I texted Owen on a Friday.
“Hey. I need straight up accountability. How far are you running these days, and will you make a plan with me?”
He’s one of my longest friends in Sioux Falls, my mentor for all things running, and we’ve logged our share of miles over the years. He’s coming back from a winter of a few random illnesses, and I just needed any kind of mileage at any pace in an effort to put back to back long runs together this past weekend.
We made a plan where, like the weekend before, I would run a few miles, meet him for the middle, and then have no choice but to run myself home or admit defeat and shame and ask for a ride. So I set out Saturday morning in the dark, carried a water bottle in one hand and felt a GPS watch vibrate in the other as I worked my way to Lincoln High School, site of the traditional Saturday morning Sioux Falls Area Running Club run. I haven’t been to it in a long time, and I was happy to see a few familiar faces still standing there in the parking lot. They went their way, and we went ours, knowing our pace wouldn’t match theirs and selfishly wanting to just run whatever we wanted to run.
Owen and I headed toward The Falls, a route that is about 8 miles and that together we’ve run many times. The ice slid across the sidewalks and we ran in the street, picked our way over the path under the bridges, came into Falls Park and walked over the bridge, looking at the frozen water.
“Have you ever read ‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” I asked him.
“I haven’t,” he replied.
“Every time I come through here in the winter, it’s all I can think about,” I told him, tried to remember the exact line about the caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea, the sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice, the flashing eyes, the floating hair, and all crying ‘Beware, beware.’
In my head, I know all the words. In reality, I can pull up a handful of lines in no particular order and what I’m left with instead is just a feeling of dread, and beauty and fear and longing and opium dens and whatever else was imprinted on me the first time I read it, maybe in high school, maybe in college. I hesitated to tell him more, sure I would interpret the lines incorrectly so far removed from actually reading it and instead just having this small bit of repetition in my head mile after mile and winter after winter running through my city’s namesake.
Later on the run, Owen stopped me to point out his favorite sculpture on SculptureWalk (the horse on a wheel in front of The Source) and we passed a house where a former professor of Owen’s used to live and he told me about his work. He was an art major in college, and he understands when all you have left about something is a feeling.
Maybe that’s the greatest compliment to someone’s work – when you aren’t left with the specifics but with an emotion that just stays with you. Anyone can memorize something, a word or a brush stroke or a composition.
I’ve been listening to The Current – Minnesota Public Radio’s music station -- streamed through the computer a ton at home lately. Most of the time it just plays and I let it, and every once in a while I have to stop what I’m doing and figure out who is actually singing.
It’s no secret that I love sad songs, love stripped down female vocals, love it slow, so slow and spare, barely anything there.
I kept hearing songs from Reina del Cid, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis who may be my most recent Cat Power replacement. She has a song in heavy rotation, and I bought the album and the one that came before it and a single just because of the title (“Lover, Be Mine”).
I can’t stop. I’ve been playing the albums over and over, as she sings on “Let’s Begin”, “You could be my lover, all the fish in the sea, they don’t mean a thing to me, because I don’t want no other. … So oh, my dear, dear friend, let’s begin.”
Isn’t that all you want?
To begin. To begin the training. To begin the love. To begin whatever chapter or painting is next. It’s not an impatient feeling, but a hopeful one.
It’s standing and staring at the caves of ice. The days you get by until your feelings multiply and you get pulled over, as she sings.
“There’s nobody else in this world who keeps my starving heart fed,” she sings.
I felt like I got that this weekend, putting together 15 miles on Saturday and 12 on Sunday and ending the week close to 50 miles, the best week in a year for me, thanks to various friends who were standing in the dark when I asked them to be.
Scott Kennedy and I recently lamented how tough it is to stay motivated in this weird season between winter and spring, with all the hope of upcoming races being covered every weekend with more ice and random snow and blowing wind.
To combat that, we created a public segment on Strava, a social network for runners and hikers and cyclists. It’s just a mile – from the 26th Street bridge on the bike path south toward Pasley Park. Run it, log it on Strava, and be entered to win a prize every week in March.
This week, we had more than 30 people go over it, and we gave our first prize – a gift card and a family membership to the Sioux Falls Area Running Club – to Kristi Earl.
As a club, we support runners of all ages and abilities, on trails and bike paths and treadmills, alone and in groups, with walk breaks and winning races.
Later in the weekend, I noticed Reina del Cid was singing a song called “Xanadu” that referenced the same poem I had mentioned to Owen, with the lines, “Now you have gone and lost my company, just like Kubla Khan did lose his dome to the sea.”
We won’t let you do that. Not this spring.
Let the ice melt. Like the snow stop.
Keep logging the miles in this gloaming between blizzards and thunderstorms.
Oh my dear, dear friends.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.