Get Better Soon

Surf culture has a distinct set of rules that govern the pecking order at lineups, where groms (new surfers) and kooks (bad surfers), not to mention non-locals, give way to all those not situated in such categories. Even among those non-grom, non-kook locals, a recognition of respect and, therefore, wave permission succession is given to the surfers who have accumulated the most time in the water (over years, not the day), developed the skills to make the most of each wave, and a hefty dose of straight aggressive posturing no doubt. From my landlocked understanding, you simply don’t drop down the face of a wave without the express, if not verbal, permission of those around you. It’s not necessarily a “fair” and “just” setup by the way pure egalitarians view such concepts, but culture itself isn’t predicated upon fairness and justice. It’s about what works for those residing in the boundary waters of said culture, fairness as it’s victim.

The specifics of surf lineup culture are somewhat understandable, in regards to eschewing fairness for a functional process. Waves themselves, being a permanent resource in the long term, but a resource of scarcity in the moment, lend to a cut throat sense of immediacy, of blood in the water panic, of extreme fear of missing out for all hoping to catch a wave that THIS TIME JUST MIGHT BE THE PERFECT WAVE. Get barreled. See the future. Look god in the face.

Twenty surfers floating in a limitless flood of water, but positioned JUST SO for optimal chances at ONE WAVE, over and over again. The possibilities do end. So each surfer sits in the lineup, searching for the least crowded sets, the algorithim of best waves situated during extreme times of days where most are working, asleep, or otherwise not in the water. Otherwise, the pecking order cascades down upon them until they sit trying to reconcile the functional processes of culture with the sheer luck of an unexpected perfect wave rolling through exactly when their lottery numbers are pulled.

It’s an ugly way of working out scarcity economics, but it does work, if sometimes a bit violently. At special breaks, the establishment of pecking order leaves the water and asserts itself in parking lots and as far inland as necessary to keep local liquid utopias uncrowded and tribal. Coordination to keep out non-locals entails walkie-talkie communications, knives in tires, looks that kill or at least threaten to do so. The dry land stereotype of dirty haired surfers too brain-soaked with ocean to think clearly gives way to military coordinated lawyers and foot soldier extremists hell-bent on solidifying the culture of lineup privilege through waves of violence separated by lulls of intimidation.

The end result is a functional culture, not so much pretty, or fair or just, but functional no less. To outsiders, notably the solid-footed of us, standing on ground high above sea level, on high-horses as such, our perspectives are viewed through the lenses of morality. We are anthropological amateurs, imposing impractical morality upon functional processes. And yet, we have our own cultures marred by their own imperfect forms of process, give or take degrees of severity.

Running culture, fortunately, doesn’t bring to mind such stark divisions or necessary permissions doled out sparingly, for our resources to partake truly are endless, in so far as the land runs to the water’s edge. There is no jockeying for access to the best trails, the clearest rail-trails, the hilliest road. The ground is accessible to all, by all. Admittedly, race entries to huge marathons sometimes necessitate an actual lottery system to keep resources manageable, but in comparison to the organic wave created culture of surfing, this is an institutionalized necessity and not an athlete established agreement. Maybe the most similar example that comes to mind is a pecking order at workout starting lines, where the ones who go furthest the fastest find themselves up front, toes on the line, after other runners parted the way for them to be there. This is less a cultural agreement, however, and more a physical necessity for everyone to find their way forward without the risk of tripping over legs not spinning as quick. The bottom line is that runners simply don’t vibe each other, if only because the needs to vibe each other off the road, out of the workout, back to the trailhead parking lot don’t exist. The running pursuit exists more in the limitless resource within our bodies than in any shared external object. We are free to run as individuals, by our own rules, rather than the demands of culture, of gathered beings, working things out between each other.

With all that said, let me pose one cultural proposition, one boundary of behavior…one wave to catch. It is this.

When I am sick, physically and psychically broken, and unequivocally unable to run….no one else is allowed to run either.

I know, it seems harsh. It seems unfair. Unjust even. But isn’t that the crux of culture? This unfairness, doesn’t it define us as a group, if so flawed and absurd in our own special way? What is a culture of runners if we can’t point to our ridiculous notions and say, “This. THIS ridiculous thing we do is what really draws a line between us and you.” If we must draw that line, and if no one else will propose a line of their own, then I say this line shall be drawn the moment I feel a sore throat and achy skin and opt to not tie on my shoes and head out the door and down the street.

