Running

Of course the first snowstorm of 2012 was going to happen on the day of the Manhattan Half-Marathon in Central Park. It was cold, snow was falling, and the road conditions were a bit slippery. All of this made the run a bit more difficult. Those questions you ask yourself while running long distance runs, such as “Why why why in the fuck did I decide to do this?” stream through your head with a bit more urgency. The worst part for me is my non-waterproof gloves (great planning on my part, as usual) got soaked-through and my fingers were pretty much frozen to the bone for maybe 8 of the 13.1 miles. But in the end, such things just make finishing the race that much sweeter — the longer the distance, the more pain in your legs (and arms and back and neck), the more incredible it feels to run across that finish line. Would I do it again? Hell yeah I would do it again. But next time, I’ll wear better gloves.

Synthesizes an energy overload that allows you to pick up the pace and ride a new wave to the finish line without taking your breath away.

Even these obnoxious music snobs agree:

This song is a rush, with a beat that pushes, but there’s also a very floaty, dreamy quality to the tune. Good for long strides on a sunny day.

This song just flat out helps pick up the pace. The vocals surf a perfect ride on top of the music. Burns, Burns, Burns. That Ring of Fire.

Because of the voice, of course. That scratchy, husky, fierceness. And also, because the song makes you think of tractor chicken, and how great it would have been to be Ren in high school, getting your shoelace caught, facing certain death by tractor, only to have that mishap make you the God damn hero in front of the conflicted good girl/bad girl hottie. Footloose indeed! Wait a second! It just occurred to me that Ren was saved by NOT being “footloose” in that tractor scene… This is just a total eclipse of the heart.

I run through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. In winter, I get out there mostly on the weekends — it’s too cold in the mornings before work, and too dark after work. During the spring and summer, there are no excuses — warm weather and lots of sunlight. I get out there seven days a week.

It’s for the exercise, of course, to keep the high blood pressure at bay and my midriff unnoticeable while wearing certain types of clothes. But it’s mainly about clearing headspace. I run for the sweat, to set the goal, the sense of accomplishment, to chase the setting sun, to get out of my own head, for the clarity that comes from exhaustion, to finish.

During good runs, I can disconnect from my to-do list, set aside all the little pieces that make up the still undetermined stretch from point A to the finish point, dampen the worry quotient about questionable assumptions or stressful unknowns, and instead, simply take a comfortable full view picture of the project at hand — why I am doing it, what it means, why it is meaningful, what it all adds up to. I can see more completely what the project actually is — the layers below the surface — and that in turn, helps me manage all the other logistical elements when I finally get back to the table and buckle down to the work at hand.

There is, however, a specific place of dread along my run-route in the park. It is a winding uphill road, about a quarter-mile long. It’s location is about 3.5 miles into my usual 5 mile run. It can take away all of the above mentioned clarity, and instead, fill my head up with negativity and a sense of defeat.

1) Yes, the hill can be avoided.
2) I do not like to avoid it, because that makes the dreaded place even more dreadful.

It can seem like hours to get up to the top of the hill, even though it only takes about four minutes. It’s hard on the knees, and makes my legs feel as heavy as cement and as sturdy as mush. There are aches in the lower back, and my lungs feel constricted and depleted, as if they are rebelling, trying to force me to keel over and lay on the ground until I catch my breath. And then there’s the really hard part — processing all those negative thoughts from the voice in my head that tends to get louder at times like this: that I am feeling tired, that I just want to slow down, to cut around and take the flatter path, that I feel so heavy and strained, that it’s too cold out, or too hot out, or how empty my stomach is, that my stomach is too full and I want to puke, that I could just stop and walk, that I could turn around and go back the other way, that I am never going to get there, that the hill will never end, that I will not reach the top. That I don’t even want to get to the top. That I don’t care.

SOLUTIONS:

1) Anger. Just shut the fuck up and take the fucking hill and fuck it all.
2) Document the specific dreaded place.
(They are not mutually exclusive solutions.)

HISTORY:

The history of my Specific Dreaded Place: Four years ago, I saw a posting about the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. It was a two weeks away. Despite not having run in years, I decided to sign up. I did several practice runs of about five miles each. I figured I’d just take the half-marathon slow, and that if I needed to go slow or walk part of the race, that that would be fine. I just wanted to finish.

