Running is nothing if not a constant dialogue with yourself about the things you never thought you’d do.
I never thought I’d take up running.
Then I never thought I’d enjoy running.
I never thought I’d run in a race. (Pay money to run? Run with other people? Do I look like a fool?)
Then I never thought I’d run multiple races in a year.
I never thought I’d run more than three or four miles at a stretch.
Then I never thought I’d run more than six. Or eight. Or ten. Or thirteen.
Oh, that’s half of a marathon. I never thought I’d run a half marathon.
I never thought I could appreciate any activity completed outdoors in the summer in the deep south.
Or in the winter for that matter.
I never thought I’d look forward to getting up while most of the world is asleep to “exercise”.
I never thought I’d ever be grumpy about not going for a run.
I never thought I’d ever have anything to say about running that was worth writing down. (Okay, that’s probably still debatable.)
I could go on, but that’s probably enough for the moment. Anyway, I say all that to say this. Running is magic.
I don’t say that lightly. Writing is magical. My son is magical. My wife is magical. (No, seriously. She once cast a spell on me and it WORKED. She also convinced me that getting married was a good idea, so clearly she has magical powers of persuasion.) But that’s about where the magic ends in my life. Just for the record, I set the bar pretty high when it comes to declaring things magical. A decent magician can pull a rabbit out of a hat or tell you what card he forced you to pick. Real magic is when a piece of lead turns into a piece of gold right before your unblinking eyes. Real magic is when something that WASN’T suddenly IS. Real magic is when the work and the time you put into something gets magnified and transmogrified and turned into rainbows and kittens and sunshine and all the good things.
Writing? Magical. I feel smarter every day that I write, and given the esteem that I hold my intelligence in (again, I will reference my wife), that’s a pretty big deal. But in addition to getting my story down in literal, tangible words that another human could read, consider, and then (hopefully) enjoy, it’s filling me with a sense of purpose and accomplishment and a sort of general sense of being a little bit awesome. My son? Magical. I put in a fun weekend in Florida and a few sleepless nights and I’m rewarded with a TINY FARGOING HUMAN that’s basically me on a thirty-year delay. Incredible. My wife? Magical. I know of no other person on earth who would put up with and call me on the stupid things that I do and still allow me to have happy fun times with her. (She might kill me tonight for writing that. That would be less magical.)
Running, to return to the point, requires a bit more explanation. I’ve sunk a metric sharknadoload of time (not to be confused with the imperial sharknadoload) into running, and what have I got to show? I lost some weight. I “feel” healthier. The endorphins that follow an individual run are nice. But that seems like a balanced equation; there’s no magic there.
No, the magic of running is not like the magic of a rainbow suddenly appearing. It’s more like the magic of a sculpture emerging from a raw hunk of marble under the practiced hands of Michaelangelo. (He made sculptures, right? I don’t know Art.) You work at it, and you work at it, and you chip away day after day after day, knowing that there’s something good under those layers of stone and sweat and tears and exhaustion, and then one day it just appears. Like Batman out of the dark. He was there all along, saving your asgard, looking out for you, protecting your city and your whole way of life, but he only just now revealed himself to you because you only just now stopped to look.
Running gives you patience. Not right away. When you first dip your toes in the shallow end of the pool, you barely have the patience to slog it out for twenty minutes. But you can’t embark on a thirteen mile run, or a twenty-six mile run, or a fifty mile run without the patience not to get bored, not to get distracted, not to quit halfway through because you just can’t stand the tedium for another minute. Running teaches you to accept the tedium of the long miles and, eventually, to appreciate it.
Running gives you resilience. It hurts. It’s exhausting. Especially at first. But the more you do it, the less it hurts, the less it exhausts you, and finally you realize that running wasn’t the problem, the old you was the problem. The more you learn to get up off the mat when running knocks you down (and running WILL knock you down), the easier it gets to keep standing up for another helping.
Running gives you confidence. You start small. If I can run for a minute, maybe I can run for two. If I can run for two, maybe I can run for three. If I can run for a half-mile, maaaaybe I can run an entire mile. And then you get there. Sooner than you think. And what was once impossible becomes routine, and you start getting crazy with confidence. If I can run fivemiles, maybe I can run ten. If I can run a half-marathon, maybe I can write a fargoing book.
Sidenote: it’s foolish and stupid that half-marathons are called half-marathons. You have a 5k, then a 10k, and those sound awesome. Then there’s a half-marathon, which sounds like, “well, that’s nice I suppose, but why not a whole marathon?” To which runners who have just accomplished their first run at that distance might, rightly so, kick you in the sack. And yeah, I know, some people call them Pikermis, and that’s nice and all, but nobody knows how to pronounce Pikermi and it sounds a little ridiculous besides. Call it a Salvador or something, or surely there is some other Greek city with a nice name we could appropriate.
Finally, Running gives you a sense of community. I don’t know if I could name a social situation I’ve been in where the collective vibe was more uplifting than at any race I’ve attended. Runners support one another, because we’re not running against one another, we’re running with one another. And if you’ve never raced, then at the very least you know the deep-seated connection you have with every other runner you pass on the road. Whether you wave or not, whether they wave or not, you see each other, and you know that they know, and they know that you know, and both of you are going through it together. Through what? Through it all.
Why am I still writing this? I’m going for a run. (Okay, fine, I’m going for a run in the morning. I just… god. Why you gotta ruin it?)
(EDIT: My wife would like for me to point out that there is in fact nothing magical about blisters.)