Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why I Run

I did not start running regularly until the spring of 2001, the year after I moved back to Chicago from New York. I had never run regularly before that except for a brief stretch in my twenties in Washington, DC, which started because of a girl friend I was trying to impress and ended with a ill-placed pot hole and several weeks on crutches. Of our little merry band of bloggers, I am among the oldest and definitely the slowest.

So I was turning 44 and looking for a good mid-life crisis. I rejected anything to do with my thinning hair, don’t care about sports car, and am not a Tiger Woods kind of guy. I also wanted something a little extreme without serious danger. I had sky dived in college and bungee jumped out of a hot air balloon in my thirties. So I had already checked those boxes, plus they aren’t really hobbies to do on a regular basis (at least next to the lake in Chicago).

So completing a marathon seemed like a good idea. Except that as a runner I was past a prime that I never really had. I started small and slowly (and mostly stayed slow). A few miles here and there in the park and gradually expanded the radius of what I ran both north and south of my apartment.

My first race was the Thanksgiving 2001 Turkey Trot, an 8K where I finished behind several thousand people and a guy in a full turkey costume. Since then, I have finished behind people in many varieties of super hero costumes, some seriously old people, 11 year old boys, runners with those J-type prosthetic legs, and an incredibly irritating guy who runs endless 8 minute miles while juggling. I train between 800 and 1200 miles a year and run almost year round except when its bitter cold or icy in January and February. I have now run virtually every block of Chicago within 10 miles of my apartment, in most major cities in the US, on four continents, and in 15 or so countries. I have lumbered my way through 5 marathons, never faster than 4:19.

So why bother? Why didn’t I close up shop after I finished my first Chicago marathon in 2003?
The best I can figure out is that running help me turn back the hands of time literally and metaphorically. Like having kids and publishing stuff, it’s a little slice of immortality. We have embedded ourselves in the training runs, conversations with training partners, races, results, web sites, and medals that mark our accomplishments, but that is the least of it. Every pr, every hill, every sprint, every step along the way, is a defiance of the effects of time both physically and mentally.

And no matter whether I am merely running, training for some particular purpose, in the starting corral, or in the middle of the next race, I find my mind goes blank. Not the single mindedness of purpose that Max talks about, perhaps more like the down time of the ind that Ted mentioned in the recent article he saw in the Chronicle. Sometimes it’s a time of inspiration, sometimes it’s a time of memory. Most of the time it’s just a blank. Then for a moment that can last a stride or the hours of a marathon, time has stopped and I am somewhere else.

Isn’t that what Proust was talking about when he titled his masterwork “In Search of Lost Time?”

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