My return to running came as a direct result of a ridiculous bet that included male bravado, beer, Joyce’s Ulysses, and a group trek to Steamboat. After a few weeks of running every other day the initial pain and discomfort subsided and the “drug” of outdoor exercise took over. This all happened in the first year after my mother’s premature death at the age of 69. Like many other adults, I was completely blindsided by the loss of a parent. Nothing prepared for the sorrow, anger, and rudderless existence that marked the period immediately following Mom’s death. Running became a subtle but reliable balm. Time outdoors, an elevated heart rate, favorite music playlists, and the runner’s high made me happy. The activity helped regulate emotions and offered a healthy salve for darker days. And it was a simple activity requiring little beyond physical effort.
Running soon brought about all of the other positive effects that regular exercisers love to tout. Better sleep, more overall energy, slimmer pants, and greater mental clarity were all benefits. A day that started with a good but ambitious run left me feeling great for hours. The discipline of running also brought other disciplines into greater focus. Soon my creative efforts were fed by the same energy and positive benefits that got me hooked on running. I investigated a range of books that explored the connection between exercise and mental focus, exercise and the formation of good habits while losing bad habits, exercise and emotional health, and exercise and aging. As has been famously articulated, whoever captures the positive effects of regular exercise in the form of a pill will make an instant fortune.
Haruki Murukami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running solidified the connection between my own running and a larger life desire to grow as a composer and live better. He found running early in life when he needed to give up managing a bar and embrace the daily discipline that helped launch a major writing career. Soon running was the most natural extension of his creativity in a symbiotic relationship. His running shoes might take the same importance as a typewriter or computer. He simply could not succeed as a writer without regular running.
My runs steadily became longer and invited journeys further from home. Eventually I explored the variety of trails in our area and found magical moments passing through high prairie grass with expansive views of purple and white mountains at first light. I’d carefully craft playlists and got to spend time with an eclectic array of composers including Meredith Monk, Vaughan Williams, Judd Greenstein, Thomas Tallis, and others. A two-hour run through farmland and rolling hills became an absolute highlight of my week. It also required careful planning and structure. Two hours of running in the Colorado summer required start times around 6AM. This fed a growing commitment to sleep, early rising, and early composing. I finally became a morning composer and contemplated how I could fine-tune my life for better creativity and productivity. My university work required increasing attention and this newfound discipline became essential to remaining active as a composer.
Running often promotes my best thinking. Problems get turned over and over in my mind and solutions emerge or a clear passion for an idea grows. I don’t come home with new wonderful tunes but I return with a belief that I will soon find the great material I have been dreaming about. Running has also become a destination activity. I travel everywhere with my running gear and love finding great trails throughout the world. Fifteen mile runs in Central Park, 10 mile runs over the Golden Gate Bridge, 12 mile runs along the coast in Barcelona, and barefoot runs in the waves along the Pacific have created some of my best experiences of new places.
Murukami quickly grew into running marathons. For many runners the long run provides the meditative and lasting high that proves most satisfying. Long and slow. Everything else from life fades away and the rhythm of the body and the steadily accruing miles simplify everything. Murukami found great pleasure in running marathons. It was a sizeable but manageable challenge and it gave his running peaks and direction. Since marathon goals are all self imposed and have no importance to the larger world, they act as a way to shape the effort of running as an interior and evolving action. Running now has a larger purpose and one engages in the planning with bigger vision and zeal.
When a new runner begins investigating the world of marathons, you quickly learn how satisfying an accomplishment it is for almost all finishers. This crowning achievement sits large for the people who do it. It is a whole package. The preparation often represents years of running and months of focused efforts. One reads, buys special gear, follows training plans, talks about it to whoever will listen, and allows the weight of the event to build to mammoth proportions in one’s mind. The event often involves thousands of people and makes for a singularly spectacular running experience. I’ve completed shorter runs, like the Bolder Boulder with 50,000 participants, or the New Haven Half Marathon, that left me elated for days.
After five years into this new chapter of running I am poised to run my first marathon. It feels like a natural outgrowth of recent activity and a healthy way to continue to funnel energy towards good living. I’ve taken the steps towards a marathon quite slowly. My mileage has built with great patience over five years and I’ve transitioned to minimal shoes and have gradually increased the strength of my knees, bones, and muscles.