The alarm on my iPhone sounds like crickets.
For a moment, I heard them in the dream I was having. Then I crossed some foggy border and was awake. But just barely.
It was 6 a.m., which was early but not crazy-early. Still. It had been a rough night. Our infant son had been up four times, which meant that I had been up four times. All I wanted to do was to silence the damn crickets and go back to sleep. But I had an important run on tap — the final 20-miler before my marathon taper — and I’d promised Warren that I would meet him and Megan at his place at 7:00 to run the Hill Loop.
It was a test that every runner knows well: The figurative fork in the road. One path is easy, and leads to instant gratification; the other is harder, and doesn’t.
After a moment that felt like an hour, I pulled the covers off and planted my feet on the floor.
In a parallel universe, though, I stayed put. I turned my alarm off and texted Warren. “Rough night. Can’t run. Sorry.” Then I slid my phone onto the nightstand, rolled over, and burrowed under the covers.
In the real world, I pulled on running shorts, brushed my teeth, went downstairs to make coffee.
Parallel Universe Mark told himself that it was OK. He’d run later.
Real World Mark drove to Warren’s house and greeted Warren and Megan. They shuffled out of town, talking and laughing and trying not to think about the half-dozen stupid climbs coming over the next 13 or so miles.
Parallel Universe Mark slept.
Real World Mark slogged up Shimerville Road, the first big hill. He felt tired.
Parallel Universe Mark rolled over, and stirred. He felt groggy.
Real World Mark looked at his Garmin, and thought, Shit. This cannot be right. How have we only gone 6.4 miles? I’ll never make it. I should have stayed in bed.
Parallel Universe Mark heard his three-year-old daughter calling from her room. He sighed and got up.
Real World Mark heard a tractor rumbling up a hill, headed their way. It grew louder, and louder, and then it appeared. A blonde woman wearing shorts drove it. We all smiled and waved. The tractor pulled three low wagons filled with bushel baskets of peaches and apples.
Parallel Universe Mark had his first cup of coffee, and wondered how Warren and Megan were doing on their run.
Real World Mark looked over and saw the steeple of a distant church. It was the highest thing around. They would be running past it in another couple of miles.
Parallel Universe Mark let the dog out.
Real World Mark drank from the hose behind the church. The water was cool and tasted like gravel somehow. (Don’t ask Real World Mark how he knows what gravel tastes like.)
Parallel Universe Mark looked at the clock, and wondered when he would get his run in. It really was an important one today.
Real World Mark was up and over the final big climb. From here on in, it was flat. He would grab a cold Gatorade at Warren’s place and tack on another few miles to make 20. He knew the Gatorade would act as an elixir, helping him finish strong.
Parallel Universe Mark ate some cereal.
Real World Mark felt raindrops on his arms and face.
Parallel Universe Mark wondered how it was that extra sleep could actually make a guy feel more tired.
Real World Mark turned a corner at 18.25 miles, glanced at his Garmin again, and thought, Shit! This cannot be right. How am I doing 7:19 pace right now? He would go on to finish with two quick miles. Warren’s dog would lick the sweat from his legs as he stretched. The 20-miler was in the books, and now he had the rest of the day before him.
Real World Mark felt happy, and strong.
Parallel Universe Mark felt irritable, and weak.
Real World Mark told himself, “Remember this feeling, the next time you’re lying in bed and your alarm chirps at 6 a.m.”
Parallel Universe Mark told himself the very same thing.