“I’m often asked what I think about as I run… I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue. On cold days I guess I think about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I’m sad I think a little bit about sadness. When I’m happy I think a little about happiness… But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.” -Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
I ran my first and only full marathon in 2006 in New Orleans. My friend Kimbo and I had both been cross-country runners in high school but weren’t by any stretch of the imagination college-caliber runners, so by the time we graduated from college, neither of us had run regularly in years. She suggested on a whim that we train for the marathon in New Orleans… just to, y’know, get back into shape and stuff. And plus, then we could do Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
We started training with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation team. Kind of. We “trained” in that we showed up to do the long group training runs on Sunday mornings. Sometimes. And sometimes, during the week, we would run some miles here and there before rewarding ourselves with Indian buffet. We finished one of the last and longest Sunday morning training runs, some 22 miles, and happily survived. And then, before we knew it, we were off to New Orleans.
I don’t remember much about that marathon. Like Murakami wrote, I’ve found that a void is inevitable, especially over 26.2 miles. There is so little space to think about things when breathing and running dominate so much of what we call consciousness. I do remember that the air in New Orleans was muggy, even at 6 a.m. I remember that it started raining lightly at some point, which was hardly different than the mugginess. I remember a blur of scenery — peeling paint on doors and shutters, dripping willows, the waterfront. I vaguely remember crossing the finish line at the Convention Center and immediately eating a banana. When Kimbo crossed the finish line about 15 minutes later, we headed back to our hotel and let ourselves into her room. The next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor.
We had both landed face-down on the carpet in front of the bathroom and fallen asleep.
That was my first foray into resuming the long-distance running I first began in high school. I ran a marathon. I survived (with dignity intact, because no one knew about the face-planting other than Kimbo). I had about three seconds’ worth of thought that I wanted to run another marathon to see if I could beat my own time, and then the thought vanished.
Six years later.
My friend Minh initiated an effort to train for the Oakland Half Marathon, nine months away. Over nine months of training, Minh, our friend Emma, and I became a kind of running trifecta. Early morning runs around a nearby track. Longer weekend runs into the hills and on city streets. Nine months later, we each crossed the finish line of the Oakland Half handily and, up to present day, have decided to keep running together because we love it so damn much.
Which is not to say that we always love running. Sometimes we do. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get out of bed and put on my shoes. Sometimes the monotony is stupendous. But we talk for hours and feel accomplished afterward and have solidified a lifelong friendship through the act of running together.
I don’t know if I necessarily want to be exactly like Murakami in terms of running, per se — he runs every single day, has run at least one marathon every year for the last 20+ years, and runs almost always on his own. But I do appreciate his perspective on running: that it’s certainly not for everyone, and that he would never recommend it to anyone. That there’s nothing heroic or superhuman about it, certainly nothing to merit the kinds of backlit larger-than-life photo spreads you see of runners in fitness magazines. That running essentially consists of a person deciding to put on a pair of shoes and run around, and that’s about it.
That’s what running is to me. Putting on a pair of shoes and running around. I rarely feel heroic about it and I rarely do it alone. But I will probably keep doing it for a long time, and keep signing up for half-marathons and eventually full marathons, and keep appreciating the feeling of running into the void, one foot in front of the other.
Image via outsideonline.com