I go out running every other day or so. After a while all of the runs blend together into one stream of pounding feet and burning air. I often run the same routes at around the same time on the same days a fixture. My body anticipates the release of energy.
In each thirty minute bouts a lot can happen and a lot can go unnoticed beneath the drone of sneakers smacking the concrete. Sometimes the sun shines so brightly and the wind does not show up at all. The heat dries out and creases cracks across my lips. The sweat works overtime and comes in smearing lines from top until it leaks to the bottom. On the hottest days it even seeps into the socks. The run becomes longing for the next stretch of shade. Sometimes a penetrating pain roars across one of my sides and I’d like to slow down. When my mind is pliable and my body insistent enough, I do.
There are those few days when it feels like the stare of slick sunrays is a sickness I am fighting. In those stretches I become obstinate. I don’t want to give an inch to the angry weather. The running form I had half learned across several semesters running cross country full unravels. It is raw, repetitive violent movement between me and the ugly muscle cramps the heat brought along. A cramp can feel like so many things. It can gnaw on the side like a wolf deep into the shank of a lamb or it can punch like an embittered rival pushed over an edge. It can even stab with the vigor of a fencer, precise and sharp where each tack lands. There’s no beating it fully. I can only transfer it to the track below and pound out a quicker path.
Running can chew through your deodorant and ruin your scent. It can cut your breath into bursts and kill your sound. It can shake your stomping legs, scrunch up your arms, and bend your back until your stature falls too. Running can make you ugly, but there are days where it is beautiful too.
On the right day, the wind blows merciful and the sun doesn’t outshine the shade. Strides become longer than usual, feet feel lighter than usual. Drips of sweat cool the skin in small doses, and gentle rushes of wind peel back the harder layers of the heat. On those days, I could look up in the sky and not mind my feet at all. I could keep eyes on the treetops and watch sturdy oaks tremble at the extremities. I could absorb the full blue sky and feel like I was swimming through a sea of air. I’d say hello to every neighbor and smile at all the dogs they were walking.
I wonder if it is those days I run for. In the back of my mind a voice tells me I won’t live longer for sucking in sick city air and bashing my ankles up against grey concrete. That voice speaks in harsh whispers of my budding addiction to the beta endorphins spinning across synapses. When I run it’s the sound that twists my daydreams into demons hounding at my heels. And when those words really set in I wonder if I run to dodge those demons. I wonder if I am running to be a better coward.
I don’t think it is as much as that, though it can feel like it is even more. It can feel like each step is over a threshold. When the whole wide sky stares down and bleeds ugly heat into my skin, I’d think it was a forge refining the iron inside me. So many dreams of dramatic action sparkle inside my skull and I’d swear there wasn’t a person in front of or behind me at all. Everything had faded and I finally fought myself into being the person I ought to be. The glowing image of some forgotten glory I could reclaim blasted in the back of my mind. When all that happens I wonder if I am chasing and lusting madly for something. I wonder if I am running to be a better person.
All that droning noise can drown out a lot of what happens in those thirty minute bouts. In all the wondering it is easy to miss the slick and neat trim of my shoelaces gliding along the edge of my fingers as I pull the shoe to fit my foot tight. The burning sensation of stretching hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps can fly under the radar. So goes the scratchy inhales and exhales of all sorts of air from the free and clean to the gaseous exhaust exiting cigarettes and tailpipes.
There’s a deep and resounding language in all that physical motion. Give your breath enough attention and you can catch blood cells oxidizing every step. Tuning into each step, it becomes clear how well your form fits your body and your shoes fit your feet. Falling completely into the sound around you reveals the power of the uptempo in your music, and the draw of the downtempo of city streets and sleepy neighborhoods. When I lean into every breath, step, and sound of a run, I don’t think I am running for the language in my head. When I am running, I don’t think the pontificating means much at all.
~Austin R Ryan