Some people are designed for running. They have long, slender torsos that are flat like the parched valleys that stretch between mountain ranges. Legs are long; most importantly, they’re flexible. They run without thinking. Their gaits are instinctual. Lungs and heart explode with blood on the systole and suck in great torrents on the diastole. These people are made from the ancient ones who chased deer, antelope, and other ungulates, deep into the caverns of the forest until they trembled, no longer able to move.
I’m the opposite of this. I naturally carry weight around my midsection. It’s hot and my gut is heaving over my waistband right now. My legs are long, but they don’t extend. My torso is glued above my pelvis, enormous. My carapace is larger than a snapping turtle’s; it’s a descendant from some great Cretaceous underwater denizen. It belongs hung up in a museum, for I am the tortoise.
But, still, I’m out there, running every other day, pumping legs and blood and continuously moving. 7:30 p.m. The world grows bronze. I tie my shoes and put the White Pony on.
I learned long ago, and continue to learn, that running is not something that I do; it’s something I have to do. Without it, I find myself depressed and despondent. I read obituaries. The tissue box is empty. My heart curls up in my ribs, turning gray and snarled, and one lost day becomes four. Mountains aren’t climbed by going straight up; there are flat sections, and the elevation drops. In these irascible moments, I know I’m always a run away from getting things back to where I need to be. It’s my green reset button.
The branch I sprouted from, fruited with height and stature, eyes brown and green, with some required minimum level of intelligence, also filled me with a heart with a propensity to explode, a body naturally made to put on fat and a brain that finds itself drowning in deep seas of sorrow. I have to run. Without it, I’m overweight and stupid physically; mentally, I’m lethargic and disgusting.
When I was a fresh faced youth, I blamed the external world for my problems. Never myself. There was always something that was unfair or something else existing outside my bones that explained why I was unhappy, why my life was the way it was. I never looked internally at my own decisions or my own attitudes.
Then one winter, it all clicked. My apartment was empty for almost three days. One of my roommates had a family tragedy. The other was back home being coddled and breastfed. After three days of doing nothing, talking to no one, and playing video games on a slender white console, I realized I had to do something. I put on my shoes and started running.
I walked across the street to the hospital where a cracked anaconda of pavement slithered around the place. It was gray, windy, and cold. The three quarters of a mile was impossible.
I went back and went back again until it wasn’t. From there, it grew into a mile and then a mile and a half. I ate rice and vegetables. I craved it like how I craved the sun. I found myself hitting that same circle six times, eight times, ten times. My body melted. Everything I wanted came together. All of those problems I had weren’t external; they were internal. By putting on a pair of shoes, I changed all of that.
For the last decade or so, since the internet has been integrated into our pockets, everything is designed to distract you, to put you in a passive state, to dull your brain, to hypnotize you into consumption, to keep you constantly searching and searching, scrolling and scrolling. Everyone falls into this trap. No one is special. One of the most beautiful things about running is that it’s an active activity. There’s nothing passive about it. You can’t chit-chat your way through it. You can’t rub your finger across your phone between sets. You’re entirely focused on your legs, the swinging of your arms, and your breath until it all becomes one machine working in unison.
Then your brain kicks in. Thoughts become heavy, like fat sacks of yolk trembling down the skull—like the one I had yesterday that made me write this—and the music hits at a certain spot, or a circle is broken and expanded into another, and you feel something. Something that overtakes your entire body and overwhelms you.
Occasionally, I read things on the internet, or talk to people who want to do something and don’t know where to start. Really, all you can do is just start doing it. That’s just about it. When it comes to running or anything else, all you can do is put on a pair of shoes and walk onto concrete.
If you’re stuck or can’t seem to get out the door, these are a few tips I’ve accumulated over the years.
-Get a decent pair of shoes and only wear them when you run. They don’t have to be some super-expensive shoes constructed for ultra marathons. Just buy shoes that are made for this purpose. It takes stress off your ankles and knees. Usually they are flexible and will contort to your feet. Plus, I’ve often found that by making a monetary investment in something, it leads to an actual pursuit in said endeavor. It makes a thought reality.
-Drink beet juice. It’s full of nitrates, so it increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Mix it with a little bit of caffeine and you’ll find yourself transmogrified into an Olympian. Plus it makes your urine a beautiful color like blood red, orangish, or bright pink, colors that are lovely compliments to porcelain toilets and tubs.
-Come up with some sort of mantra. It’s very silly, but it works. Humans are corny, stupid, and gullible creatures. Words have meaning. By changing your thought process even a little bit, you change your attitude entirely. Like Coach Gus always says, “Gentlemen, the only thing you can control is your attitude.” For me, on days when I run, I tell myself, I GET to run today, not that I HAVE to; even though, as I mentioned earlier, it’s something actually have to do. It turns something that can easily be misconstrued from dreaded into the most enjoyable part of the day. On the days when I run, I spend the entire day in love with the thought that I have it waiting for me at the end of it. Whatever you come up with works. Stick with it. Make it sacred.
If you can’t come up with something, look somewhere else. You can always ‘Dream Big and Work Hard’ or tell yourself, ‘Someone has to be great today, so why not me?’.
-Music helps. This falls in line with a mantra. I like to stick to an album and run through it run after run until it no longer means anything, turning the lyrics and melodies into chewed up flavorless, gray, fleshy gum. You hit certain spots at certain parts of certain songs. It’s a fun way to track your speed and progress, if you’re into that sort of thing; it accentuates the music itself. I like to think that I don’t know how I feel about an album until I listen to it when I run. Got this old feeling more than a memory just hits differently when the hump of the sea beast begins to flatten out.
-Keep pushing it. You don’t have to have a goal. Some people need something to accomplish. They need a race to build up to or a time to get under. But all of that isn’t necessary. This is as simple as, ‘I’ve run this loop well for two weeks now, and this time I’m going to add a quarter mile to it’. Once that gets easier, expand on it, and so and so on until eventually you find yourself stranded and stupid or your entire body cramps and your nipple bleeds at Mile 12.7 in a half-marathon; after that, you get to make chili and cry yourself to sleep until you try it all over again.
-Most importantly, keep doing it. There are days when you don’t want to. The heat is going to be hilarious. The body is going to be stiff. You are going to eat too little or too much too late. Some days you simply won’t have it. Those are the most important days. I like to think of physical shape like I think of consciousness—as rings, and over enough days and enough attempts, you’ll break from one pattern and expand into another. The days when you don’t want to run are usually the most rewarding days after you gut it out. Keep sticking to your schedule even if your stomach is sloshing, or your spittle is dry, sticky, and dangerous, or you’re tired after a long day of work, or even if you’ve driven eight hours after laying next to a muddy river in 110 degree heat for two days. Keep doing it because you get to.
We’ve all found ourselves feeling the same sort of feelings during the pandemic. The world is evil and crazy. We’re tired and bored of being stuck inside. The things we love to do have been removed from us. Whatever the illusion is, it’s a great big bummer. As a result, we’ve found ourselves passively going through our days, scrolling and binge watching, and numbing away.
Running is the perfect solution to defeat this. It’s a direct and active activity far away from the dangers of the screen. Time is the most precious commodity, the most valuable resource, and none of it should be wasted away, regardless of what’s occurring outside that window of ours.
Turn off that screen. Put your shoes on. We have to get going.