Anabolic Music (4.5 miles)

I forced Friday’s run on myself, since I knew it would make me feel better.  I spent the entire day vacillating, and more than once had decided I was far too tired to actually run.  My alarm goes off at 4:35 every morning, so if I’m up late doing work or cleaning the house with M, I’m fried the next day – and “up late” is defined pretty loosely these days.  Thursday, however, I wasn’t in bed until almost midnight, and then Angelica started fussing just after four, so with just over 3 hours of sleep, I stumbled through Friday in a bit of a stupor.  While I longed for a nap, I knew that running would actually wake me up and revitalize me, but it was pretty hard to actually convince myself of that fact.  One of the advantages of running back to my apartment on days when I don’t feel like running is that once I’ve stepped off the train in down-town Brooklyn, running is fastest way to get home.  In a way, I’m holding myself hostage: if I was going out running after I got home, I could just collapse on the couch and call it a day; getting off the train at High Street, on the other hand, means I either have to start running or sit there waiting for another train (luckily, I’m very impatient).

I did, however, make one concession to weakness – I listened to music.  I almost never listen to music when I run, since I like the pure experience of running, with nothing but the outside world and my breath to accompany my thoughts.  If running is used as meditation and a place for introspection, there needs to be a silent place in order for those thoughts, or lack-there-of, to arise.  To be honest, I also think listening to music as a sort of “cheating,” since it supplies an external source of motivation and adrenaline, like a non-medical form of steroids.  I want to see what my mind and body are capable of when stripped of all adornments; I want to stare un-blinking at the distance itself, at the passage of time and the movement of muscle.  To push the experience away, to overlay the miles with music in order to distract one from how long and how far strikes me as weak, a concession that without the music one wouldn’t be up to the task. I don’t hold anyone else to this standard, which borders on the obsessively ascetic, and I realize it is not drawn along any logical boundary.  I consume water and calories to fuel by body, with no need to see “how far I could go” without essential nutrients; I wear shoes and socks, both of which are not “natural” and make the experience easier than it would be without them.  Perhaps I just draw this puritanical distinction because it fits my temperament, that I am drawn to the aesthetic of simplicity and mindfulness.  When, in a fit of Catholic devotion my Senior year of College, I thought of taking vows and becoming a monk, I was contemplating joining the Trapists, with their rough-spun robes and vows of silence (Thomas Merton was also largely to blame).

So when I put in my ear-buds before running on Friday, I felt a twinge of guilt that I was giving in to weakness.  And it was true – I never would have been able to  coerce my feet into a run if it were not for the “Marathon Training” mix on my iPod.  On the other hand, that meant I did, actually run, which is better than not running at all.  It is possible to hold oneself to too high a standard, and it is easy to cloak one’s inactivity with high-minded thoughts of purity and perfection.  If one waits until one is perfect to begin, one will remain immobile forever; it is only now, in our current weak, human state that we can act, and that action, however inadequate, is infinitely more valuable than that idealized action which remains forever in the future.  The imperfect act is greater than the perfect intention.

And Friday’s run was highly imperfect, a slow jog at a near ten-minute mile, and after only three miles I was so weary I just wanted to stop and give up.  At that point there was no way home but to continue, as the route I had chosen didn’t run along any subway stops: an athletic Odysseus pact.  It was imperfect, but it was a run and at the end I did feel better.  I may have been too weak on my own, but was a little help from the Pixies and the Ramones, the Hold Steady and the Gaslight Anthem, The Roots and Operation Ivy, I got home.  Thanks guys.

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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