It’s horrible really, wanting so badly to run, NEEDING to run even, but not being able to do so, and then even worse, watching a healthy specimen of an athlete bound down the street with a fluid grace, a perfect snapshot of right angles formed by elbows and knees feeling the sun and wind caress all exposed skin with the most gentle whispered touch. Meanwhile, you are rubbing sandpaper with each breath, each shifted position. They are rushing river and you are stagnant pond. They are minds filled with the joy and promise of what is to come and you are weighed down by the fog of knowing you will be sick like this till the day you die. It’s not fair, that others run when you can’t. It’s not just that your potentials go unfulfilled while theirs find new success. It’s plain bullshit that you’re sick and they’re not.

So let me reiterate this agreement I’m asking you to sign. When I’m sick, you can’t run. You can’t put your abilities in my face when I’m unable to return the favor. You can’t get better, experience more, take advantage when I’m getting worse, experiencing nothing, entirely disadvantaged. You can’t, COMPLETELY UNKNOWINGLY, add insult to injury with your unbridled joy. You just can’t.

Look, when I can’t run, the world can’t either. It’s not fair and it’s not just, but come on, if we need some cultural absurdity to help separate US from THEM, I personally can’t think of a better proposal on the table. As I rest my body, I rest my case.

And although no one has yet signed this unwritten agreement, and the parameters are so undefined as to be non-existent, just know this, that as I’m sick and you’re running, I’m going to vibe you. I’ll side eye your fluid form. I’ll squint until you’re only a sliver of movement. I’ll look away as you click off effortless 6 minute miles, just so you know how unimpressive they really are. I’ll mutter to myself, “this fuckin guy. stupid ass runners”. Like I said, I’ll vibe the shit out of you bruh, grom, kook. But hey, at the very least, I’ll stop at knifing your tires in the trailhead parking lot…I mean, because I think I’m starting to feel a little better, so maybe such drastic measures aren’t needed….not right now. For your sake, or your tire’s sake, I hope I feel better soon.

 

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Luxurious

There is a certain luxury to running…just running. Without distinct goals. Without training plans. Without a race settled into the concrete somewhere far off, always getting closer, as a beacon on a peninsula, surrounded by waters acting as boundaries. The boundaries being the miles prescribed, the speeds at which are necessary for progression, the formulaic methods created over years of others experiences that you shall not break from, lest you sign this waiver of risk. Running for the sake of running is an act of complete dismissal, of throwing off the shackles of obligation, accountability and just plain common sense. It’s not always smart. Stressing the body with tension and ease like a string attached to a bouncing Yo-Yo can lead to complete failure. A snapping, of muscles if not mind. It’s not always effective either. To run against the best advice of coaches and the millions of feet that have tread this ground before you is not too dissimilar to just running off a cliff and hoping the wind is strong enough to keep you aloft. It’s not. You’ll fall. On the other hand, with a bit of luck and a lot of previous physiological adaptation, some pretty incredible magic can happen. Weeks of barely running can unwittingly turn into a 70 mile week stretch, that folds itself over into the next week, and where the slope was gradual, it now becomes slippery, until the angle tilts drastically into the shape of a cliff. And you go flying off, this time aloft.

Sometimes, this flying momentum, however, takes a bit of drudgery through the luxury. Sometimes, without the common sense to ease into the effort, steadily increasing stresses, forcing a sort of evolutionary adaptation hypersped to daily increments, but instead just going full force into a week of running, the body breaks down. Without a sneaky whispering to your body, like a kid behind you in class avoiding teacher detection, breathing out “We’re going to run a little further today, not a lot, just a bit. It won’t hurt,” you break. You run far and fast and it feels amazing, until the stresses of the effort rise above the adrenaline like cars passing in the night. Neither could tell the other was on the road. You lay on the couch, prop your legs up in great satisfaction, replaying the run in your mind, but when you get up to go about other business you find your legs have filled with a heavy, gelatinous fluid, threatening to harden into immobility. The true effect of what you just did to yourself makes itself apparent with no small touch of naive shame. “I should have known better.”

You do it again, of course, because with just enough muscular loosening the mind is willing to take the body out more than the body is convincing the mind to chill. You take legs beaten to a less optimal beginning state, a new weakness to start the run instead of ending it. You are not necessarily broken, but you are less strong. Still, you run, because the luxury of feeling the wind on your face, finding moments of fluid form, watching red-winged blackbirds take flight as you pass their batches of reeds instead of watching your watch tick over at mile markers, far outweighs the common sense speaking through a very pointed spot in your quad, and the heel speaking too loudly for library volume with every impact.

