Recently, I’ve been falling back on a crutch that I normally eschew for aesthetic reasons: the iPod. I’ve written a few times about how I prefer to run without a soundtrack, to be in the moment with my breath and steps and the sounds of the world around me. In the last two weeks, however, I’ve been breaking out the earbuds.
I think there’s a few reasons for this. For one, I’ve been really tired lately. I’m starting my ultramarathon training, but honestly that has less to do with it than the lack of sleep. Between the chaos of two young kids and the demands of teaching a new curriculum at a new school, all to often I’m finding myself lesson planning or grading at 11 or 12 o’clock at night, just a few short hours before my alarm goes off at 5:30. This last week I was working off a few five hour nights and a four hour night, and its a bit harder to convince my legs to get going in the morning when they feel that heavy. Running actually helps me wake up and gets me to school vibrant and ready to teach, but I’ve needed the extra push of music to convince myself to hit the sidewalk. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” might be older than my students, but it still works wonders when it comes to making you ignore physical pain and get moving.
The other factor is one I am even more reluctant to admit: commuting gets boring. I like to rhapsodize about the endless joys of running, how it makes mundane journeys exciting and lets me explore and intimately know the streets of Brooklyn. And all that is true, but its also true that what I am doing is commuting, traveling the same route day after day in order to get to work. Its only the middle of October, and I estimate I’ve run 120 miles back and forth along the same 3.5 mile stretch between our apartment and school.
I don’t always follow the exact same route, of course, but that is a lot of repetition. There’s still a lot of joy in it: tonight, for example, there was a storm in the distance, and the dark clouds piled on the horizon were lit by the low autumnal sun, painting the entire sky in dramatic contrast of light and dark that carried a nearly post-apocalyptic beauty. I’ve been caught in rain-showers that shock me awake, and there is a meditative beauty in counting off the same streets daily, almost like geographic rosary beads that are comfortable in their familiarity.
But I don’t feel that magic everyday. Some mornings I stand at the foot of the stairs and think about the route leading up to Eastern Parkway, the sloping streets down towards Empire Avenue, all the blocks past Utica leading further into Eastern Flatbush, and it just seems tedious in its inevitability. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that, and while I work to find the new in the familiar (“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”), sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes those miles are just an obstacle that need to be covered so I can get to work; sometimes a commute is just a commute. I remind myself that there is no getting around that: if I don’t run, my options are to spend 55 minutes on the bus, or 25 minutes in a cab or on my bike.
That’s how I’ve been feeling this week, and so I’ve been loading podcasts on my iPod. Radiolab, On the Media, Soundcheck, Freakonomics, Planet Money. They let the time pass, they occupy my mind and let my feet get me to where I’m going without the intervening blocks and miles being so immediate. It makes me feel a bit of buddhist guilt, since I’m avoiding the moment, avoiding the experience and seeking an artificial escape. It seems weak.
On the other hand, do what it takes, right? I am still running, and still loving it. It’s thursday night, and I’ve got conflicted feelings. Part of me is really looking forward to tomorrow as a rest day, to riding my bike and taking a break from running. But there is a pretty large part of me that is disappointed, a part of me that wants to wake up in the morning and run again . . .