Run, Sarah, Run: My Quest to Run the Quiet Race

Before I go too far, I’d like to state that I have been working on one form or another of an article on running for, oh, about six months. I mean, in the grand scheme, I’ve written about running dozens of times, but somehow they never seem quite…enough. So, this is just one in what will probably continue to be a lot of musings on running…because I have lots of opinions about it. Who am I kidding? I have lots of opinions about everything.

I recently made a major decision.  I have completely abandoned running with music.

The other day, I grumpily stomped up the driveway after a long-ish run and tossed my ipod on the kitchen counter.

“How was your run?” My husband hesitantly asked.

I was sipping a glass of water and glowering.  “It was great.”

“Really.”

He didn’t believe me. I ignored him, and headed for the shower. When I emerged, clean and fresh and relaxed, we reclined on our patio and watched the spring unfold.

“I’m giving it up. I’m not running with music anymore.” I said, waiting for his incredulous response. He just shrugged.

“I figured that was coming,” he said.  I was surprised.

We proceeded to discuss this seemingly inconsequential decision at length. He commented that in my conscious migration towards simplicity over the last year led him to believe that this added complication in my running routine would eventually go the way of the dodo. Our discussion and my subsequent musings, have manifested into a bit of a personal running credo.

I have a couple of general tendencies when it comes to running.

  1. I run alone. For years, this was an absolute rule.  At first, this was a function of self-consciousness. I didn’t really want to subject anyone else to my huffing and puffing, my slow speeds, my sweatiness. But eventually, it was because I rather liked these moments alone. These days, the rule is no longer absolute.  Brian and I run together once every week or so, and have since we’ve been together. I remember when I told my family that we were “going for a run.” I’m pretty sure my sister immediately called my mother to tell her that I was indeed in love with this man. Why? Because I was running with him.
  2. I don’t really measure anything.  I do wear a watch, but mostly because I’m often squeezing in a run between classes or jobs and I don’t want to get carried away and be late.  I’m training for a half-marathon at the moment, and I’ll set general goals for myself (I will run this six miles in about an hour).  If the training plan (which I will address in a moment) calls for speed work, I’ll keep track of how fast I run a mile.  I have a general idea of what my pace is.  But beyond that, I barely keep track of mileage.
  3. Training plans. Hah.  Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not so much for plans or rules of any sort.  So, I have a training plan for the half marathon. It consists of running every other day, and once a week, a long run. Notice I say once a week—this does not indicate every Sunday or Thursday or whatever. Partly because my schedule doesn’t allow for much routine, partly because I pay attention to my body—I run the long run when it feels good to do so. I try to up my mileage on those long runs by approximately a mile a week. So, theoretically, by June 12 I’ll be running about 11 or so miles for a long run. Now. I say this tentatively. For this marathon, I’m trying to find as many hills as possible to run in preparation for the monstrosities that will inevitably be present in the Seattle Half Marathon.  Because the MKT (for those non-Columbians, this is the local, 8 mile running/biking/walking trail that starts near MU campus and intersects the Katy Trail in McBaine) is flat as a pancake, I don’t run it on my long runs, therefore finding a route that is exactly eight miles or twelve miles is more challenging. So, rather than spend too much time figuring it out, I ballpark it. I know, you’re cringing. I’m not so much into the details.

I started running because I was poor, trying to continue to exercise without a gym membership and because my head was often close to exploding.  I felt like the inside of my skull was lined with rubber and I had about fourteen bouncy-ball thoughts bouncing around incessantly in there.  Running (which, at the time, was more like walking with some light trotting interspersed) somehow coordinated those bouncy-balls into some semblance of a rhythm.  I loved the fact that I could do it anywhere—all I needed were a decent pair of shoes.