The next day you do it again, a body broken even further yet again, this time more because the pain in your heels prevents you from digging into the slippery slope now turned downward in a state of unavoidable gravity. Body be damned, we can keep going, if only for the sake of going, because the luxury to do so has risen in importance above doing so right.

And the next, with a bottom half now congealing into a thicker and thicker solution that requires considerable effort to warm up the muscles to an appropriately flexible state, as far as they will let you go without snapping. Legs swing past each other with abbreviated steps, morse code cut short, until the loosening allows for longer sentences written out upon the pavement. The pain, however, writes it’s own stories, cramming small angry words into a space defined by quads and calves, as if they would hurt less if they could only be scribbled off the page. But they can’t. The words typed into the body with every impact is a sharpened typewriter arm, hitting forcefully and focusedly.

The luxury is a powerful force, because at this point we run a very thin thread, threatening to snap at any moment, during or after any particular run. We run out of form, arms clasped into prayer hands, asking no one for the absurd will to leave our bodies intact, to make it back home one more time, to keep the luxury luxurious, if still so painful.

Here’s the ruse. The luxury to break is the luxury to keep running towards a new strength. The body heals itself and where it is wise to slowly build strength on a trajectory of pain-free running, to see the beacon in the distance and follow it’s light, the luxury to run the body into breaking will, if the thread stays intact just enough, then lead to a strength quickened by consistency. The tight rope walker sags in the middle of the wire, the weakest point, where the luxury of running takes us, threatening a full on plummet into the pit of not-running. If, however, we take another step and pass the weakest point, every step thereafter will lead to a new strength. We will have passed the breaking point, the point of breaking.

That breaking point is marked by an unmistakable pain in the quads, Marathon Pain. That pain is there at the start of the run, quieted towards the end of the run, though not silent, and most prominent for the hours that follow. As worrisome as this pointed, stabbing pain is to the runners moving on a commonsensical trajectory of great potential, it is a sort of beautiful pain for those of us with much greater luxury to go until we almost break. We go to the depths of our bodies and stand on the edge of that cliff, in the middle of that tightrope, hands in prayer formation, and if all goes well, if luxury hasn’t reached past it’s own boundaries, we find a strength in our legs that pulls us up short, turns us gradually along the edge and swings our momentum back to ground more solid, more responsive, more rewarding.

It is then that the potential tragedy of too much luxury turns into the powerful magic of running…just running. Of the body’s ability to recover, to grow stronger, to find new momentum and new boundaries. This luxury turns unbelievably luxurious.

It is all always with us.

The road is always with us. As a gentle incline lulls us into effort, like waking up slowly from an afternoon nap, heavy drunk, the struggle to understand where we are and what is happening fills our legs. Some sort of trickery changes an easy effort into lungs searching for more space, legs reaching out but finding ground too quickly. Arms relaxed are suddenly tensed, grabbing for ropes to pull the weighted body forward, up. The resistance forces struggle, forces tension, forces everything necessary to push into a body fully awake, fully strong, fully capable of turning inclines into just simple ground. The road is always with us. It dips downward, finding not just lesser elevation, but a reversal of time, sending us into memories of childhood, careless meandering, imagined flight. It gives us the magic of levitation, a reprieve from the burdens of gravity and a moment to abandon the tethers of physics, to be the superhumans we pretend to chase. The road is always with us.

The rain is always with us. Ceilings perspire upon us to leak into every crevice, every surface, every path of least resistance until we are swimming in a mix of liquids. Running through walls of water, eyelids slanting like brims on a hat for the same purpose, we expect to finally break through where a release of effort will meet us head on, like sun breaking through clouds, rain clouds. Rarely it comes though, and we run on, into an accumulated flood, our feet touching down into small oceans that part and converge back together before we can escape the embrace of cold water surrounding our feet and forming cold lakes that come along for the ride. Showers that cleanse turn into unwelcome baths that shock and fill our clothes with a weight we can’t shake. Grey clouds reflect the emotional struggle running allows us to transcend. The rain is always with us. A pounding of water on pavement turns into a rhythm, drums of war, beating us forward with an intensity that matches the anger of oncoming storms. We adapt to run as an adversary, stronger in spirit than the weapons of wind, water, and crashes of thunder. Minds steel themselves as swords, to forge bodies into machines that match pace with the rain, racing raindrops over and over, throwing water from our faces and letting it penetrate into us, refilling our emptying vessels with a liquid fuel to keep us going, faster and faster, buoyant and swift. The rain is always with us.

