On Running, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cliches

This post is dedicated to my best friend Catie, who always keeps running no matter how much she wants to vomit.

If you know me, you know I have been training for a marathon since the last week of December. You would know this if you know me because as each week of the training schedule, and 2012, ticks by, I find myself talking more and more and more about my running, to everyone, all the time.  All my recent Facebook statuses?  Me showboating about how far I’ve run that day.  My coworkers know of my every joint pain and muscle soreness.  I grunt and groan every time I lift a glass rack at work like some sort of Applebee’s version of Monica Seles.  (Note: I most emphatically do not work at Applebee’s.  Yet.)  You know those people that are somehow magically at the gym every single time you go, whether at 6 a.m. or 7 p.m. and you see them and you’re like motherfucking fuck you’re hot, please let me use your abdominals as a climbing wall, but seriously, do you have a job? And are you the most vain person ever? And do you ever wear anything besides workout clothes? And don’t you think those shorts are rather rapidly approaching the definition of underwear? And I know you’re not a personal trainer, because all I’ve ever see you do is squat thrusts and stare at yourself in the mirror, alternately, and you never talk to anyone, ever, except maybe to berate the poor girl at the juice counter who inadequately pureed your wheatgrass shot.  And if you did ever take the time to talk to anyone besides motivationally to yourself, you probably would carry on the most boringly stultifying conversation imaginable, because you don’t have any quirky anecdotes or life experiences or crazy college stories; you only have your LifeCycle circuit and your elliptical and that sad grey towel on your shoulder.  That towel is your best friend a la Wilson in Castaway. Yes, you know these people, even if you don’t go to the gym:

Image via bodybuilding.com

And now, I have become one of those people.  Except no one could ever use my abdominals as a climbing wall.  I could however rent them out as one of those water blob bounce thingies.  OMG summer job!

Anyway, when you’re training on your own (my best friend Caro and I are running the race together, but we live about a thousand miles away from one another, so we can’t train together), you find yourself alone with your thoughts for hours each week (yes, hours; I am the world’s slowest runner). Give your thoughts a little “alone time” in the dark, humid room of your mind, with only the dulcet sounds of the “sexy” 90s R&B and techno on your running playlist for background music and before you can say Kut Klose, help me out– little baby thoughts are born.  Most people call this “learning.”

Things I have learned about life from running (and you, being someone who does not take thirty years to understand the basic tenets of a healthy existence, probably know most of these things already):

1. It’s amazing how much easier it is to do something when you practice that thing over and over.  Well duh, you say– “practice makes perfect,” your first grade teacher chirped as she flounced around the room in her pearls and eighties silk bow blouse and rapped you on the knuckles with her ruler when she caught you yet again counting out the answer to an addition problem on your fingers.  No?  That just me?  I remember being so confused by her admonition at the time, thinking, “Yes I know– if you would just let me practice counting on my fingers, I would be perfect at math!”

The problem with aphorisms and adages such as “practice makes perfect” is that they’re so often used they’ve all become cliches, or, in other words, things you’ve heard so often you can’t hear them anymore.  And these really very valuable, helpful truths about life end up sliding right through your brainspace and out the other ear like a six-month-old Katy Perry single.  So, unpacking the cliche: running so much has made me very clearly see the point and the power of practice, and it’s not that it makes you perfect– it’s that it makes the original action much easier and much more enjoyable.  Who doesn’t enjoy being a virtuoso?  Practice gets a bad rap, though.  Thinking I need to “practice” something once again brings me back to elementary school, i.e. my orchestra days when I would practically feign a nervous breakdown or a sudden recurrence of the chicken pox just to get out of practicing my cello.  But really, it’s not hard to practice doing something you love.  Think about how good you are at masturbating, for example.

Practice makes you capable of doing things you were incapable of doing the day before, and that’s amazing.  Practice is transformative.  It’s magic for real life, magic you can own and use.  When I started running about a year and a half ago, the furthest I could run was half a mile.  When I started training for this marathon about three months ago, the furthest I had ever run was seven miles.  Now, every week, I run further than I’ve ever run before in my life.  Now, I can run 18 miles.  Now, running six miles feels actually pretty easy, relatively speaking.  And what has gotten me there is not drinking muscle milk or taking steroids or doing yoga or not drinking alcohol (bitch please).  It’s not lying in bed thinking about running or telling myself I’ll just do my workout tomorrow or reading an inspirational article about running in SELF magazine.  It’s not even the power of positive thinking or my careworn little knee brace.  What has gotten me there is lots and lots and lots of practice.  Just lots and lots of running.  Lots and lots of plain ole’ puttin’ one foot in front of the other.

