Monday, March 21, 2011

Not the Best Run, Not the Worst

Why do I do this? (My feet hurt.) Why? Well, it's the need, I guess, for some sort of authentic experience. (My hip joint hurts.) As opposed to the merely synthetic experience of books, movies, TV, regular urban living. (My neck hurts.) To meet my God, my Maker, once again, face to face, beneath my feet, beyond my arms, above my head. (Will there be water at Cabeza Tank?)
--Ed Abbey, Beyond the Wall

Mr. Abbey, saint of lost causes, and his automobile.

Another godawful eight miles in the books.

The questions recur, or at least they should. They are old ones that we chew on, the cud of experience. What the hell is this all about, this onwards, this forwards, this march to who knows where?

I barely got out the door after a day at work chasing my tail around. There are always good reasons, rational reasons, hella good arguments for just staying put. Like: I ran too hard last week and my legs are tired. Like: The grass really needs to be mowed. Like: Isn't this supposed to be fun? Like: What's another eight miles in the grand scheme of things?

When you carve a life up into the little bits that we actually feel and see, it's hard to figure the meaning. Only rarely does a vision appear of how the whole fits together. Most of the time it's just keep your head down and trust that it will all work out. The other option is to drive yourself crazy with questions, and there's even less point to that. The best argument for God's existence: there must be a higher power because I sure as hell don't know much.

After about 10 too many minutes of indulging these sorts of thoughts, you realize that shit if you are gonna sit around and wonder about the meaning of life, you might as well be getting those eight miles in. So, you head to the door not expecting much at all but at least you've got your shoes on now and turns out it's not even raining.

Down the front steps and you begin a sideways trot. The familiar sequence: the stiff achilles, the stumbling gait for the first mile. Up the first hill still not warmed up. Onwards you go, through the quiet city, past the strolling couples and the goofy dogs. There's even a pink sunset. The stiffness dissipates and the stumble gathers itself into something like a flow, the mind clears, and you've got something approximating authentic experience.

And even if it's not, at least it's another godawful eight miles in the books.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How It Works

Sorry for the hiatus. I needed a mental break. Lately I've been easing back into things. I ran my first workout in quite a while last night, and the increased blood flow to the brain ignited those same old dreams.

This is how it works:

Training is doing your homework. It's not exciting. More often than not it's tedious. There is certainly no glory in it. But you stick with it, over time, and incrementally through no specific session, your body changes. Your mind becomes calloused to effort. You stop thinking of running as difficult or interesting or magical. It just becomes what you do. It becomes a habit. 
 
Workouts too become like this. Intervals, tempos, strides, hills. You go to the track, to the bottom of a hill, and your body finds the effort. You do your homework. That's training. Repetition--building deep habits, building a runner's body and a runner's mind. You do your homework, not obsessively, just regularly. Over time you grow to realize that the most important workout that you will do is the easy hour run. That's the run that makes everything else possible. You live like a clock.
 
After weeks of this, you will have a month of it. After months of it, you will have a year of it.
 
Then, after you have done this for maybe three or four years, you will wake up one morning in a hotel room at about 4:30am and do the things you have always done. You eat some instant oatmeal. Drink some Gatorade. Put on your shorts, socks, shoes, your watch. This time, though, instead of heading out alone for a solitary hour, you will head towards a big crowd of people. A few of them will be like you: they will have a lean, hungry look around their eyes, wooden legs. You will nod in their direction. Most of the rest will be distracted, talking among their friends, smiling like they are at the mall, unaware of the great and magical event that is about to take place.
 
You'll find your way to a tiny little space of solitude and wait anxiously, feeling the tang of adrenaline in your legs. You'll stand there and take a deep breath, like it's your last. An anthem will play. A gun will sound.
 
Then you will run.
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