The wind is always with us. A whisper and a roar at the same volume, invisibly inhaling the oxygen from our lungs we try desperately to withhold. It shrinks our lungs and ties our bodies up in fabric, pulls our bodies down in sand, halts our momentum with laughs and mockery and jumps from behind walls to scare us stiff. It steals breath and turns fluid bodies into sand, wet and cold and hardening, unless we breathe back to keep from lulling into statuesque figurines of athletes, mid-stride, stuck, forever. Leaning forward, in the intuitive way we seek to change the laws of physics, or at least use them to our advantage, we try anything to change the mind of the wind, to see things from our perspective. We conjole and convince and manipulate, to build our capabilities and persuasions. Or we just join em. The wind is always with us. Quietly, silently, it lifts us up and takes us toward new successes measured by timelines, but never perceived in effort. It gives us moments of romanticized running, where everything is easy and nothing hurts and forever is entirely possible. At our backs it stares, an altruistic deity, perfectly zen and devoid of ego, it exhales as invisibly as it inhales, inflating our lungs with a helium that lifts us skyward and takes us away. The wind is always with us.

The horizon is always with us. A storyline never ending, a monologue, an On The Road to nowhere, a self absorbed one-sided conversation. We move towards the obvious finish line with the sun as our only competitor, and it’s gaining. The closer we get, the more desperate we become, our bodies filling with the weight of everything we’ve emptied along the way, making every step more important, more valuable than the last. We die just short. Second place. They kill the lights to the stadium. The horizon is always with us. The forever promise of something more, less a finish and more a wise friend, with a better view of the future, waving us forward and promising a visible utopia, just ahead, just a little further, if you just keep coming, you’ll make it. Even though we won’t. It’s the promise we want, not the scenic overlook, of which the edge of the earth keeps circling back upon itself, so we can keep chasing the promise, believing in better instead of reaching the cliff, stopping, stopping running. The horizon is always with us.

The geese are always wit…wait…no they aren’t. The geese are never with us. Stay away from them.

The Various Mes.

The other me turned off the alarm, even though the sun continued to beam out it’s own wake up call through barely veiled windows. The other me sunk into the warmth and comfort of soft sheets and blankets as cocoons. The other me rolled over and crossed an arm over my girlfriend, siphoning some of the warmth from her as well. We closed our eyes and went back to sleep. The other me woke an hour later, heavy lidded and only just sobering out of sleep, slowly and gently. The other me found my way to the kitchen for patiently waiting coffee, the automatic cycle started and stopped with the companion alarm the hours prior. The other me pushed through the rising fog enough to make a bowl of comforting oatmeal to relax the tense rope of hunger pulling at my stomach. The other me shuffled back into bed, propped the pillow against the wall and met the warmth outside the body by adding some within. The other me turned on the television, clicked through the options and settled on something funny and mindless. The other me didn’t make plans, ignored obligations and let ambitions fade with the morning cold. The other me settled for simplicity, for warmth, and for the least amount of exertion necessary, contrasting the demands of every workday prior, and every one to come.

The current me shut off the alarm, then snapped awake with urgency. The current me found muscles straining, but determined, to move my body to the kitchen not just for the warmth of coffee, but the chemical composition even moreso. The coffee steamed within the pot, as ready as the current me to begin our effort. The current me resisted the embrace of flannel pajamas and oversized sweatshirts, to strip down through cold air before pulling the armor of tights onto my legs like warrior dressings. The current me pulled on a jacket of material designed for swift movement, brighter than the sun going through it’s morning motions. The current me stepped out of the safety of our home and into the hard, exposed streets of a built urbanity. The current me felt muscles resisting movement, but willfully relenting as the city center pulled closer into sight. The current me let the adrenaline of the effort override heels pained from previous mornings of the same pounding. The current me felt the weight of heavy eyes peel, lift and then blow off behind in our wake, leaving us alert, primed, and conscious in mind as in body. The current me ran under the towering giants of buildings casting chilly shadows against the determination of the sun to warm the day. The current me was alone in a city built for floods of humanity to wash through the streets. The current me ran down the middle of empty streets, like a dried up riverbed. The current me turned to retrace my steps, the full weight of a body repeating impact upon itself, to follow the same empty riverbed back to our tributary. The current me ran into a headwind, a friend turned enemy. The current me found a certain satisfaction in winning the battle of push and pull, only mildly inconvenienced by it’s determination to stop me in my tracks. The current me laughed at it’s childish stubborness. The current me was enjoying the adversity. The current me owned the streets of a city that is no one’s. The current me took up four lanes of dull red brick, now reflecting the sun into our eyes like individual mirrors. The current me ran through the wall of light. The current me split the middle, threaded the needle. The current me escaped from the city and began climbing back home. The current me felt the cold air wrapping around numbing fingers, hardening cheeks, attempting to turn the angles of legs into stumbling follies. The current me found strength in a mounting fatigue, refocusing determination, and cut footholds into the inclining road. The current me could taste the relief of completion. The current me moved past others slow to wake, trudging through the weight of early morning. The current me moved swiftly, confidently, exuberantly. The current me found the footsteps imprinted in the snow when the current me left the house one hour ago, evidence of an effort completed and recorded. The current me relaxed, satisfied, accomplished.

