This morning I once again dragged myself out of bed to go running. I pulled on my shoes and filled my Nalgene bottle with ice and water. Heading out to the car, my brain was still in a morning fog.
The high school track was already occupied by two runners. One was a scrawny teenager who worked harder than the rest of us put together--running backwards, sideways, and finally forwards with his legs reaching as far as they could in front of him, as he periodically checked his time on his watch. He must be on the track team.
The other runner was a middle-aged man trying to fight the flab like the rest of us. As he ran, he beat at the air with his fists in Mohommed Ali-an fashion. Occasionally he also ran backwards, and I wonder if he always did that, or if he had been inspired by Track Boy. Either way, this Cassius Clay was in it for the long haul. He kept a steady pace the entire time I was out there, one foot in front of the other, pumping his fists in the air as he went.
My goal as a runner is to actually become a runner, not a jogger. Most people can pass me walking, so I'm trying to get faster. To accomplish that, I try to keep up with Jon, whose one step equals my two. I manage to at least keep him on the same side of the track as I am, and I feel that is an accomplishment.
As I run, I wonder why I put myself through it. My lungs crave air, my legs burn, my knees ache, and I burn under the sun. I could think of no worse torture! Why do I keep running? It's not for the view. The track looks pretty much the same all the way around. Every once in a while a few planes fly overhead, and I watch them until they disappear into the white-hot sun. All kinds of people come to the track, and it's interesting to watch them, but why not do that walking? Why run?
I breathe in as I take three steps, then breathe out three steps--regulating both my air and my pace. Breathe in. Breathe out. My feet pound softly on the rubber. The sound is full of energy, though by the end I notice my feet scuff against the track because I no longer have that energy to lift them high enough off the ground. I look straight ahead, trying to keep Jon in sight. I turn the bend and realize I've already gone 5 laps. Only one more to go, then the cool down walking lap.
I think to myself that I haven't once thought about problems that face me, or tried to work out the troubles of my family and friends. What is usually thought of as a good time to think has become for me a good time for absence of thought. Job choices, church choices, adjusting to change...all of that which normally runs its own laps in my mind ceases. I focus only on the rhythmic beat of rubber on rubber, the methodical push of my body towards the goal. I strain through a routine torturous enough that I can think of nothing else...and I am at peace.
Track Boy breaks my concentration by calling a polite, "Take care!" as he bounds off the track, though the practice field, and beyond the perimeter of the school, running the entire way as if he had the energy of 10 men...and he probably does.
Cassius Clay has slowed to a trudge, and his fight with the air has become half-hearted. I admire his stamina, however, since he was there before I arrived, and he was still there when I left.
Jon and I slowly make our way to the car. Our motivation to even keep moving is the air conditioner inside. Both of us feel we pushed ourselves a little more than we had the day before, and we are satisfied. As we travel home, I wonder if there will be any e-mails or phone messages from employers left while we were gone. My brief moment of peace is over, and I return to the reality of the day.
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