The Kid has been doing pretty well on her runs. No more dramatic asthmatic panting, no more running with head and one shoulder angled to the side, crabbing forward as if on her last. And the time it takes getting her out of the house to go running has halved. She still won’t admit that running makes her feel good, but that could be a long process. I know it took me a long while to get to the point where, even if the act of running still left me unenthused, the feeling afterwards made the punishment worth the misery.
And hauling The Kid out on a run has not only helped me to slowly get back into running but it’s also helped me deal with things. I have found that if I focus on things outside myself I won’t focus on how I am feeling. Because if I give any thought to how I’m feeling, I might let myself feel what I’m feeling. And then I will probably sit down and not get up again.
The runs have been slow – about seven minutes a kay – but I’ve lost so much condition after not running for about a month, that 38-minute 5 km runs suit me just fine. We each have our earbuds plugged in, each listening to our own music. I set a nice, easy pace, and she falls in a step or so behind me. We run silently until she gets a stitch or a pain and needs to walk. Then we walk a few metres and run on.
Last night I set off on my own for the first time. I had hoped to do 10 km. I didn’t quite manage that – stopped at 7,5 km. But I loved it.
I’ve discovered that I love running through the city. I don’t know what it is. Nature runs are wonderful, of course, and I love running along our coast that smells of sea air and fynbos, the mountain looming on the one side and the cold Atlantic on the other.
But running through the city has a different feel to it. I wonder if it’s because the New York Marathon was such a huge experience for me?
I love the cool air on my skin as I run in the shadow of the buildings with the residue of daytime heat wafting up from the tar. I love running between the people rushing home from work, waiting at bus stops or going into bars for a quick drink to unwind before going home. Their faces stern and tired, and their eyes glazed over from another day of working for The Man. The stare right through me. They should run.
I love running past the closed shops and getting glimpses of window displays of trendy furniture and carpets, not yet mud-stained and ripped to shreds by a cute puppy. And I love the sounds – the calls and whistles from the guardjie sitting in the open doorway of a speeding taxi, the hooting, the screeching brakes, the cars, the roar of motorbikes and the thud-thud, thud-thud as wheels roll over a loose manhole cover. There’s a pulsing energy in the city. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues, sang David Bowie as I ran past Il Leone, our regular date night restaurant. The car guard and I exchanged friendly greetings as I ran past. Let’s dance, he sang as I turned the next corner and headed back on Somerset Road, along the Fan Walk, past the traffic department, my eyes picking out plastic bottle caps that I would otherwise be picking up and my mind wandering to what, exactly, it is that I’m going to create from all the caps I have collected so far.
Last night my legs felt heavy. I had had a sleepless night, worrying about my mom, my work, all the things I need to do and can’t fit into one 24-hour day (and if one more person tells me you need to make time for the things you need to do I’m really going to lose my shit). I had woken up at two and lay awake until I heard the birds twittering outside. The sound of the birds after a sleepless night used to fill me with dread. It used to confirm that yes, indeed, it had been another sleepless night and, yes, indeed, it was going to be another foggy day. Now I know their racket dissolves my demons, sends them back to the shadows, and allows me to sleep for an hour or two. Yes, the day is still foggy, but at least there was an hour or two’s sleep.
But, despite the fatigue, despite being far from my previous fitness, despite all the things that had drained my time and energy and sense of humour during the day, I was loving my run.
Before, when I ran with music, it interfered with my thoughts. And my thoughts were usually trained on how far I had run (usually around 200 m further than the last time I looked), how much further I had to go and when I would treat myself to a little walk. And then I would argue with myself about thinking about walking when I most definitely didn’t need to walk.
But last night the music was a backdrop to my thoughts. It was the soundtrack to my urban running movie (the movie in which I was the fit, slender and graceful runner in trendy exercise gear, the one who can lope along forever without breaking a sweat or smudging her make-up or even breathing hard – except, of course, at the end of her very long run, when she bends over to put her hands on her knees and display firm thighs and a pert butt). I was able to unwind, let my thoughts drift to things beyond running.
And I had a pleasant moment where I caught myself in the middle of that experience. Maybe I had finally become a runner? I am running because it feels good not because I am looking for the next opportunity to stop. I am tired and unfit and yet my running has slipped into an easy rhythm, in tune with what my body can do right now. My body may be out of whack and needing some aggressive panel beating but my head is finally in the right place (My head’s under water but I’m breathing fine, John Legend gently echoed my thoughts). Instead of fighting myself every step of the way, watching myself and criticizing myself, I simply ran.
I can’t believe I was that whine-y imitation of a running-type person just a while ago. What was I doing to myself?! Ugh!