2.  I have also learned the power of putting one foot in front of the other.  You know that quotation “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?  (I think I first read it in the epigraph of this book called the The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, which if you haven’t read you should.)  It’s from the Tao Te Ching and, according to Wikitionary, can also be translated as “even the longest journey must begin where you stand”, which is almost more poignant.  If this holds true, then any place you are can also ultimately become the place where you want to be.  Does that make sense?  You know when you leave for vacation?  It’s like that: like how excited you are when you walk out of your apartment and turn around and lock the door and start to drag your bag toward the elevator and you say “We’re on vacation!”– even though you’re still inside the drab beige linoleum hallway of your building.  If this Tao gem is true, everywhere is suddenly a bouncy diving board, a first day of school, a boarding pass to a better place.  I guess, in other words, “every day is the first day of the rest of your life”, which, blech.  Even cornball me kind of hates that quote, especially because as you get older you start to realize that the rest of your life is not actually going to be all that long.  But why is it sometimes so hard to move from the spot which you are in?  Why is it so hard to take that first step?  Why is it so difficult to clamber over inertia?  It’s easy to start doing something purely for pleasure– for example, no man needs to be “motivated” to go to the strip club– but why is it so difficult to start doing something you know you should do, something you may even want to do in theory, but which you know will require effort and self-discipline?  Things like finishing college, or cutting back on the ole’ weed smoking, or looking for a better job, or packing a brown bag lunch instead of going out for Chipotle every day.  Inspirational articles in SELF magazine always attribute one’s inability to begin a diet or exercise regimen to a “fear of failure”.  Again I say to thee bitch please.  We Americans avoid doing hard stuff because we live in the first world and we don’t have to– we are fucking lazy.  It is just so much easier to hit the snooze, stay in bed under the warm downy covers, collapse on the couch after work, order delivery, watch just one more episode of Real World Road Rules Challenge, read just one more page of Perez Hilton headlines.  It is just so mucheasier.  I used to be big into this kind of easiness.  In my early twenties, when I lived in New York (New York City, people!  The center of the world!) I spent almost every single Saturday morning for the better part of two years eating delivery from the diner around the corner and watching shitty rom-coms on demand.  I’m not saying I’m some kind of type A day planner-toting bitch now that I’ve slogged my way through a few miles on the treadmill (and if you know me, you know that I will never be type A), but at the moment my Saturday mornings consist of getting up at 7, running, stretching, and then going out for a delicious lunch afterward to reward myself, and by delicious lunch I often mean Chic-Fil-A.  You know the old saying: you can take the 23 year old girl out of New York but yeah I’m always going to love junk food.  This kind of easiness is the opposite of ease that comes as a result of practice and hard work; it’s easiness that seeks out the path of least resistance.  And the immediate charms of that path are just so, so, so not easy to resist.  But guess what?  Laziness does not ever make you happy, in the long run.  Maybe for like fifteen minutes, but you know the high of giving in to your worst impulses wears off quickly.  You know that restless gross feeling you have around your shoulders when you’ve laid on the couch for wayyyyy too long.  You’re already unconsciously trying to remember when you stashed your desk Tums the minute you set foot in line in Chipotle.  Again.

I don’t have much advice to give you on how to overcome that inertia. (Not that you come here for advice; you come hear to listen to me complain about my intimacy issues and the perils of dating sk8Tr BoiZ.  Right?  RIGHT?)  Nike’s slogan really does have a point: you just have to fucking do it.  What I do know is that, again, it’s much easier to start working towards a goal when you are doing something you genuinely enjoy.  Not everybody likes running, but everyone, metaphorically speaking, has to put one foot in front of the other in order to find out what you love.  My friend RJ said to me the other day, “I don’t understand how you do all that running– it’s so monotonous, just putting one foot in front of the other forever.” (Which is what got me thinking about writing this blog post, incidentally.)  Why do I like running?  I don’t know– it IS monotonous, but I have always kind of liked rote actions (once I had a job where I had to peel 200 hardboiled eggs each morning and it was my favorite part of my day), probably because when you’re doing Henry Ford assembly line kind of work you can, to a degree, lose yourself in daydreams and imaginings.  And that’s one of my favorite things about running– it’s just pure uninterrupted think-time.  But if you are not an antisocial navel-gazing loser such as myself, that probably sounds incredibly boring.  RJ, for example, loves to play lacrosse, which is the opposite of monotonous, to the point of being horrifying and violent, which is probably why he likes it.  (I on the other hand was told by my plastic surgeon that I shouldn’t do any activity where balls fly at my nose.)  But the only reason RJ enjoys playing lacrosse today is because one day long ago he stepped onto a lacrosse field for the first time, not knowing what the fuck he was doing, perhaps scared to look like a fool, maybe because his dad dragged him there, who knows, but he put himself out there.  Anyway you know the old saying: half of life is just showing up.  (As an aside, the first time I heard that, I thought the expression was “half of life is just throwing up”, which, you know, bulimia!  Yay!)

3. Speaking of looking like a fool, did you know that maintaining an attractive personal appearance will not in any way help you get through your run?  It is so freeing and fun to engage in an activity that requires you to look and sometimes smell extremely gross.  Yes, I wear a hot pink sports bra and a matching hot pink headband, but I also wear a water belt that gives me the ever-elusive DOUBLE muffin top, and my running short tan is so bad at this point that when I take my pants off my crotch looks like it rides a tractor for a living.  (Oh, it rides something all right.  Hardy har har.)  Running has made me realize that the body– not its health, but its overall appearance– is something that’s best treated with a bit of an eye-roll.

4.  You’re stronger than you think you are.

5.  A Pop Tart is not a good thing to eat at the ninth mile of an eighteen mile run.  Unless of course you enjoy the taste of Pop Tart puke chunks unexpectedly surfacing in your mouth an hour later.  Yes yes yes yes yes.  If you’re looking for the latest in culinary trends, Stefon has the place for you.  New York’s hottest restaurant is VOMIT.  This place has everything.  Gas station hot dogs, dry-aged wheat sourced from USSR grain silos, tampon candles, DJ Baby Bok Choy, and your waiter chews your food for you and then vomits it back into your mouth.

6.  Every uphill has a downhill on the other side.  (Well, except in Maine.  Everything is uphill in Maine.)  Every shitty hard fucking part of your life might suck so bad, might even seem to get harder and harder with no end in sight (that’s hopefully what she said), but there will always be an easier time on the other side of it.  It’s so hard to remember that when you’re halfway up the hill, but have a little faith in the physics of this world.

7.  And most importantly of all: Beyonce songs can get you through anything.

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