The current me walked into the house, to the bedroom, and found the other me lying in bed, staring into the TV. The current me yelled out to the other me, “Hah! Get up you lazy bastard!” The other me rolled his eyes, sipped his coffee, and debated falling back asleep.

The only question poses, What me will wake up tomorrow?

Ease and Effort

If you permit me a blatant tooting of my horn here, in contrast to a more typical muffled tooting of the horn, I am fascinated by what I can do with my body. Not to downplay the conscious act of willing myself to run as I do, but as the body sets the boundaries to the mind, I’m continually amazed that I can run the distances I do, without breakdown (often anyways), without a measured slowing, without interruption. I’m amazed, in part, because I live in a culture that leans on the crutch of excuses to do anything with the body that borders effort. We’ve all heard (or delivered) the lines about running only when chased, or sore knees, or any other myriad of justifications for not doing, well, anything. For it’s not just running that is avoided by most of those who find excuses easier than effort, but it’s any degree of physical activity. Admittedly, this odd fascination with a physically sentient lifestyle shouldn’t leave the physically active feeling like such anomolies, for we are blood and bone and muscle and mind more than anything else. We, as animals, exist to move. But on the other hand, we as animals, exist to survive and survival compels odd behavior indeed.

Although I feel no shame of arrogance in finding fascination with the body to complete amazing tasks, strenuously and unceasingly, I also recognize in an environment that facilitates paths of convenience, those paths will always be the ones taken. Animals are wired for energy conservation, for leisure, for avoiding obstacles to their survival, so should a path be forged that offers us the ability to rest, we don’t just find it enticing, we find it unavoidable. Maybe in a less domesticated context, this degree of rest and ease and convenience plays a crucial role in our survival, whether that was for nomadic travel, foraging, hunting, warfare, etc., but in the exaggeration that is modern civilization, such hard wiring for convenience and ease can turn against us. I will refrain from detailing the laundry list of problems associated with TOO MUCH ease and TOO MUCH convenience, but suffice to say modern life provides plenty of examples.

Not to say athletes have found any secret to a balanced life of activity versus rest, not by any stretch, but I think we can attest to the undeniable values, to both body and mind, for not always remaining so sedentary. Unfortunately, the compulsions of our animal nature, mired in the context of such great ease and comfort, create a normative sense that physical strain is actually UNDESIRABLE, and so even the best intentions and cultural expressions to “be active” fall into a realm of unprecedented LACK of activity. Get 30 minutes of activity a day. THIRTY MINUTES! When in human history and human biology could we have ever gotten by, ever survived, by moving for only 30 minutes a day. The effect is such that even an accumulated one hour of movement a day is seen as excessive, rather than just a starting point for activity whose value is measured in body and mind.

For those of us who have broken through this civilized veil, the values and joys of physical activity are not just understandable and a FELT experience, they are visualized all around us. Our coworkers succumb to common sickness on an almost predictable rotation. A generalized lack of motivation hinders ambitions of all sorts. Pent up psychological frustration spills into the complications of relationships. The distractions and false enemies of others take precedence over a zen like calm and inward confidence. The world is just, ugly. Mid-stride, with lungs taxed, muscles tense, and mind focused, there is nothing but a beautiful moment, over and over, with every push forward.

The psychological break from a sedentary mindset into a physical strain is, admittedly, not easy, not because it can’t be done. Not because it shouldn’t be done. Not because it involves some great task or developed perspective, but rather because our cultural environment prevents us from making physical activity a necessity. With all our animalistic survival needs provided for, our innate drives are redirected into a state of excess, where technologies flourish, leisure is expanded, and the corresponding sedentary and relaxing components of our existence feed into the built environment that feeds back into those components. We are in a feedback loop of leisure, of convenience, of ease, which will likely continue to feedback until unseen interruption. For our sake, it can’t come soon enough.

