Who knew running could be so delightfully dull?
Well I’m afraid the jig is up. It’s time we acknowledge the obvious: for a column that is (A) in a running magazine and (B) about becoming a runner, it really doesn’t contain much running. Actually it contains, like, none. None running.
I blame myself (I mean, who else is there?). See, I’m a writer before I’m a runner, and I’m acutely aware that prose about the physical act of running has the potential to be straight up deadly: “I took a step. Then another. Then another. Soon, I had taken many steps. I decided to take more.” This, dear reader, is the kind of insipidness I’ve tried to spare you. Except! (There’s always an except.) Running has become such a curious feature of my life, such a tricky but transcendent source of growth that I wonder now whether I could tackle the subject without putting us all into a coma.
So here goes. Two days ago, I ran home from work. My office is less than two kilometres from my apartment. It’s a short distance but hey, a small something is better than a big nothing. I dragged my running shoes from the pile beneath my desk, changed into a pair of Technicolor athletic leggings and headed out.
The street was a straw-coloured straight line in the diffuse light of dusk, and I wove through the tourists and haughty business folk. Oh, those first two minutes of a run, when you feel like you’re flying! Oh, those fleeting moments before the leadenness kicks in and your breath leaves you – I love those minutes.
They don’t last, of course. Eventually I reached the part I don’t love, where my body feels like a wheezing bagpipe, like a machine that’s breaking down. My ears throbbed with brain-blood, my mouth went dry and the euphoria, the pride of exercising (I’m doing what I’m supposed to!) gave way to an awareness that my belly was jiggling and everyone could see it jiggling. But then I got through a few blocks and, thanks to a mercifully short attention span, lost interest in my anxieties. Not because I achieved some kind of high or had some epiphany about the pointlessness of insecurity; no, I really did just forget to care. At one point the light changed and I was forced to stop, and by “forced” I mean “relieved”, because I still find it easier to run if I can pause midway through and breathe a few deep, glorious breaths. I don’t collapse or suffer a stroke or spontaneously combust if I don’t pause, mind you; I just prefer to, and I can do whatever I want.
Then the light changed again, and it was time to venture on. Three blocks on, and this is where it always gets tricky – the part where the chic women with their small dogs and huge strollers and the little fenced flowerbeds around the street’s trees, cram the footpath. I end up doing a kind of dorky, hopping parkour around leashed children and wilting begonias. I will almost certainly break an ankle this way.
But I didn’t that day. I reached my front door, went inside, listened to my thudding pulse on the couch for a few minutes (leaving a big, nasty sweat mark, per usual) while watching something shameful on Netflix, then took a shower. I made dinner. I had dessert. (I always have dessert.) I went to bed. The end.
I can’t claim that this run was remarkable in any way. There was no ground gained in any global sense – no strides were made in my career as a runner, other than the literal ones. I learned no lesson, obtained no nugget of wisdom to pass on to you in 800 words. But that’s the point. A runner’s life is defined by repetition, monotony. That this run was ordinary means I’m doing it right. (It might also mean that I’ve just bored you to death, and now you’re dead, and it’s my fault.)
That ordinariness means I can say something extraordinary: it’s nothing special that I ran that day, because I run – as in present tense, not future (I will run) or future perfect (I will have run) or, as was typical even fairly recently, conditional (I would run…). I never thought I’d be able to say that. I never thought that running would become a mostly rote activity, as opposed to the daunting, ego-incinerating albatross it once was. I never thought I could do what I’m doing.