Running Thoughts

You are perfectly balanced. So balanced that you don’t even feel the balance anymore. You just realize you’ve been balanced when, all of a sudden, something strikes and you’re forced out. At first, you don’t know what it is. It’s just something changing the order of things.

Little by little, your senses start to gather together, like iron filings around a magnet. The first sense coming together is touch and you get the sense of your body. Sometimes your hands or one foot is sore, sometimes you just realize you have a laid back body. Then comes hearing. And with hearing comes the discovery of that mysterious stroke. It’s a sound. A powerful, repetitive and continuous sound. And then, with an incredible effort, you open your eye lids, just a second after you realized you have eye lids too. And you finally find the source of the sound, the source of that intrusive, out of control stroke which totally broke your balance.

It’s the alarm clock.

More precisely, the alarm app of your iPhone. Because you don’t have an alarm clock, you just use your phone for that. It’s in your reach, so you grab it and stop the sound. But the balance is gone now. You look around at the familiar surroundings: the bed, the floor, the window. You’re in your bedroom and outside it’s still dark.

With a movement so fast and yet so simple, you swing on your left side, and put your feet down, then get half up. Your palms are resting on the bed side and your toes are reaching to the cold floor. Sleep is a giant grey kitten, purring silently somewhere on your back. You want to get up, but the kitten paw is gently covering your eyes and you feel helpless. The purring is slower and slower and your body leans slowly towards the bed. Again. But, before reaching the pillow, you stretch, you almost cry and get up again. The kitten is upset and it’s getting smaller and smaller. Until it disappears under the pillow.

Slowly, shaking, you get up. Go to the bathroom and wash your teeth almost without looking in the mirror. A quick shower. Maybe a glass of water after that. Then put on the running pants, the running shirt and look for a pair of running socks. Often, this may be the most difficult part of the morning. But most of the time you get by.

Then you fill your plastic running can with water, attach your iPhone on your left arm, just under the shoulder and get out. Elevator, streets, crossing the road. The city is sleeping, there’s hardly any car on the road. Behind the dark windows people are getting caressed by their grey sleep kittens. Yours is upset and it’s under the pillow. But you know you’ll meet that fluffy thing again in the evening. No time for it now.

Stretching. Warm up. Then, you start to run.

Sometimes you run on the streets. Sometimes you run on some park alleys. But every time you have a very clear goal. Maybe it’s 5 kilometers at a 5 minutes per kilometer pace. Maybe it’s a 10 k. Or a 15 k. Or a 25 k. The longer, the better.

One feet in front of the other, a bit leaned forward, arms balancing like the wheels of an old steam train. And breathing. The most important thing, breathing. And the pace. The second most important thing. Muscles are just warming up and sometimes you feel like you could do a small sprint, just to release some energy. But you don’t. You preserve your energy. You force yourself into a lower pace. And try to keep it step by step.

Then you get your first feedback from your iPhone running app: “One kilometer completed. Time: 5 minutes, 46 seconds. Pace: 5 minutes, 40 seconds per kilometer”. And you start to adjust. If you have a longer run, you slow down. If you just train for maintenance, you just keep going. One feet in front of the other, a bit leaned forward, arms balancing like the wheels of an old steam train.

And then there’s the thinking. Wild thoughts running inside your head. Trying to hijack your focus. Short memories from yesterday. Things you have to do today. Pay that bill. Make that phone call. Go to that meeting. Finish that project. Then you slow down. You have to slow down because the thoughts are pushing you forward. It’s like you want to finish faster, to take care of all the stuff boiling inside your head. So you slow down. Both the running and the thoughts. The running is easier to stop than the thoughts. But it’s feasible.

You use that “one more second technique” you learned a gazillion years ago. You start by looking at things. At houses, if you’re running on the streets. At lakes, if you’re running in the park. Trees. Cars. People. Dogs walked by their sleep walking masters. But you look one more second. The moment you want to take your eyes from that object, you keep your focus there one more second. And the object suddenly becomes clearer. Or bigger. Or brighter. And you feel a strange joy. Hey, thing, I know what you are now. And I like you. Then you move it to the next object. “4 kilometers, completed. Time: 22 minutes, 44 seconds. Pace: 5 minutes, 12 seconds per kilometer”.

