I’ve decided to stop cataloguing every single one of my runs here on this blog. While I’ve have some thoughts or reflections to share on many of my outings, sometimes I don’t; while I honestly take joy in every run, no matter how routine and mundane, sometimes there isn’t anything to say about it. Combine that with getting busy and letting a few unremarkable (not un-joyous – that is quite different!) runs pile up, and I am at risk of simply regurgitating facts, figures and numbers, something I want to avoid at all costs. Not that I am against facts and figures, as I have anal-retentively recorded every run I’ve taken since June 29th, 2006. However, since I do have a place for all the raw data, I realized I don’t need (or want) this blog to be about record-keeping. If you are interested in totals listed in daily, weekly, and monthly figures (I’ve run 3,290 miles in the last 5 years, by the way), how much mileage I’ve put on each of my three current running shoes,and the accompanying graphs, you can check out the excel spread-sheet here.
In a bit of serendipity, I made this decision to relax and allow myself not to write about every run at the same time I was invited to join the Run Smiley collective. The connecting thread for the group is quite simple: writing about running as a joyous activity, writing about runs that make you smile. There is a marked predilection in the running community to take itself too seriously: from technical gear to hear-rate monitors t0 VO2-max workouts to obsessing over negative-splits and timed post-run protein refueling windows, outsiders can be forgiven for sometimes viewing runners as a group of masochistic kill-joys. There is often an implied false dichotomy between juicy-cheese-burger-cold-beer-lawn-chair living and the whey-protein-isolate-Gatorade-track-work life, as if one must choose between joy and effort, choose joy and health, choose between joy and running. Not that I am an official spokesperson or anything, but the Run Smilies reject this division. Actually, we don’t reject this division, because we don’t even see it – we are two busy having a blast running to even bother with such silliness as either/or propositions. I barely know any of my fellow bloogers, but I am sure some of us are vegetarians, while some scarf down a post-run burgers; some of us are barefoot runners (or moving in that direction), while some are devoted to our motion-control shoes; some can run a marathon fast enough to qualify for Boston, while some waddle through 5Ks and declare it an epic accomplishment; some run after a cold beer (or two, or three), and some, I’m sure, are straight-edge teetotalers. But we all run for one simple reason: it makes us happy. It might make us sweat, we might want to lose a few pounds, and sometimes we might strap on a heart-rate monitor or hit the local track for quarter mile repeats, but all these motives are secondary: our real motive to run is that running always makes us happy. It makes us smile.
I’m excited about joining this community of runner-blogger-smilers, and look forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas with a group of likened runners, as well as reading about their reflections on running.
Yesterday was “National Running Day.” At first, I wasn’t going to actually run at all. There were practical reasons: I’d gotten just about 4 hours of sleep for the last two night, and the temperature was supposed to top 95 degrees with high humidity. There is also my innate rebellious, contrarians nature, which chafes at participating in “days.” “National Poetry Day,” “Bike to Work Day,” “Cancer Awareness Day.” I reason that if you care about those things, you should do something about them regardless, and agreeing to do them all on the same day strikes me as somewhat contrived and superficial (“phony,” as Holden Caulfield would put it. I just finished teaching Catcher in the Rye, so allow me some latitude). But as the day went on, I not only itched for run, but my twitter feed was filled with other runners heading out for their #nationalrunningday runs. I was jealous, and yes, maybe I wanted to be part of a “day.” So I headed out the door. Since I hadn’t planned on running, I didn’t have any of my running clothes, not even my shoes — I jogged the half-mile to the track by Yankee stadium in my work-shoes, then kicked them off to go barefoot.
And this is where smile running becomes so important. Everything about my run should have been unpleasant. It was 95 degrees with high humidity, just before noon in the direct sun of an exposed track sandwiched between the Major Degan expressway, the elevated tracks of the 4 train, and the grey edifice of Yankee Stadium. I had no running clothes, so I was wearing cotton underwear and running in my heavy cargo-shorts, with my wallet and keys weighing down the pockets. With no wicking-shirt, I just stripped to my waist, and with no shoes I was barefoot on the hot track. And yet . . . every step was joyous. Not “fun,” mind you, or even “enjoyable,” buy it filled me with joy. It made me smile. The rivulets of sweat coursing down my back and the slight burn as my bare soles brushed against the rough surface of the track; the smell of fresh-cut grass from the mower circling the nearby baseball diamond. Every time I came around the southern end of the track, the breeze off the Harlem River would caress my warm skin, sending goose-bumps along my arms before I slipped out of its narrow current back into the stagnant heat. If it wasn’t for the merciless sun, the cold bottle of water I bought wordlessly from a tanned latino crouched in the shadow of the scoreboard would not have felt as refreshing, the fresh-cut pineapple chunks from the corner bodega would not have been as sweet in my mouth while I ate them, juice dripping down my chin, as I jogged back across Grand Concourse. I was flushed and hot and dripping with sweat, but I was smiling. And for the rest of the afternoon, as I tried to coerce teenagers into writing about epiphanies and coming of age, the slight burn on the bottom of my feet filled me with a secret joy, and made me smile again.