Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Running around in circles

Believe it or not, I've been running, on and off, since I was 12 years old. If you know how old I am, you can do the math. There have been years I haven't run, but, as with writing and poetry, I have always returned to it. In fact, I remember as a high schooler who had aspirations to be a writer, I didn't know whether running was compatible with wanting to be a writer. It didn't seem to fit a certain goth persona (that I also never embodied). I now know that the more experiences you can have period the better if you are a writer. I would also argue that if you want to be a writer, you are a writer.

But this is really a post about running.

When Carol and I were running a couple of years ago (on Jenorama, I called her The Dom, because she is a task-master. She will call every single day to go running, and it's much easier for me now, but at one time, it was a real pain), running wasn't very good for me. It was awful just about every time we went, and we got up to 8 miles. A typical run for us was 5 miles, and a shorty was 3. I hurt my foot on the treadmill one winter, and also, I had been running steadily for two years without progress, so I gave it up for another year and a half.

I ran track in high school, and recreationally in college. Then, I stopped for awhile, and picked it up again (not entirely voluntarily) after Tommy was born. It's been and on and off affair all these years. I joke that it is the only sport that I am coordinated enough to do. That isn't entirely true, though. When I was a child, I was a very promising swimmer. I had private lessons and swam competitively. However, I am not athletically very competitive, and my parents eventually let me drop it. I found out years later that my coaches had thought that I could do about what I wanted with swimming. I regretted quitting it then, but now I wonder how much of that is really true.

Anyway. Running. Running has become, once again for me, a pleasure. After Tommy was born, I would often run for an hour to an hour and a half a day on long, dusty, country roads with huge hills. Now, I run on slightly more paved roads, though, if I run for more than two miles in any direction, I am basically in the country. More dust. More hills. When I'm alone, I like to run with music, though I realized during Saturday's race that by the end, your hat, your extra long-sleeved T-shirt, and your ipod/headphones are all just a big pain in the ass that slow you down. A lot of people I know have given up running with music, but I still cling to it. I have learned, lately, though, that I can't listen to a random mix of songs with a good beat but no thread. I have been listening to albums that have a sort of story to them: Wicked, Rent, Rocking the Suburbs. The problem is that I am getting sick of them all, so I am going to be searching soon for new music to run to.

There are a lot of people who run competitively in this town. (I mean, really, what else is there? Running and alcoholism. Take your pick.) Last summer, when I had not been running, I went to a race where 5 friends were running. I felt so left out and forlorn that I picked it up again. Last Saturday was my first race in three or four years. I'll run again on St. Patrick's Day. There is about a 5K a month around here. Lots of new running T-shirts to be had.

The thing is that I am still not very competitive. However, I *hate* coming in last. I hate it. It's embarrassing. And when you run in the winter, you are running against people who are hardcore. They are gazelles. They run in shorts in every kind of weather. They have long, thin, tapered legs and they run like the wind. You will see them line up for the start, and then you will not see them again until you come puffing in at the end and see them sitting around, wearing sweats now, eating the free bananas and clapping at you, and you want to smack them.

In better weather, you start to see some of the fair weather runners come out. We will probably get some for the St. Patrick's Day run-- people who have only been running for a month or so. That will increase my chances. But not as much as if I could convince myself to "blow lung," as Carol calls it.

Royce and I have been talking about running and strategies for racing. The thing is: If I want to get faster at races, I have to train faster.

This may not seem like a big deal. But it kind of is. When Carol and I run, because she is in Iowa City for half the week, we spend most of it catching up on each other's lives. We have to run at a slower pace so we can talk. And one of the pleasures of the run for us is the conversation. Also, the mileage. Not necessarily the speed. Carol is more gazelle shaped than I am, albeit shorter, so she can get medals when she wants to. But she likes to talk, she likes me, and she prefers running with me to running alone, and considering how slow I am, that's very flattering.

