The last two weeks of training have been my best of the year. I hit my goal of 10 hours each week–this included 6 swims, 5 bike rides, 2 elliptical workouts, 1 session of aqua jogging, 3 trips to the weight room, and 2 long walks. This week is going even better and I’ve felt so good at times I’ve considered breaking out into a run. My knee has squawked at me often enough to temper those thoughts, but I’m beginning to wonder what kind of shape I’m in, how all these workouts convert into miles. Obviously, what I’m doing is not like running 10 hours a week—that would be 80-85 miles and I’m not close to that kind of shape. The only conversion tables I’ve found relate calories burned—and it seems that if an hour of running burns 1,000 calories, cycling burns 850, swimming 700, and walking 450. But I know an hour on the bike is not close to an hour run. A better way to measure this might be with heart rate or oxygen consumption, but I can’t keep track of those. Swimming seems more of a minute-to-minute equivalent, while a walk is worlds away. Lifting weights and doing core work, while good for my body, is not like running at all.
I probably shouldn’t be trying to compare these activities. I should just be giving myself up to each and every one as they happen. The Buddha said, “Comparisons are odious,” and, of course, he was right. Comparing and ranking things is often a symptom of small-mindedness and it seems to have become more common. Everywhere I look there are lists: 5 greatest players in NBA history, 10 best lines from 80’s movies, the most beautiful women, the sexiest men, the world’s greatest beaches, vacation destinations, places to go for a first date, et cetera. This kind of thinking can cut down on the amount of joy in one’s life, the ability to just appreciate things for what they are, give one’s self up to each and every experience. I mean, when Vatsyayana wrote the Kama Sutra, he didn’t list things in terms of their relative worth; he just said, here are some things to consider—each of them on their own.
So why do I want to run? Why can’t I just enjoy what I can do? Well, comparisons may be odious, but I think it’s a little different with running. Because no matter how much time I spend on these other activities, I still don’t get that simple, satisfied feeling—of moving, but not thinking about it; of being in control, but also along for the ride. When I run, if I’m not thinking about my form or breathing, my mind wanders, first to things in my life, but then it goes further, I lose track of myself. When I walk, my mind wanders, but never far enough, because it’s too easy. With swimming and biking, I can bring myself to the point of extreme effort, but I can’t sustain it. Running allows me to get to this point and hold on, to keep going, to work through it, and come out the other side.
It can be a transcendent experience, but I don’t think it’s any great achievement–it’s more a matter of tapping into nature, our human nature. This is because running is one of the most elemental, instinctual physical activities we engage in. They say in times of danger, our instincts push us in one of two ways–fight or flight–but it seems to me our first instinct is always flight, we only stay and fight when we have to. And I’m not talking about situations involving conflict or anger, being cowardly or brave, I’m talking about life-or-death danger, a wild animal charging, a boulder plunging from overhead, a fire, a tornado. What do we do? We run. Before we can even begin to think about it, we run. And this is in all of us. If our ancestors didn’t run in the face of danger, if it didn’t feel good for them to run, none of us would be here today.
So I want to run because we all want to run. Even people that don’t know it, really want to run. This explains the popularity of all the sports in our world today–most are just cleverly disguised footraces. It’s only human creativity and the need to design activities for groups in small spaces that have led to sports beyond running. Some, like football, basketball, and soccer, are essentially back-and-forth races–whichever team gets a runner (or in these cases, a ball) to the opposite end of the field the most times wins. Swimming is running in the water, cycling is running on bikes. The same is true for speed skating, horse racing, auto racing, et cetera. Golf is a lazy race from the tee to the hole. Even baseball, a sport that features a lot more standing around than running, is a race around the bases with a lot of rules in the way. People pay more attention to these sports than running itself, but what they really want to do is see people run, and what they really, really want to do is run themselves.
I’m no different and I’ve even begun to daydream about how I might start running again. Should I add short, unmeasured stretches to my walks through the woods? Should I go to the track and run the straights, exactly 100 meters at a time? Or should I find a hill to huff my way up? Sure, that would be hard, but there’d be minimal impact on my knees. I’d have to walk back down, but then I could run up again. And again. And again. And it would get harder each time, but I’d keep going. I’d keep running. And when I got done, I’d be tired, I’d be thirsty, I’d be happy.
If sports are like drinks, then running is like water: the purest, the original, the best. I know when I’m really thirsty, there’s nothing better. There’s no need for extra sweetness, flavor, or fizz—just the pure refreshment of water, the best the world has to offer, what the body really needs. And what my body needs now, needs soon, is a run. I’m thirsty for a run. So thirsty I can almost taste it….
(but alas, after writing that and getting up for a fresh cup of coffee, I felt a twinge in my knee. Still, progress is progress is progress. Thanks for reading!)