I had never before packed exercise clothes or shoes for a vacation. Vacation? Vacation? Before my lifestyle overhaul in June 2012, a vacation meant a holiday from any kind of work, inasmuch as possible. Vacation from making my bed. Vacation from tidying the bathroom. Vacation from self-control? Isn’t a vacation supposed to be about eating as much as I can and convincing myself it would have no effect? Why would I want to have any self-control? After all, self-control means work. Constant work. I can’t work on vacation. Right?

It is a testament to how much I have changed mentally and how much I value my health that I packed my running clothes and running shoes in my carry-on as we made our way to Shipshewana, Indiana this past week. Caring for myself and attending to my health are gifts I give myself every day. As my friend Ashley says, that hour or so of exercise in the morning is as important to me as breathing. It is fundamental. Responsible calorie counting is also a part of who I am now. I can no sooner forget about that obligation to myself than I could forget one of my children at the airport.

Shipshewana would really be my first test. Sure, I counted in the Bay Area and in Idyllwild this past spring and winter, but I didn’t take my running clothes. And Shipshewana is Amish country. Amish food is head-over-heels delicious and comforting and social. Amish peanut butter. Freshly baked bread. Fall apart beef roasts. Pie. Pie, pie, pie. Banana cream, chocolate mousse, cherry, peanut butter, shoo fly. Yep, a definite test.

At first I thought I would just roll out of bed and do the bare minimum (2 or 3 miles) and get on with all the other activities. Yet on that first morning of my run, I discovered something: this was a special time to explore the countryside and little town. Wherever I could run, I could go. Within a mile of that first morning, I never wanted to stop. I realized how much more intimately I could know this place by running it. The sounds, the scents, the changes in the morning sunlight, the pace of life: I could become part of these all just through being present in my run and letting my feet and body go as far as it could. How can I have never run a new town before? Why did I not run on the beach in Hawaii? To know the streets, the byways, the details of a new place is to put it forever into my mind and heart. I know now that, no matter where I go in my travels, I will run it. I will run it, not just for exercise and my health, but also because it is through this effort on the land that I can make the place partly my own. I have never experienced more intimacy with a new place than I experienced on this trip.

I ran five mornings out of the six mornings we were there. I took Sunday morning off, out of respect and deference. Even so, by twilight on Sunday my mom and the kiddos and I took a three mile walk right before dinner. That was proper: as we walked past the Amish homes, many of the children were playing (hammock, volleyball, running games) while we could hear the adult chatter and merriment coming from shared dinners near kitchen windows. So really, I exercised each day.

My body woke up right at 6:00 AM every morning, and I would get up and look out at the sheep and cows grazing on the farm right outside our windows. The sun would just be coming up. The inn was quiet, my children still sleeping and husband, too. Then it was out the door and into the Indiana morning. Most of the mornings were misty and not quite cold but extremely pleasant, cooler than where I live. The last couple of mornings were humid even at 6:00 AM. There was nothing but a feeling of sheer joy and magic to be running in that mistiness, watching the sun break to day, saying good morning to the cows and hearing the horses neigh. Birds were everywhere—I didn’t use my headphones and music. Almost no one else was awake, except for the Amish part of the community, and if I went far enough in the right places, I got to see some of the Amish already hard at work so early in the morning. Women were working in their gardens. Some would pass by in their buggies or on bicycles. I was one of the only “English” people up at that same time.

I would run past corn fields, beautiful in the light. In five mornings, I ran 26.08 miles. I didn’t gain any weight on this trip (I weighed myself yesterday, the morning after we got back…and today, I weigh even less than yesterday). I tasted many delicious things, but never went overly crazy. I never once felt deprived. I budgeted calories in the morning at the inn’s complimentary buffet and made choices about which food experiences I wanted more than others. I simply cannot eat it all, and that is okay with me. It’s just reality. The first day I was there, I went out and bought packets of tea. Life is about the choices I make and understanding that I cannot pin those choices on anyone—or anything—else.

Running in Shipshewana was about honoring that promise to myself, but it became so much more than that. I felt so connected to the land and the people. I know the map of that town like the back of my own hand now. At night when I go to bed, I imagine running my various routes. My heart aches a bit for them. I wonder when my legs will run that place again. Shipshewana has a big piece of my essence right now.

The first morning, I was a total noob. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. It started out like this:

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The run was great until about here. Oh look, a trail, I thought. Sure, until it reached a big cornfield. I could see our inn across a big field way in the distance. Later, I would realize there was a road I could have taken instead a bit farther down. But for now, here I was in the cornfield with a narrow puddley middle trail. I ran through several yards of puddles.

At that point, I was met with my first gate, metal with barbed wire. I should have turned back there, but I really wanted to be back at the inn by this time. So I climbed it.

Now I was in another field, trapped on all sides by fences. One side looked more navigable and very close to the inn but would have led me into a pasture of big horses. Uh, probably not a good plan. By this time I knew that I was on property I should not be on, too. What had seemed like a public trail had led dead into someone’s field.

I decided to cross a fence that looked high but was away from the animals. No barbed wire on that one. Whew, this will be easy I thought.

But as I came down the other side: ZAP! My thigh touched electric wire. It was an electric fence—and I had just been buzzed. If you have never been shocked before, let me just say: my, my, what an incredibly interesting sensation. My adrenaline was already going by this point, and the zap certainly increased it.

Still in an upper field by a barn now, I really wanted out onto the street that ran above it. I thought I might be home free, being by a barn. Wouldn’t there be an easy exit point? Apparently not. I climbed my third fence that morning, another barbed number that was exceptionally wobbly and hard to get a strong hold on. Which also meant I was less able to navigate the barbs with precision. Oh well, I told myself, you are going over this thing come hell or high water, because you aren’t going back over the electric fence…now stop standing here and get your butt over it. 

Another day I wanted to see if I could find Lake Shipshewana. It was a misty morning:

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I found it! We would visit that lake twice more in the coming days.

Another day, I ran through the more industrial part of town and saw: the saddlery, an animal hospital, a feed store, a mill, the bank, the town hall and police station. That particular morning I wound my way through the small little town, which was completely quiet at that time of the morning. I loved seeing it without any tourists, with the sprinklers just beginning to go on, with a man getting ready to open the coffee store, with the lights on in the back of a little bakery.

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One of my favorite streets to run was Middlebury, a main street in town with brick-and-white-shutter houses, cornfields, and the public elementary school. Cozy, cozy school building!

Throughout the week, I also found the dentist (operating out of a home-turned-business), the Pumpkinvine Trail, and roads that weren’t labeled that connected to the highway 20 and which would later help us find our way home from the Dutch Market.

On my last morning, I ran for over seven miles, connecting portions of my favorite routes and saying goodbye to every part I loved. I didn’t want the run to end and wanted to go much further but I knew I had to get back to dress my children and finish packing.

I never knew what it could mean to run during a vacation. What began as a way to get my daily exercise has turned into a quest. Running has become so meditative for me, a way to be in tune with myself and my surroundings. I think about all I would have missed had I left my running shoes at home this time. Unthinkable. The memories I made while running are some of my most personal and favorite on this trip.

I know my legs will remember, too, and if we’re ever there again, they will celebrate at the sight of their favorite paths.

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