It is absurd and short sighted to place fault upon culture or individuals (who make up culture) for a primarily sedentary existence. As all animals respond to their environments, we do the same. The only difference now in comparison to the majority of our Sapien existence on the planet is the new development of carving ease out of hardship and the various built environments that followed. As we are born into this environment, still harboring a biological genetic inheritance, we are something at odds with our place in the world. We have so few options for alternative survival that we can only find our way in modern life, even if at the expense of our physical and psychological selves.

I paint a darkened picture it seems, but this obviously isn’t a necessity, for there ARE ways out, hence this blog about running. Through conscious and unconscious ways, I’ve found my way into a life of physical activity and all the benefits it affords my days. Begun at an early age through exploration and neighborhoods populated by so many kids and their boundless energies, we were always moving. Whether finding our ways through woods, two hand touch, imagination filled bike rides, structured games, etc., we were like molecules in a petri dish smashing into each other and bouncing off walls without stopping. Finding my way through the sedentary nature of schooling with it’s desks, passive information reception (“learning”), abstractions of the world, and training for the same in adulthood, I maintained some sense of physical activity through skateboarding. More tellingly though, it was the poverty (of a privileged sort) I found myself inhabiting that dictated my cycling necessity and then enthusiasm. The bike became both my economic and physical freedom, of which has returned rewards again and again to this day.

At one brief moment of our modern life bikes were the mechanisms of ease and convenience, but quickly surpassed by the automobile. Too bad. For those of us finding creative ways of navigating a privileged poverty, bikes still offer the benefits of debt avoidance, job access, and, most under appreciated, physical and psychological momentum. To rely upon a bike instead of a car to get to work, to acquire the necessities of daily living, establishes an environment and the mechanisms thereof that INHERENTLY lend towards physical activity and physical health. One part of an entire picture gets painted a little brighter.

Of course, this is just one small example suitable to my life, while others may have found environmental obstacles that necessitate other ways of finding physical and psychological health, in contrast to a culture that necessitates ease and convenience. For my own purposes, the combinations are what paint the most whole picture. Some days I ride to work, spend all day on my feet serving customers at a vegan restaurant, then ride home, only to immediately change into running clothes and stride through 10 miles of powerful efforts. On these days, when my entire schedule is comprised of physical activity, I feel most fulfilled, most alive, most primed for what comes next.

The sad state of modern life, however, is that the compulsions of our culture will lead others to see these days as excessive, bordering on absurd. They look at such a schedule as ridiculous, unachievable, even dangerous, when in actuality this is a normative way to move through the day, and an ACHIEVABLE way to move through the day, and our physical bodies inhabit the potential to do it all with both ease and fulfillment.

Despite the conditions of our current bodies (notable exceptions acknowledged), we are all animals with the capabilities to live in and through environments of wildness, of difficulty, of adversity. We will, again, always seek the easy way to find survival in these environments, but we should not lose perspective that the easiEST way comes with it’s own problems, it’s own adversity, it’s own dangers. I don’t expect any significant shift in perspective or behavior in an environment built around ultimate ease and comfort, but for those of us who have found the reward of momentum and velocity in a world of stagnation, I see you and extend a knowing nod and wink. Keep keeping on, quite literally.

Run Full Circle

There is sound advice that goes, “Run like clockwork”, which is to say, set a time to run each and every day, keep it consistent, never waver, and translate the act into a part of your day, part of your being, like breathing air, drinking water.

It is legitimate advice for the athlete so privileged to have enough leisure time in the day to set their biological metronome at will, to be free of the inconveniences and burdens of responsibility that get in the way for the rest of us. We have to simply make do with the fluctuations, dodging and ducking, bobbing and weaving, finding the moments more than making the moments to run. But this is ok, like I said, we make do. Maybe the primary difference between those of us that make do is our dedication to just that, making do, making time.

When I first started running again, making time took precedence, but it was also facilitated by the nap time of my son, allowing for a good 90 minutes of afternoon running. This setting of the biological clock, however, only lasted as long as he was lulled into this fragile scheduled sleep, which any parent will tell you is so fragile as to be almost non-existent. Still, the routine held. Until certain changes took place in the cooperation with his mother and the only time I could make to run was after work, when I got home from a 45 minute drive…at 1 am. It sounds absurd, but being primed to run in the country, under an open, dark sky, with no cars or people around is a running environment most never experience. I made do with the 1 am running experience for a month or so, but with a change in work schedule, I made new time with afternoon runs yet again, back on the nap schedule of my boy, who took to the rhythmic pace of running as gently as he could, falling asleep for the entire 90 minute run.

