The first few feet are excruciating. Her body feels tight, her arms are sore from yesterday's weight lifting. Her hamstrings protest. Maybe her shoe isn't tied tight enough. Is that sock slipping down?
She pushes it out of her mind, focuses on breathing. In over two steps, out over two steps. Repeat.
Pretty soon it's a quarter of a mile...half a mile. She feels pretty good, but she's pacing herself, not letting all of her energy out at once. Half a mile is nothing; she's going for five today.
Breathe in (left foot, right foot). Breathe out (left foot, right foot). Sweat starts pooling in her armpits, around her hairline. Her ponytail swishes back and forth in rhythm. She waves at a passing walker, says good morning. Her smile is more a grimace, but the walker and their dog don't seem to mind as they return the greeting.
The slight downhill slope becomes an uphill. She powers on, her arms pumping, working the soreness out.
Her route winds around, turning right and left, curving around. She wonders what the drivers of passing cars think. Are they impressed? Do they shudder and thing, "Better her than me?"
Thoughts weave across her brain in rapid succession. The endorphins always give her some of her best ideas, and her best solutions to nagging problems.
Miles start to tick by; she's in her zone now. Her breathing stays steady, her muscles acquiesce and start working with her rather than against her. There are no shin splints these days; a combination of experience, better form, and good shoes have eliminated them from her life. Her legs feel good...they'll be tired when she's finished, but right now, they feel good.
Finally, the last half-mile looms before her. It's always the hardest--so close to the finish, yet so far, running head-first into the wind and mentally, so ready to reach the imaginary finish line and tap her hand against the light pole as she always does. She pushes a little harder. She's come too far to quit now. Her eyes focus on the goal, her breath comes harder and faster, her feet eat up the pavement a little bit faster.
And the most amazing thing happens...a smile. Her face splits in a grin as she ends her run. Even as muscles start protesting, and her lungs heave with exertion, she smiles foolishly. It's all so very worth it.