The problem was, I hate to go slow, and even though there were times that I wanted to start walking, I just couldn’t pull myself out of the stream of runners. I was too embarrassed to do it. A cloak of humiliation seemed ready to swoop down on me every time I felt myself easing up and moving to the side to start walking.

And then came the hill. I just couldn’t believe how heavy I felt, how much pain was welling up with every flex of every tiny muscle it took to bring one leg in front of the other. I was moving in slow motion. I wanted to cry. If I had stopped, I probably would have completely broken down. I was really feeling sorry for myself. I thought the hill would never end.

MEMORIES:

1) One guy, pulled off to the side while gripping the back of his leg. I remember thinking that he was just faking the injury so he would not have to keep running, that he just didn’t want to look like he was just quitting.
2) A woman was yelling at herself, with quick, deep, loud breaths between each shout: “Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.”

HISTORICAL IMPACT:

For several months after the race, I avoided the hill. Just thinking about it could make me nauseous. Eventually, the idea that the dreaded place was carrying such weight made me revisit it. There was dread upon dread. I began to take the hill again, and now there is just dread.

RESULTS:

Anger:
Simply put, it’s an excellent way to blow off steam AND stay in shape.

Documentation:
An understanding of the dreaded place. Instead of avoiding a place, you dig into it. By turning it into a project, you take ownership of the dreaded place. The more you know about it and how you perceive it, the less dreadful it becomes. Or rather, your understanding of the dreaded place helps you factor in other elements that can help you manage the dread. After all, running up a hill is always going to be dreadful. But how I take the hill, what I think about as I’m doing it, knowing how I feel when I’m at the top, all of these thoughts and feelings can help pin down and allow me to better process the simple dread of running up a long, windy hill on a bitter chilled winter day.

More on Running.

This article originally appeared on Glowlab.com in Jan. 2006.

I think this is a pretty no-shit-Sherlock add to the running playlist. Who isn’t “under pressure”? What if you’re at that point where even the small, inconsequential stuff is getting stressful, like when you’re on the phone placing a sushi order for delivery, and you can’t quite remember EXACTLY what your significant other asked for. Of course you didn’t write it down. But instead of just saying you need to call back in a few minutes to make sure you place the right order, you mumble out what you think she wanted. And of course you get it wrong, so now there’s even more stress. Running helps with this stuff. It takes off some of the weight and creates a little more space to maneuver, or at least maneuver with a clearer state of mind. And running to “Under Pressure” by David Bowie & Queen helps even more. It has to be one of the greatest “dismiss the sore knees, break-through the exhaustion, take the hill” songs of all time. It can also help with the fallout from tuna rolls arriving at the apartment instead of SPICY tuna rolls.

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It’s also a great song to listen to after midnight with a stiff drink filled to the brim of a perfect drinking glass. Unusual for a song to work in both circumstances, which makes it even more special. But in terms of running, it’s certainly not a pump you up and go faster when you’re feeling like you just want to fall over to the side and lie on the ground, even though it’s cold, muddy, and hard. The song’s music and lyrics do more to help get your mind to ease up on the thoughts that are making you feel like it really is the worst day since yesterday. It occurs to me that I don’t think through anything on my runs. I certainly don’t figure out any solutions or make any decisions with regard to things that are stressing me out. I just get out there and run, and run, and run, one foot in front of the other. The longer I go, and the faster my pace, the better I feel afterwords. Yes, all the worst day since yesterday thoughts cross my mind. Sometimes these thoughts pound harder than my feet on the cement. I’m thinking about this shit, but not forcing a thought process that pushes my mind to sort out exactly how to handle it all. I think what I am doing is sweating out the stress of the matters at hand. The result is that when the time comes to deal with the various issues that are causing the stress in the first place, my mind is in a place, or at least a better place, to sort it all out. Listening to a song like “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” while I’m trudging through some long and winding uphill path sets just the right tone and helps all of this make perfect sense without having to even think about it.

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I don’t know, maybe it’s because the song just takes me back. But hey, The Goonies, that lovable band of never-give-up underdogs, they didn’t just save the girl… they saved the whole damn town! I say the song by Cyndi Lauper is more than good enough.

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