These afternoon runs became our thing, after a morning of hard playing and increasing restlessness, we took to the streets for some needed rest for him and an expenditure of energy for me. With a bit of wavering of the schedule, even through a change in residence, we kept to our schedule, until…fast forward…he was gone elsewhere (a tangent of this story too long and complicated to summarize). The rhythm of our routine, however, had become engrained and every day, at the same afternoon time, I went out for my run, unsure what else to do in my solitary state. The clock was set.

More life and job changes came and went, but the afternoon run time was as necessary and intuitive as breath and water.

Until suddenly it wasn’t. A new relationship. A new job. A new residence. With these changes came a forced adjustment to my running schedule and my afternoon runs got pushed to later evening, which turned out to be a prime time for exertion. My body was loose, my mind set to explode with a releasing of stress, and a strong 10 miler or exhausting workout was exactly what I needed after getting home. I had found the optimal time of day to run for the needs of my mind and body, and so for years I stuck to this schedule. Like clockwork, every day, my routines revolved around priming myself for the late after noon / early evening run. My days were full and fulfilling and perfectly exhausting. I set PRs. I felt grounded and in control.

Then I wasn’t. The obligations of a relationship that I didn’t forecast as a failing endeavor took precedent, and in an effort to save what I thought worth saving, I switched my running efforts to a pre-work alarm. To keep my running from cutting into time with my family, I set my alarm for absurd times, getting in 10, 12, or 15 miles before I had to be at work…at 7 am. I forced through dark mornings, passing mile markers in a state of pseudo-sleep, waiting for the pumping of blood or rising of sun to wake me enough to keep going. It was hard, but I believed it was worth it. On and on, every day, early, so early, I would wake to run and get it in before the day really began. Admittedly, this was nice, as if my suffering proved my dedication and commitment to doing what was necessary for new PR’s and goals seemingly out of reach. I was a martyr to myself. The post-run feeling of getting 15 miles in before people even woke, and having the rest of the day and night to just relax also turned out to be somewhat addictive. Morning runs reset the running clock, so that even when I didn’t have to get up and run, the compulsion to get the run out of the way, to build the fitness first thing, became compulsive. I couldn’t stop, running as early as I possibly could. I’m not alone in this slippery slope. A friend often gets up at 3 am, runs, then goes back to sleep, so he can work the next day without the obligation of a workout burdening his mind. The running compulsion is a powerful force and I am certainly not exempt.

Of course, then came disease, and the clock hands spun out of control. I didn’t know if I could ever run day to day, depending upon how my feet felt or how strong my mind seemed. I gave up keeping time and the truism about running like clockwork solidified into something like scripture. Without a routine, a goal, a compulsion to keep going at the same hour, I felt like I’d never find the rhythm again. Fortunately, this didn’t bear out and over time I was able to set the alarms, make time in the day, and find routine again, even if the concept of clockwork became a little more relaxed. The exact hour didn’t matter so much as just the day now.

With each passing month, however, the attempt to make do settled back into my familiar routine of early morning running and the comforts of getting done first thing what most couldn’t imagine doing in a full month. Over time, however, with a body compromised from so many surgeries and a refocus on the self-interested values I get from running, I wavered with my clockwork, letting the hands swing loosely, or just hitting the snooze button until calling it a day again and again. I had lost the drive to get up and get at it. Like, truly lost it. There was no more clockwork. There was barely a clock.

A new job came again, this time one I don’t want to see go, and a solid routine was set, but I still couldn’t bring myself to wake and run before beginning the day. The compulsion to get the run in before work burdened the effort with a sense of urgency, so much that I couldn’t run mentally freely, always pushing to get home as soon as possible, thinking through all the tasks I had to complete before getting to work on time. Running was like clockwork, yes, but more a bomb ticking down rather than a starting gun. The clock simply made running a chore, until I felt most compelled to put it all aside.

It was like the clock ticked down from three to one to zero, and if didn’t blow up, then simply shut off. I was done. And I didn’t care.

Sort of.

Cause that’s not true. That’s never true. What happened was probably a combination of missing running and seeing the distinct changes in the air that signal a transition from winter to spring. The visions of warm runs and opened skies triggered something in me and I was willing to try anything to get back into a groove, which is when I realized just how unhindered I was to run after work…again…like I used to, during the late afternoon / early evening. I’m not sure why this didn’t come to me earlier, but what I understand to be the optimal time to run for my mind and body was wide open to me, but the compulsion to get the run in first thing for so long veiled my vision. Whatever the impetus, it became clear I could after work, without restriction, without undue obligation. I could run as release, as lightened, as childlike. I could do it like clockwork.