After Saturday's race, I told Carol in the car on the way home, "I want you to teach me to blow lung." She said she would, but not more than twice a week. Well, we only get to run together on weekends, and with this winter as snowy and icy and cold as it's been, sometimes we only get two runs in a week. Two hardcore, fast runs = no conversation. Also, today when I went out, I had thoughts of trying to run faster, but I was running against wind for the first mile, I was cold, and my left leg hurt from using the elliptical trainer. So, I had a great run, but I didn't run very fast. Afterward, I sent Royce a message on Facebook:

I trained slowly today. One of the things I like about my runs is that they are a little slow and meditative. I did add mileage. I'd rather run a long distance at a slower pace than go faster.

I still want to do the half-marathon-- I just want to do it at my pace. I'm afraid if I try to change it up too much, I may lose some of the emotional/spiritual components of running that I find just as important (maybe more) as the physical.

Royce, who is a gazelle, responded with:

So far as I understand you will get all the physical benefit of running faster by doing what you're doing. I'm running at the rec tonight. Took two days off because I had a sore muscle. Good thing I warmed as much as I did Saturday.

Bless his heart.

I get teased sometimes for running, because I run in a wide loop, but I never really go anywhere. I am just leaving home to run for home. However, I find that when you have run out for a few miles, you have incentive to keep moving when you have to get home, rather than stepping off a treadmill or off an indoor track or off an elliptical trainer. About 35 minutes of the elliptical trainer is all I can tolerate. But I can run for over an hour, if I'm outside.

While I was putting together this post, the above paragraph reminded me of a quote I saw on a blog yesterday (Michelle de Seattle sends me the most scandalous links, evah). Out of respect for the blog's author, I'll let you follow the link rather than aping her stuff. Fortunately for me, it's a quote from Albert Camus, about Sisyphus. It concludes with, (with my apologies): "We must imagine Sisyphus happy."

I have thought about that line off and on since I read it. If you are not familiar with Sisyphus, go here. Camus used the story of Sisyphus, the man who was punished eternally to push a large rock up a hill, only to have it roll down, rinse, repeat. His repetitive, meaningless existence was, Camus, as an existentialist, posited, that life itself is as repetitive and meaningless as Sisyphus's fate. Existentialists also believe, according to Kierkegaard, that "the individual is solely responsible for giving his own life meaning and living that life passionately and sincerely, in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom."

Therefore, to paraphrase my father on Sisyphus, life involves being the best damn rock pusher in the world. If you can push up that rock with finesse and grace and passion, then you can find meaning in the act. You can be happy.

However, even though I know all of this intellectually and have been fascinated with existentialism since my introduction to it in high school (I KNOW, right? Who let THAT happen??? And thus began my existential crisis, thank you very much), I walked around yesterday and today muttering, regarding the supposition that we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy, "Well, I don't know about THAT."

However, it occurs to me that in my enjoyment of my little runs, my circular route that I don't vary much (I added some mileage to it today, but essentially kept my path the same), and the music I listen to over and over-- what changes day to day are the weather conditions and what I think about. However, isn't my running habit sort of like my own Sisyphean rock? It has no real meaning, I never get anywhere. But I get stronger. I gain the benefits of running off stress, of feeling the power in my legs and lungs as the runs get easier and easier. I no longer have to think about running. I no longer have to persuade or cajole myself into going. I put on my shoes. I run. And while I am running, I think about things. I couldn't even tell you, really, what I am thinking about when I run. But I know that it helps. Clears the cobwebs, puts things in perspective. It's a form of meditation. And increasingly, I find meditation to be important. Meditation, or just quiet-- and I don't mean "without music," I mean without the static, the staccato of our lives. Perhaps it is running away, even though, like a boomerang, I return every time, that helps.

I like to think that perhaps one of the things that helps Sisyphus is that he gets to go down the hill and up again, rather than just grinding away his life running in place on a treadmill. But perhaps it all really does amount to the same thing.

What I know it this: Today, I am Sisyhpus. And I am happy.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Birdie! I know of what you speak.