Last night I was sound asleep when Nat woke up and wanted milk. I stumbled out to the kitchen to get a bottle for him, when I noticed the clock read “6:15.” I blinked. I rubbed my eyes. Stupid clock must be wrong, because its still dark out, and besides, my alarm goes off at 4:55. But back in the bedroom, that clock says 6:15 as well — five minutes later I’m somehow wearing clothes and stumbling down the sidewalk towards the subway. Nat is the only reason I made it to work today; this missing hour, right when I was getting used to getting up in the early dawn light, is brutal.
The point is, I was tired all day. At 10 o’clock, I kept dozing off while trying to grade homework during my prep-period. I had to stop grading and do 10 minutes of exercises just to wake up enough to keep going. After school, I had to go to the Financial District to get finger-printed as part of our restarting the adoption process. When I left the office building on William Street, all I wanted to do was curl up on the subway and let the rocking of the train lull me to sleep, but I was determined to run, so I did something I almost never do when I run: I got out my iPod.
I have no objections to people running to music in general, but personally I feel it undermines many of the reasons I run: to clear my mind of the days clutter, to feel a connection to my surroundings and my body, to acquire the void, and all the other things I’ve written about over the last few weeks. Music is a focus in and of itself, a distraction form everything else I want to center on during running; when I run with music, I get absorbed in the music as music, as rhythm and chords and lyrics, all things that are not “of” the run but apart from it.
Running to music also sort of strikes me as “cheating,” as its an external source of motivation. I know that seems extremely harsh, nearly puritanical, but I want my running to be about running, to be about what I can do, by myself, left on nothing but my own devices. No tools, no team-mates, nothing but determination, training, and perseverance. I run to find the answer to the question: what am I capable of? Music is another crutch, a way to make the time go faster, an artificial boost of adrenaline.
Which is exactly what I needed today. I was exhausted, unmotivated, and on-top of that, my legs were tired from the last two days of fast runs — but the music made that all fade into the background. It took the combined efforts of The Hold Steady, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Operation Ivy, The Gaslight Anthem, and others to keep my legs moving, but it worked. Each song had a drive and movement to it, enough to distract my brain from how worn-out it was, and from there my legs could settle into the autopilot provided by training: they were tired, but they kept moving, and pretty quickly at that.
I started over the Brooklyn Bridge, an edifice I have mixed feelings about as a runner. On the one-hand, it is a beautiful structure that provides unparalleled panoramas of downtown and Brooklyn; on the other, it is both clogged with meandering, oblivious tourists and a regular route for bike commuters, and the combination is toxic enough even if one isn’t trying to run amongst the ensuing chaos. Unless you hit it really early or in extremely intemperate weather, its more stressful that it is worth. But since its the bridge is the route back home, I took it today, and got some pictures of the cavernous streets of the Financial District as well.
Back in Brooklyn, I only moved forward because of the music. At every stop light my legs asked to stop, and when I hit Franklin Avenue, the thought of three more Avenues — a mere half-mile — made me want to weep. But Op-Ivy’s “Unity” kicked in, and I told my legs to shut up. Five miles shouldn’t sound like such an accomplishment, and I’m sure that after I’ve readjusted to the time change it won’t, but today it felt like a major victory. Even if I needed to cheat a little with some rock and roll motivation.