You slow down. Still have 11 kilometers to run.

And, after you tamed your thoughts, your focus and found a bit of a balance, you start to listen to your body. The head is warmer, and so is your face. Breathing is a bit difficult, but it’s still ok. Leg muscles are starting to ache. The joints are holding. And there’s sweat. Flowing down your forehead, into your eyes. Salt sweat. Time to take your first sip of water. You almost hear it sizzling down your throat and into your stomach. It’s better. It’s soothing.

But slowly, like a casual conversation with a beautiful woman, which, invariably, turns into flirting, the pain sets in. It’s there. In your lungs, in your feet, in your head. You can’t stop it, you can’t run away from it. Sometimes, it comes together with her friend, nausea. And that’s how you remember why you don’t usually eat before running. It will be such a waste.

Pain is running with you. Pain is like a silent witness telling you’re still alive. Sometimes your eyes are hurting too. Sometimes your left knee. There are times when it hurts so bad that you have to stop. And you stop. The body told you it’s not safe to run anymore. In the past, you didn’t listen to it. And you got home with a swollen ankle. And you had to stop running for weeks. Now you know. And you stop. Maybe, just maybe, if you’re careful enough, you can do a few hundreds meters more.

But most of the time you’re lucky. You don’t stop before you reached your goal. You know you’re gonna reach your goal when you hear the feedback: “12 kilometers completed.”And you’re not even listening to the rest. You have only 3 kilometers. Now it’s the moment when pretty much everything is aching.

And then there’s that giant bubble of vacuum surrounding you. A giant vacuum sucking up all the air from around you. Or so you feel. Like the air is thinner. Breathe in, breathe out. Yes, you don’t take enough air and your feet are heavier and heavier. You’re not running anymore, you’re just slowly stepping in a huge aquarium, like a diver walking on the bottom of the ocean. You’re slowly walking on the bottom of an aquarium with perfectly transparent windows. You see people outside the aquarium. They pass you by. They have a lot of air to breathe. You don’t. And then, like a flirt turning into a physical interaction that you simply can’t avoid anymore, the pain takes control.

You’re not a body anymore, you’re just a giant web of pain, wrapped up around a tiny little spark which pushes you forward. And you want to quit. Oh, you want to quit so badly. You start to imagine the slow fading of the pain, maybe the taste of the food you’re going to have or just the bare sensation of not being in pain. And then you realized you slowed down and you have no reason to push forward. And that’s the moment when you sometimes quit. You just stop.

But that’s also the moment when you push it even harder. That’s the exact moment of silence when you can make it. Or break it. And that moment is so powerful. You start to recognize it, to sense it coming. It’s like a ginarmous second in which you don’t have anything more left inside yourself. Except your will. And you remember those moments, oh, you remember those moments so very well.

And, in time, you create a string of memories. The “push it harder” string becomes longer than “I gladly quit” string. It grows slowly. Very slowly. But steadily. And it’s good. It aches, it hurts, it makes you throw up, but it’s good.

And then comes the moment when you reached your running goal for the day and you stop. Legs are not pushing anymore, you’re not leaned forward, arms are resting. It’s just walking now. You stop the iPhone app and, sometimes you read something about breaking your own records. Not all the time, but sometimes. Then the pain starts to withdraw. Your eyes are slowly becoming clearer. You didn’t realize your eyes were blurred, anyway. The aquarium walls are falling down and the air rushes in. You can breathe again.

It took one hour, or one hour and half, or two hours. The streets are now filled with people. Black windows are now opened and pretty much all the grey kitten are under their pillows now. There’s the noise of the city waking up. There’s the street where you live. One more breathe and one more thought: “I ran 15 kilometers”.

The day can start now.