Friday, January 7, 2011

What I Think About When I Think About Running

While I do not have the lean, ropy build of one, I am a runner. A couple of years ago my average run was 10 miles and I made that run three times a week. Mighty Reader was distressed at how much I had shrunk away (I looked “breakable,” she said), but I felt more healthy than I ever had before, even with my pack-a-day Camel Filter™ habit. Nowadays I run half that distance, having seemingly passed some evil threshold of age and I am Surely No Longer A Young Man Now and my knees won’t let me forget it, and also because I took a couple of years off from running and in that time quit smoking and ate a lot (oh, sweetspastriescandiesbreadandbutterallthingsfried how I adore thee best, most best). Which combination of happy factors led to my gaining some weight. Note how I skirt around just how much, but it was too much and so for now running is harder on my joints not only because I’m getting on in years but because I’m also carrying around more pounds than my joints are happy about. But, as I say, even though I don’t look like it, I am a runner.

I love running, even when it’s a bad run. Sometimes I start out too fast and by the time I hit the one-mile mark I’m getting cramps. Sometimes it’s rainy and dark and I stumble on gravel while avoiding a dog and I fall down in an ungraceful, cursing tumble. Sometimes there’s a headwind (I fucking hate you, headwind). But no matter what sort of misery befalls me on the first half of the run, by the time I reach the three-mile mark I am always glad to be running and by the time I come sprinting down my street toward the happiest of homes I find myself wishing that I could run another couple of miles. On my last several runs I have, in fact, gone past my house and run another third of a mile or so. I’ll have to figure out a way to add that distance to the middle of the run because I like the last half mile of my course as it is and it’s Bad Luck to fuck with that.

What I like most about running--aside from the happy discovery this morning that my pants are slightly more comfortable and, I suppose, there are all those alleged and dull health benefits—is the purity of it. You don’t need anything except a decent pair of shoes, some comfortable clothes you can ruin with sweat, and reasonably undamaged sidewalks (though on some blocks I run in the street, mostly for safety’s sake). I’m all alone out there after work except for the occasional dog walker or rare other runner, listening to my iPod and trying as hard as I can to think about nothing at all.

Of course it’s impossible for me to think about nothing at all, because I’m not really trying to meditate; I’m trying to clear my head and lose some weight and (I admit it) enjoy that smugness of being a guy who’s exercising no matter what the weather is. But all that aside, running is a good headcleaner. When I run I am able to solve a lot of the problems that arise with my narratives. It’s almost magical, the way I can (for example) sit at my desk at home, look at a couple of pages of backstory and know it’s all deadly stuff that must be rewritten though I have no idea how to rewrite it, but when I put on my running shoes and find my stride after about a mile and a half, the solution to the narrative problems (“you need something shiny; you need some concrete details having to do with light and metal and water and you need to cut some of the repetitious stuff while you’re at it”) come so very easily to me. I’ve also had some of my coolest ideas while running (“Hey, you could have God enter the story at the end of Act 2!” or “an elephant! Of course!”), and Mighty Reader has several times been amused when I have stumbled into the house, drenched in sweat and mumbling hello as I pick up whatever pen and paper is closest to hand so that I can scribble down the Idea that came to me at mile two point seven-five.

When I began writing this, I had the idea of running as a metaphor for persistence, because the big secret to a successful run is that you just keep taking steps forward; you just keep running until you’ve put in your miles and there’s nothing so complicated about that. But writing—if that’s your game, sir—isn’t really analogous to going for a run. You don’t have to figure out how to run when you go running. You don’t have to lay the concrete for each block as you go along, you don’t have to build the city around you so that you have a place to run, you don’t have to conjure up and then create the place where your run ends. The analogy doesn’t hold, not at all. But I still love running.


  1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who started an analogy only to realize it's not going to work.

    Way to go on the running.

  2. I can't run but I powerwalk. I get what you're saying though.

    I go after dropping Monster Baby off at school. No one's in the park, just me and the squirrels and ducks.

    I talk to myself. Well, until other people show up. I memorize until I get back to the car.

  3. Nevets: I am King of Broken Analogies! I have an army of bad analogies that'll fuck you up. Yes, it will, if you get on my bad side, so don't. Where was I?

    Anne: I tell myself that I don't talk to myself when I'm running. I tell myself a lot of things. Sometimes the last mile of the run features me repeating one sentence over and over so that I don't lose it on the way home. Is that why the neighborhood kids all avoid me?

  4. HA! Your reply to Anne cracked me up. I hate it when I forget good sentences too.

    I liked this post a lot. Used to be a five mile a day guy in college but that was many years and many tens of pounds ago lol.

    I don't mind the metaphor at all by the way. The whole persistence thing seems apt. The complexity is definitely worlds apart but the required doggedness is rather similar imo.

    Thanks for the great post.

  5. Mayowa! You posted on Pens with conjones again, finally. I was beginning to wonder. Though I can't help noticing that it's a guest post.

    Anyway, yeah, the persistence thing is important, but mostly I'm happy to actually be getting into shape again and to have found a way to clear my head after having quit smoking. Though I really miss cigarettes. They were my friends and loved me much, alas.

    You should start running again. There's no down side. Make the time, bro. Just do it etc.

  6. Hey Scott,

    Yeah its a guest post today, I've got a couple of posts stewing but I haven't had time to write em up. I'll be back soon.

    I love the point where we hit our workout stride, when it becomes fun (sounds like thats where you are).

    I've tried to get back several times but I haven't been able to hit my stride. Best i've been able to do is the exercise programs like p90x and Insanity.

  7. Everyone's doing P90X. I have no idea what it is, but all my friends are talking about it. I am so out of the loop with my old-fashioned "running."