Running, Reading and Coltrane

Monday, May 01, 2017

Time is a funny thing. Especially when you get over thirty and even more so when your profession measures your productivity on the amount of time you spend on something versus the actual quality of the work product. I once worked in a restaurant where the owner would say to me “Don’t go into anything that makes you punch a clock. There are only 24 hours in a day, and that means you are limited. Fixed.” I heard that when I was twenty years old, and it resonated, but I didn’t quite understand it.

There is a cliche among runners who describe a clarity that comes from running. I have never been great at explaining it to non-runners regarding the running itself, but I know that since I started doing this, I got better. And I mean that in a global sense, that I know I am better today than I was five years ago and it’s not just a product of aging.
The best way to explain it is not to point to the epic events. Finishing a marathon or finding a new relationship are fantastic stories to tell but I found something with more intrinsic value in this whole process. And maybe part of it was aging, but I do think habit and the lifestyle served as a foundation for things. It is the little incremental changes that permeate into my life because I get that clarity from almost every run. The first thing that happens is it improves your comprehension of time.
Exercise can often seem like an insurmountable hill because of the commitment of time and resources. I used to dread having to go to the gym (I probably still do). The time commitment of spending 45 minutes to an hour sweating seemed to feel like it would take up my entire day. The difference with running was that I would wake up and let my body dictate how much time and how far I could go. And somehow, the total number of miles I would run progressively increased but the time commitment stayed the same. So I started spending 15 minutes struggling through less than two miles and that evolved into running for 45 minutes for 6 miles. I began to extrapolate that over a week, which would give me 40–50 miles a week in exchange for six or 7 hours. Push that to a month and then a year and all of sudden I got this immense gratification from seeing thousands of miles next to my name. Rewind that to the original commitment of 45 minutes to an hour each day that seems so small compared to everything I was pulling out of it. Suddenly my long runs on Saturdays for more than an hour didn’t feel like an obligation anymore, it felt like my reward for the long week.
I will never be able to control time and so maybe it isn’t on my side as they say. But the perception of time is something that I can control. That perception helps dictate my sense of urgency and perspective. I could spend an hour each night reading or just listen to some music. That would require a lot more effort than just turning on the television and nodding off while watching something innocuous. But now I have this appreciation for what I can do in 45 minutes or an hour that doesn’t seem so limited.
In my late twenties I had forgotten what a good book could do for you because I thought reading literature was a pleasure I just didn’t have time for. For example, I could sit down and start reading Karl Ove Knausgaard or Elena Ferrante. Two authors who are as introspective and detail oriented as anything I have ever read. They were a reminder that I didn’t just have to read books written by Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis to maintain conversations at work or cocktail parties. I could read a long description by Knausgaard of a meal and start to taste the salt or the juices he carefully described. I could read about Levin in Anna Karenina and agonize with him over unrequited love, the pleasure of working hard and the happiness of someone you love loving you back after a long time. I could spend that and get this intangible reward. Maybe I didn’t have a paycheck for that hour, but it didn’t make it any less special or meaningful.
I know nothing about music or the technical components that make it beautiful or appealing. Like the Supreme Court’s description of obscenity, I can tell you what I like when I hear it. After I had started running, I made an effort to expand my pallet, so I dove into jazz because Murakami explained ot in this way that made it sound as soothing as cracking open a cold beer after a shower from a long run. One day, on my way home from work, I had John Coltrane playing on my headphones while I was walking through the supermarket and it clicked. That music suddenly had infected my thoughts, and I was gliding through that supermarket, completely unaware of everything around me. I was mesmerized by the sound of the trumpet, the piano, the drums and the saxophone and I smiled even though I was in the midst of my ordinary and mundane routine of picking up some groceries at the Key Food that sits underneath the shadow of the elevated train tracks. Maybe I would have found that beauty without running because it is objectively beautiful, but I am not sure I would have had the clarity or the courage to try listening to it without those miles in the morning.I got all of that in the fifteen minutes that I usually spend in the supermarket and the walk home to my apartment.
Maybe I would have found all this without running. But I like to think that running gave me the clarity to want these things in my life. I have the time to run, to work, to listen to jazz, to read a good book because time can be short but I can always feels infinite in that moment.
I screwed up on maintaining my updates so I am just skipping to this past week. I ran the New York City Half in 1:33:35 so I was off on my timing. I also got thrown off in Week 9 by a random March blizzard and some slow plowing here in Queens.
Week 10- Day 64- 5.3 Miles- Easy Run, Day 65- 6.2 Miles- Regular Run, Day 66- Regular Run- 5.0 Miles, Day 67- Day Off, Day 68- 7.3 Miles- Regular Run, Day 69- 10 Miles- Tempo Run, Day 70- 12 Miles- Long Run.


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