I am struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.
I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run-simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.
— What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
I wrote a few months ago about how I liked to bike in unfamiliar cities, and that’s still true — you should, right this very second, look up a town that’s a couple hours away and resolve to visit it with the sole purpose of riding a bicycle there.
This past weekend, though, I was in Arlington (I keep saying I was in DC, which is either true or false or heretical depending on who you ask) visiting some old friends and staying with my brother.
Arlington, like so many other cities, is slowly becoming outfitted with dockless bikes and scooters, the metal frames blanketing the streets and leaning on the storefronts like gunsteel ivory.
I passed many of them on foot, chewing the heat that I had long ago lost my capacity for: Saturday and Sunday’s runs both ended in a drenched shirt and the faint sense of oncoming heat exhaustion. I’ve learned to love staccato breaths and my meager version of a runner’s high; more than that, though, I’ve learned to love the sense of intimacy you gain from running through a place, from feeling its tattoos on your feet.
On Saturday, I did an amble through Wilson and Stuart and made a spiderweb of Ballston, noting the way some streets were flush with charming two bedrooms and leafy trees that seemed to bow to you as waiters; some sidewalks were crags and obstacle courses, and the flow of traffic felt as if it was a monolith, every thirty-second walk symbol a little sun-shower. It was a good run, but a painful one, and it made me feel as if I was drowning a little.
Sunday’s run, though, was a different sort: my brother clued me into a trail that cut through the neighborhood and ended at Bluemont Park, and though the shade and sanctity of the trail did little to fight the heat it set me completely at ease. It was a mile and change of a quiet, gentle slope until you come into this little sanctuary of greenery, with a sense of the water and a few benches and a dog playing fetch. It was very good: it was, for a few hours and a few hours more, my favorite place in the world.
I’m still grappling with the idea of being a boring age — I imagined to be myself in my early twenties, and my forties and my old and silent sixties, but the chasm in between these demarcations still seems vast and unknowable. It is weird to read what I wrote last year, as if a different person wrote it, someone with a different house and a different heart, someone who shudders at the idea of a five-mile run in eighty degree weather. But if I have learned anything in the past year it is how to change, and if I can turn into a runner I must be able to turn into anything else.
I hope you get one last great summer run in.