Past perfect

A little over a week ago, I finally perfected a running route that I’ve been working on since January—one that connects seven of my favorite parks. 

For the geographically curious (and/or Liverpool literate) those parks, in order, are: Calderstones, Wavertree, Greenbank, Sefton, Princes, Sefton (again), Festival Gardens, Otterspool, and Sefton (yet again).

I’d run bits and pieces of the route before, always seeing a path I wish I’d taken, or taking a shortcut that turned out to be a devastatingly long cut. Or getting distracted in Sefton Park, which has so many scenic loops and turns that I’d find myself adding miles I didn’t actually have in me. Calderstones Park is the closest to my home, and I always intended to hit it last, but I always had so much fun in Sefton that I’d run out of steam before I even got there.

Entrance to Calderstones Park (photo taken last November)

As I was falling asleep one night last week, though, anticipating a long run the next day, it finally came to me: “You have to do Calderstones first.” It would mean another mile or two, but I thought I was ready for that.

And I was. Good nutrition the day before; a good night’s sleep; beautiful weather. I ran 18 miles that day, through all seven parks, and as I hit “stop” on my watch, I literally said out loud: “Wow. That was the perfect run.”

And it’s part of the past. I should have known that I would injure myself, the way I was running. I’ve run four marathons, and I’d love to do a fifth in my fifties, but I’m realistic about the toll that training takes on an aging body. So my goal is simply to run 1000 miles this year. That boils down to 100 miles a month (figuring that I’ll need to take time off for various reasons). 

In March, I ran 183.8 miles. And they weren’t all leisurely runs in the park. Two days after my perfect 18-miler, I ran 15 miles along my other favorite route, inadvertently setting personal records at both the 10K and Half Marathon distances. All of this in shoes that should have been retired a month ago. (My plan is to leave them here. If I bought new ones, I’d have to pack them when I go home.)

Early this week, my ankle started to tell me that enough was enough. Twinges of pain around mile 10 or 11. When my body says that kind of thing to me, I usually say back, “Naw, come on, we can do this!” and sometimes that works. But sometimes the body says, “No, listen: I’m serious, and you can’t do this without me.” Somewhat sharper pain. I back off right away.

I can walk on my ankle without noticing any problem. I can run seven or eight miles. But my dreams of finishing my last week in Liverpool with some glorious long runs along my golden route—those dreams are all gone.

Today I took a long walk that happened to cover many of my old running tracks. It was cold and rainy. And windy: many of the daffodils have been devastated. If you had told me a week ago that I’d be walking today because I couldn’t safely run, I too would have been devastated. It’s my last full week in Liverpool, and many of my favorite parts of the city I know only as a runner.

It was a lovely walk, however—I mean despite the fact that I was cold and wet and anxious about our impending trip to London—for three reasons:

First, I had the satisfaction of having reached my limit. I cannot go home saying, “Running in Liverpool was great; I probably should have run more!” I ran exactly the right amount—maybe a little more—and I knew when to stop. The correct way to participate in a program like ours is “all in”: give it everything you’ve got. I certainly did that in my professional work on the program. I did that in my personal running as well. I couldn’t have done more.

Second, there was a strangely pleasing closure in thinking about my great runs in the past tense. Ordinarily the best experiences you have in a place become memories after you leave. Mine have become memories while I’m still here. “This is the place where I used to run,” I said. “By the time I was here, I had run 14 strong miles.” It seemed somehow efficient and tidy to have the perfect run already wrapped in memory, already packaged as the past. That will help me to say goodbye to Liverpool.

Third, I was able to be more present, experiencing familiar landscapes at a slower pace, in a more reflective frame of mind, unconcerned about time or distance or stamina. The old sunglasses I wear for running—even in grey weather—are two or three prescriptions old. Today I saw things more clearly, more calmly. I inhabited the spaces almost as a new person, noticing new sight lines and textures, getting a sense of the space all around and not just the road up ahead.

And I still had the past! I had all of my great old memories of running through Sefton Park, as well as my new experience of it. I saw it through the perfect past and the (admittedly imperfect) present at the same time.

On Saturday, we leave for London, where our program ends. 

I’m ready.

Sefton Park

Published by


Happy husband since 2001, proud dad since 2010, diligent English professor since 1995. "And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."