When I moved to Seattle, I began noticing a phenomenon.  One, everyone who lives in Seattle is so damn active. Good for them, I love that about Seattle. I mean, despite the rain, it’s not all that cold, weather isn’t usually all that prohibitive.  But two, all those people that were pounding the pavement had a ridiculous amount of stuff.  They had ipods, GPS thingies, heart rate monitors, fancy stopwatches on their wrists, pedometers, hydration systems. Good Lord. They had electronic devices whose purpose I’ve never been able to identify.  So much for just a good pair of shoes.  Sometimes I think “oooh, that Nike running thingie would be handy…I can hook it up to my phone and basically have a trainer and tempo music and a pedometer and it’ll tell me my route…” and then I think, oh, my gosh.  This is why I DON’T run at the gym…why would I try to replicate it outside of those four walls?

Running is supposed to keep me sane. It’s my escape, my solace.  It’s the place I flee to when the world is too much, the place that I am excited to go on a really awesomely beautiful spring or fall day.  When I am pissed off and can’t get over it, I run. When I can’t figure out how in the hell to apply Habermas to the current state of the media for the paper that’s due in five hours, I run.  When I’m listlessly wandering around the house, I run, and when I get back, I’m focused.

When I was training for my first half marathon, I did it largely without an ipod for two reasons. One, I knew that some marathons won’t allow them for safety reasons.  I’m not usually a safety-first kinda gal, but I see their point—running without one of your senses alerted could be unwise given the circumstances. Mostly, though, I wasn’t sure what the KC marathon would allow, and I decided to err on the side of caution, and train without them.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, because of a piece of advice I found in the first and best running book I’ve ever come across.  The book is called The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, and I “borrowed” it from my roommate Marilou, oh, three years ago.  I still have it, I still read it fairly frequently.  (ML, I promise, I’ll give it back. It’s in the mail right now.)  The authors have an interesting piece of advice.

“Do something for yourself. Go for a walk—by yourself.  Leave the walkman (ok, so it’s an old book) at home. Leave the day behind and as you walk, listen.  Listen to what you’re normally too busy to hear. Nature. Your body. Your heart. The Higher Power at work in your life, if that’s your belief.  Listen to the “yeah, buts…”and ask yourself if you are going to continue to let them control you, or if it’s time that you took control of them.  Granted, running a marathon is certainly not the only way to exercise control over your life….it will change your life. That’s a promise.”

There are so many fantastic things about this book, the main one being the philosophy of “create your own reality.” Simply put, you construct your conditions. You choose your destiny, and if you chose to overcome, you will. This running manual is far more about the mentality than the physicality of a run.

They advise against running with a hidden agenda; for example, running to lose weight or micro-managing your times. Ultimately, they say, these are peripheral goals that have more to do with our own expectations for ourselves and our own levels of self confidence.   Instead of finding the simple act of running rewarding, we set ourselves up for a disappointment by placing inappropriate expectations on ourselves and the experience.  There is so much more to ponder there, to discuss. I could write a whole blog about our competitive nature as humans, our socially conditioned desire for more of everything, and how we conceal our pain and suffering—and, conversely, our joy and revelation—by acquisition of something beyond ourselves as opposed to within ourselves.  I think about this condition of human nature a lot…every time I feel like a little “retail therapy” will fix my mood, or when I think a good evening of extravagant food and drinks is necessary.  Again…this is a topic for another blog.

I’ve read countless articles about how we, and our children are more and more disconnected from nature, how caught up in our techno-brilliant world we are.  I decided it was time to stop and listen.  I’m a good talker, I’m techno-savvy, I’m a good communicator and I’m certainly a good conversationalist. I think, though, that I can use a few lessons in listening.  Not just to someone else, but to the world in general.

I’ve decided that running, for me anyway, has to be about the soul.  It is meditation. It is quietude. It’s where I center and go forward—literally.  This is not the way for everyone, and I realize that I am getting awfully close to New Age.  But I’ve found that I run the best when I listen, when I can hear the way my feet sound on the pavement, the way my breathing resonates, when I can see how my dog perks his ears at the oncoming traffic, or how that hawk has been circling, watching over me, for the last half mile.  When I stop adjusting my ipod, looking at my watch, worrying about the time I’m losing when I let my dog pee on some unsuspecting telephone pole, I feel more connected. I feel more in the world, more part of it, rather than just a blur running through it. And that’s a good thing.

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Posted on May 19, 2010, in Healthy Body, Run Like The Wind. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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