Since I blew out my achilles tendon on January 25th during my 17 mile run to school, I haven’t done anything that I would consider a long run. The farthest I ran in February was 6.7 miles, and the farthest I’ve run at once in March is 6 — on both the 19th and 24th I ran a total of 9 miles, but they were broken up into multiple shorter runs. In my mind, 10 miles is the distance that marks the beginning of “a long run.” Anything less than 3 is a sprint, not something I would normally record in my running log; 3 to 5 miles is a short run; 6 to 9 is a medium length run, and 10 and over is long.
It usually takes me about 4-5 miles to really feel comfortable and natural in my stride, though this recent stretch of short runs has done a lot to improve how quickly I can slide into a pace that feels good. It isn’t until somewhere around 6 miles that I actually begin to to approach Murakami’s Void, to slip beyond conscious thought and approach a de-centered state of awareness that boarders meditation, and that state of being is one of the main reasons I run.
Today, for example, I suddenly caught myself not thinking (it is a peculiar thing to do, though I am sure anyone out there who has practiced mediation has had the experience), startled with the realization that the very act of realizing was coming not as the most recent event in a string of cognition, but as the first moment of thought following the Void, some unmeasured block of time free from thought. And as with mindfulness meditation, the trick is to avoid grasping at thoughts, positive or negative, to avoid grasping at the Void; one cannot reject thought as “bad” or embrace the Void as “good,” for in both the rejection and the embrace there is intention with drives the very object of meditation, or in this case running, away. One merely acknowledges, without grasping the thought or the lack of thought and moves on, as I did today, though I did take a moment to glance at my watch — 6.25 miles, right on schedule.
Today’s run was with Nat, to get him out of the house and to give M and Angelica some time alone. Nat was super tired, though fighting it, and shouted “Yay! Running! Yay!” over and over again as we started down the sidwalk. Anyone who has a toddler who resists naps needs to a) take up running and b) get a jogging stroller. Actually, since the phrase “toddler who resists naps” is tautological, perhaps I should merely say anyone who has a toddler should take up running and get a jogging stroller, as they are the ultimate nap-inducer: a run close to nap time has never, ever, failed to knock Nat out almost at once. Today was no exception, as he was unconscious before we’d gone three-quarters of a mile, and was asleep for the entire run.
I started by following my regular route to Prospect Park: Putnam to Bedford, south on Bedford to Eastern Parkway, west to Washington Ave., then a slight right on Empire Boulevard to the park. It’s just about 2 miles to the park, and once there a loop of the park is 4 miles, so a run there, around, and back is 8. That was my initial plan, but along with the Void, something else tends to settle in after 6 miles — the feeling that I could run forever. It’s an amazing sensation, and something that is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t run, but you there comes a point when running feels effortless, that you are not using any energy or working, but merely moving forward. So when I returned to the Flatbush/Empire entrance, I decided not to exit the park quite yet.
I was tempted to do a second loop of the park, with some thought of running 13.1 miles to work off my half-marathon envy from the last two weekends, but I was conscious enough to not want to over-exert my heel, not when everything seems to be coming along so well. (Hubris may be the tragic flaw that destroys most heroes in Classical plays, but it is the lead cause of running injuries as well.) As a compromise, I cut back across the Nethermead Arches transverse to do a second loop of the Southern end of the park, to make the total 10 miles.
After I finished my run, I was pulling on the sweat-pants I had stashed in the under-carriage of the stroller when Nat woke up. He looked at me with bleary eyes, then said, “Running now? Daddy run now?” I had to tell the poor dear that we just finished running, that I’d been running for an hour and a-half, and he’d slept through the whole thing.