The terrain of my knees are marked with irregular dark shapes, tiny islands that tell a history of falling fast and over. Before I abhorred running as an adult, I loved it as a child and the scars that healed are proof of that. In my childhood my twin brothers, my first playmates, were always bigger than me but not always faster. For the brief years when we were in early primary school and roughly the same height, we would race, my skinny brown legs trying to outrun theirs. Sometimes I succeeded. In later years I competed in athletic events and have a vague memory of early morning cross-country practice where I was far from the best or the most committed. True to my personality I was always better at short sprints than long distances. When I began high school most of the girls and boys were taller than me and my foray into individual athletics ended there.
When I was in university I briefly flirted with the idea of Becoming A Runner, imagining in the most romantic way, as I am wont to do, the ease and grace with which it would all come about. I thought how I would dominate that road, that hill, that footpath. My approach was to run fast and hard and with my arms swinging. No surprise then that my breath was always uneven, my mind in stubborn revolt with my body inevitably following suit. No matter how much I told myself just until the next pole, keep going until the end of this street my loud steps would slow rather abruptly to a halt.
Two and a half months ago, inspired by my bestfriend who has run for years and whose posts of her runs and times had begun to pop up on my news feed, I began to think it was time to give it another go. I had had conversations with a friend about the mental battle of running and she commiserated saying that if nobody was chasing her or if her life was not in danger, there simply was no reason for it. The Runner’s High was unfathomable to me nor did I understand how it was on any level relaxing or therapeutic. I understood how you could feel better after having exercised but for me the exercise itself was rarely a pleasurable experience.
But I was determined. There was something about running that I felt I was not getting and if I could only grasp this one thing, I too could overtake pedestrians and dog-walkers in parks, leaving them looking at my sweaty backside disappearing quickly up a hill and out of sight. Yes, all my resolutions start first with unrealistic imaginings, my mind has been trained to transform any ordinary resolve into a glorious dream.
Before I ran I read up on beginner’s tips and what it told me was to reverse the approach I had been taking. Instead of attempting to race through my run, I had to pace myself, to take walking breaks even if I was not yet exhausted, to take it slow. This was contrary to the way I start anything in life. While I am a passionate beginner of all things I’m a slow finisher of few, so I decided to heed the advice the interwebs had given me.
Slowly my muscles adapted, my breathing evened out, my mind steadied itself. My thoughts moved from the constant storm of canIstopnow canIstopnow canIstopnow to clear into a low hum that barely registered. Running this way had joined the rhythm of my thoughts to those of my steps, much as yoga taught it to be in sync with my breath. The little that I run, the slowly that I run produces still the effect I had long sought after – that elusive Runner’s High.
This was something I had thought about after reading and not understanding at all Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He links his running to his writing, both practices that bring him peace of mind, processes which are the same as eating and breathing to him. A longevity in both, an ability to complete what one sets out to do. I envied him that. That is, if I’m being completely honest with myself, one of the reasons I considered attempting to run again; he had made me believe that if you could run a marathon you could write a book. And in my silly sad secret deep down I have always wanted to write.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that I have resumed my writing practice at the same time as I have taken up running. I don’t run far by any standards and I don’t run long nor am I prolific in my writing or deep in my style. I don’t mind it at all ’cause I’m taking my time as running has taught me to do. It’s not about how fast you run but how far. Not about how long it takes you but that you got to where you set out to go.