Just four days in and I’m clocking 10 milers, not rushed to stop, not rushed to get anywhere else, but rather rushed to start! The excitement of getting home, jumping into my running clothes, and getting back out and down the street is consuming. I keep kicking myself for not coming to this conclusion earlier, as if the clockwork became robotic instead of a helpful guide.

It’s not just the rediscovery of running like clockwork of course, but rather the rediscovery of running for the unburdened joy it once embodied. Sometimes going back to the beginning is impossible, but in other ways it just takes some adjustment of time. I’m just thrilled to be back here again, full circle, like clockwork.

Never Alone

During a conversation regarding places lived and loved a co-worker posed the question, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?” I went through the list of places I lived for months at a time, the cities I’ve visited on vacation, and the assumed utopias of places I’ve never been but know to be of good culture and better weather…but nothing resonated. Maybe it is a sign of aging, or resignation, but the usual allures that greener grass held as a younger individual offered no degree of persuasion. No considered locale stirred my interests. They all just seemed like…places. Places with buildings and restaurants and people and, well, just about everything that exists where I currently reside. There are differences, yes, but only by degree and not concept. Everyplace is every place, to simplify.

What absolutely can’t be found in these other places are people, as in the people that reside where I currently live. There are people everywhere, of course, too many if you ask me, but these are different people than the ones I know. And yes, of course I could get to know these people and they would likely be great all the same, but it is that GETTING to know that seems an obstacle that I’m just too tired to overcome. The people I know now are fantastic, and many, so to imagine living somewhere else wouldn’t just entail experiencing a new environment, but rather starting over, completely, in getting to know a whole new set of people. And it is people, ultimately, that make a place.

I don’t pretend to claim a community, but maybe only a SENSE of community. My parameters of community are defined by a genuine dependence, not the ability to come and go as one pleases as comprises our worlds today. Still, the associations I have made where I currently live have been crafted with the tools of time and hardened into a solid edifice of relationships that is seemingly unbreakable. It is the associations and the ability of call and response that makes where I live so fantastic, so known, so comfortable.

To answer the question, if I could live anywhere in the world, where would it be….it would be right here. Truly. But not “here” as in a geographical boundary, or a State association, or a political climate, or a cultural association, but here, as in the area that surrounds my body, that moves through a space in concert with friends, associates, and individuals of varying familiarity, crafted and joined over the time necessary to overlap our movements, to facilitate conversations, to become known to each other. It is the associations with others that fulfill us as individuals, and it is the time spent that allows for the associations.

I run, in part, to be alone. For at least an hour a day I go inward, to feel the meditative experience of a body firing all systems in an attempt to keep going and nothing more. The concentration involved allows for little intrusion to break the space. And yet, while I run in a state of solitary effort, people surround me, in cars, on foot, on bikes, in chairs. In a capital city of over a million people, pressed into a density that borders unavoidable, wherever I run will involve people, passing or being passed, but our inescapable and continuous overlapping necessitates a sense of strangeness, unable and unwilling to know each other. To run into the center city, where density reaches a “crush of humanity”, I somehow manage to remain alone in the act, moving quickly in and out of the space of others. I am alone and yet not lonely.

And yet, there is an incredible familiarity with being familiar, with being a creature of habit, with being a creature of dedication, even among so many strangers. Reaching over large swaths of sidewalk as I bound down the incline that is 10th street, the faces of prostitutes, drug addicts, and the creatives who have found a loophole in the dictates of capitalism break the sense of strangeness of so many others. We often move past each other in silence, but eye contact speaks an unspoken contract of truce and recognition. Into the city I run, through intersections consumed by cars, and sidewalks now slaloms. Among so much strangeness distinct honks aim at my fluid motion through the corridors, friendly calls for response. From across the street my names is bellowed above the hum of city noise, a friend calling for a recognition in return. I point and wave without breaking stride. A friend unseen yells from behind and I lift a hand instinctually. Just a block later I catch eyes with another friend in a car, as they point and wave directly at me, which I mimic…and suddenly no one is a stranger. The center city is mine and familiarity is everywhere. Even with so much strangeness moving by like ghosts, bodies but empty to me, the few streets of associations compresses the city into a village, where we all know each other and are happy to find each other again.

I run alone, but it often feels like we planned to run together, me and the various others I encounter along the way.

I can’t imagine living anywhere else, running alone without even the potential for moments of familiarity, no matter how fleeting. The human animal is a social being, so our perfect place to live is not in space, it’s the space where our familiar others also live. The greatest cultures and idyllic weathers could never replace the fulfillment of building associations over time. To run alone in a space of utopia is to still run alone. Running with others makes every space a utopia.