July 11, 2011
Runners are strong. Most spend hours training; working on their stride, running until their legs are sore and their feet are callused. You see them every day, jogging on the sidewalk at various speeds--some are moving barely faster than a brisk walk, and others are decked out in high-tech, neon running gear sprinting like there's no tomorrow.

Some people feel resentment towards them, judging these runners as "showoffs" just here to make us feel worse about ourselves--which I can understand. It's been said that the first man to run a marathon--26 miles--died afterward. He actually died. Which just shows how it's really, really hard to endure so much running at once. So why not show it off? Or maybe, it's not showing off, it's just a celebration of skills, or a hobby. Maybe the feeling of smooth strides gliding the sidewalk beneath them pushes them to run, and run, and the beauty of it pushes us to watch.

I've been thinking about this because I've started to run the last few months. No a marathon runner, not yet, but I joined track and I like it more every time.

Down my street is a small comforting elementary school with colorful classrooms. The field behind the school isn't huge, and now most of it is covered in half-built turf baseball diamonds with pieces of construction tape and wires scattered about. The playgrounds are always dotted with kids swinging off the monkey bars that gave me blisters once. Next to the playgrounds is the track. It's one long, oval-shaped lap that extended after they cut down the huge oak tree to make room for renovations. A fence that acts as a barrier for the young newly-planted grass in the middle of the track stands as a grave.

Before it was renovated, the baseball diamonds were dirt powder and soccer fields had a yellow-tinged straw grass that hurt if you ever skid onto the field with your bare knees. The track was one-fourth of a miles, coated in dirt powder and gravel, and the green inside stuck out like a sore thumb because it was the only place where sprinklers nourished the lawn regularly. In the summer, dandelions were splattered across the fields and the yellow grass almost seemed pretty against the never-ending blue sky, regal pine trees remained strong in the slight summer breeze and summer sun. I have yet to see what the field looks like now in the summer, but I think I have been getting a preview: refreshed, modern, spicier... but I still miss the old field played on for so many years,

You can tell, every year, when it's almost summer when the sun shines a little then backs away, teasing us Washingtonians who beg for warmth. A few weeks ago, it was one of these days so I thought I could go out for a nice evening run in the sunset in hopes of improving my mile time for track. I had gone to the bathroom to change, and when I came out, it was a completely different world: pellets of rain pounding the ground. What to do now?

A few choices remained: don't run at all today, which I by no means was not going to do, because that would be risking an unsuccessful event of a deteriorating mile time in the track meet in two days. The horrific thought of being the last one to drag their feet across the finish line flashed in my mind. I could not handle the step down my ladder, the disappointment I could have faced from my peers. I could run on the treadmill, sure, but being confined to the machine was not the same as running in the real world. After a mile on the treadmill, I gave up, frustrated, and pulled on my Meeker sweatshirt as I decided to tough it out in the drippy rain. I pulled my hood over my head and explained to my mother I would run back if I heard any thunder.

The first steps of a run are always out of order for me; it's like singing to an awkward offbeat. But once my stride kicks in, I am like a never-ending chorus of legs painting thick strokes on my asphalt canvas.

I was beginning to feel my stride smooth as I reached the school. The air was damp and the smoky smell of evening barbeque was sticking to my sweatshirt. Raindrops rolled onto my eyelashes. It reminded me of camping trips when I was little: waking up to the “real” air, thick with leaves and moistened with tiny raindrops, kicking lush brown earth with my feet. I miss being with my family and experiencing that, the rawness of nature.

As I entered the gated field I semi-decided how I was going to train myself during this run: short bursts of energy, or one long release? I thought a mixture of both would be good for me, so I jogged one lap and increased my speed for the next, jogged slow again, and then repeated the pattern for, who knows how many times. (I always lose count, unless someone else is with me.)It went on like that until my arms started to feel like lead-heavy sticks and the front of my legs scrubbed red with wind and rain. I was in my running trance. Cutting through the pain and the tiredness like a champion felt good. I started to count meaningless numbers in my head to get rid of the tired feeling. I was already soaked; my hair frizzled... there was nothing to take from me now. Just me and the endless track that I wove my way through. I wanted to push to win. I saw nothing. I felt numb.

Somewhere in the midst of this, my vision blinded almost completely, until I saw a black flicker in the corner of my eyes: a crow had landed on the gate. I nearly jumped and looked around. This would be the perfect moment for someone to show up, or fly in, or something: but there wasn't anyone. Just the crow with beady eyes, and the pouring rain, and the dead silence, so my thoughts woke up:

Why was I strapped to blind laps around the track? I loved this, didn't I? There was no doubt I did. I loved it. I was alone and there was no one to stop me... so why did I let a crow stop me? Automatically, I told myself: I must keep running. I'll fail, if I don't push enough.

Then, I realized: I am not tied to anything. I am not strapped to the past; I do not always have to long for my childhood, and my favorite elementary school, and how it used to be. I do not have to succeed in everything I do, but I have to try my best in everything I do. When you're little, when the world is knitted in a cozy covering of wool and the edges can't cut you, you hold onto things, little things like your favorite playground or trees and sidewalks you would play on, things that have to change someday. Once the fibery strands of wool unravel, we still try to grasp those things, some things so dense we must drag our feet to pull it with us, until our backs are sharp with pain and legs are limp.

I think we could live in the present. We don't have to be what people thing we are, we aren't always failures, and if we do fail, it's not a sign that we performed the least impressive but a sign we tried, and holding your head up even when your neck is tender and exhausted and even when you know your engines will burn and even when you know you will not be first of second, that is success to me.

Because when you unlock the bolts you are locked to and snap the hesitant spikes off your shell and shake the whispers of self-doubt out of your hair and push what others, and yourself, thought you could do, you are living.

That night, I kept running not to be first place, but because when I run I don't step down. I roll my heels against the sidewalk softly, so I can be in the air more swiftly, more often. Let the past be a memory, but let it stop there: failure is too dark and too cold to rest in the heart for too long. Sadness and longing for the past will inhabit your mind and infest your lungs with dull weeds and wiry moss. Clean your mind an ocean clear blue, brush past the cobwebs: We are not our past, or our future, our failures, or what others think of us. We are alive, pulsing heartbeats. We are here.

I run, and run. I am not the mistakes I've made or will make. The first few steps are difficult, but I learn how to fall in beat with my heart. I try as hard as I can and know that it's right.

We are not tied to anything. We are here. We are now.

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