Friday, January 2, 2009

Before Transit

In my previous life I was a runner. Many people that didn't know me before I moved to California ask what I was like before transit took over as my thing, since I spend so much time blogging about it and thinking about it. Well, there are a few descriptions I could use to explain, but to the non-runner its hard to understand or perhaps even believe. I often get confused looks.

The word "Monk" comes to mind, with a secluded life and permanently focused mental state. The best way that I could explain to people what it was like was to send them to read Once a Runner. It's a fictional tale of how one runner lived and is used as the basic template for telling the story of one's running life. Though I tried to write down what it was like to run and live the life of a runner, it never quite filled everything in the way this book does. According to Slate, it's getting a reprint. Good. Because like so many other runners, I lent my copy to a girl (or friend) at one point to explain my lifestyle.
...but a part of me wishes the novel had stayed out-of-print. Not everyone is up for the running life, and not everyone should be able to get their hands on this book. It should take effort, whether that means borrowing (or stealing) it from someone or saving up $77.98. Once a Runner's portrait of running may smack of elitism, but it is a democratic elitism: Not everyone can be a runner, but a runner can come from anywhere.
Though I will warn you as the article explains:
It aggrandizes the insular world of running in a way that, with due respect to its new publisher, no nonrunner could possibly relate to. It is written for runners—and to keep nonrunners out. But it also nails the running life like no other novel ever has.
Perhaps that is the point of the book, it allowed running to be kind of a fight club. You were a member or you weren't. You showed up to class Monday with spike marks in your shin or calf and mud washed away from the race last weekend that tore up a University Golf Course in such a manner that you weren't allowed back again in the near future.

I don't miss waking up at 6am to run 10 miles for an easy day. I don't really miss being 25 pounds under weight, or having to watch exactly what i eat. And I certainly don't miss having to go to bed when everyone else is out having a beer. But I do miss Sundays. 18 mile runs through the woods with no destination and no sound but the pitter patter of feet and your own breath for an hour and 45 minutes. If we could stay at the fitness level we achieved forever, that's where I would be. But at some point running 90 miles a week wears on your body and mind. But like life there is no secret to running. Some might think they have the answer, but the answer like the article states, is just patience and a lot of hard work.

Like many cults, distance running has its mysteries, and The Secret—how you become a real runner—is Once a Runner's chief concern. ("As Denton's reputation grew," Parker writes, "a number of undergraduate runners decided they would train with him, thinking to pick up on The Secret.") But it turns out that The Secret is that there is no secret. The runner must pound the mileage, as we say. It's a grueling, tedious, insane lifestyle. So why do we keep doing it?

To understand the answer, you have to understand a bit about distance running. For one thing, it helps to know that only nonrunners talk about a "runner's high." It's not that it doesn't exist, that weird feeling of euphoria you sometimes get briefly after a tough day at the track or a superlong run. But no one could possibly be a runner just for the highs, whether brought on by natural chemicals or by winning a race. The running life is mostly just lots and lots and lots of miles. Only a few competitions punctuate the grind of thankless workouts on anonymous tracks, and you literally need a very loud gun to snap you out of the training existence and tell you it's time to save nothing for later. There simply isn't enough in the way of traditional rewards as compared with hard labor to make it worthwhile—that is, if you're only after the traditional rewards.

I'm tied deeply to my past as a runner. It taught so many lessons that no school or teacher could ever go through. Patience, Integrity, Hard Work. As a poster that once hung in my room says:
There are clubs you can’t belong to, neighborhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.
So when someone asks me if I'm going to join the gym. I kind of laugh. The roads are free, at least for now.


AC said...

90 miles a week? You've got to be kidding me. I trained for a marathon once; including a 20-mile weekend run, I think my max was 55 miles in a week. It seemed like I did nothing but run. I can't imagine adding another 35 miles to that. Just don't see how the body can take it.

Gary said...

For me, my transit interest and physical interest are pretty closely intertwined as a cyclist. I yearn for the day I will have enough vacation time to ride coast to coast. So far my biggest adventure was San Fransisco to Los Angles, 545 miles, in a week for the AIDS LifeCycle ride.

But running, I can't handle the impact, I'll stick to my floating above the ground plane and flying down hills.

AJ said...

I walk 40 to 50-plus miles a week, but doing it all in one go would wreck me.

Eric said...

Man, 90 mi/wk is nuts, I'm pretty sure I'd drop dead from trying to run that.

Thanks for the autobiographical post.