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.