Tag Archive for Running

Bad At Running: A Quiet Paradise

I sat on the couch for years. Decades. Rotating shitty couches from sidewalks and thrift stores and Craig’s List. Then somewhere in my mid-thirties I looked around my world and decided that if I wanted to enjoy the great life I was lucky enough to have built, I’d have to start showing up to care for the body that allowed me to experience my path. I’d have to get off the ding dang couch and move.

It all started in San Francisco

I started running. This is a small miracle for many reasons. I wasn’t a former runner returning to a bliss of youthful endorphins armed with some kind of positive body memory. I didn’t have more than a smattering of friends who ran, nor did I have any evidence to support the idea that I might be actually be good at this activity that, for all its popularity, actually looked monotonous and punishing to me. I had finally made a practice of hauling my carcass out of the sack before sunrise to hit the elliptical at the super gay gym when a friend called me to ask if I’d move my bod off the machines and into the streets so I could do a Pride Run with her. Bernadine is a force of nature I never felt inclined to say no to, so that’s how it all started in 2009.

Since then my running has stuck with me. And my hunch turned out to be correct: I’m actually terrible at running. And I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve run on treadmills, beaches and avenues. I’ve run in Palm Springs, Portland, New York City, San Francisco, and Chattanooga, TN. I jogged through Rome, Boston, and outside my house on the quiet country roads of Leyden, MA. I ran through a civil war memorial park in Chickamauga GA, in the heavy hot morning air of Akumal, Mexico and down the hill to Greenfield, MA. I’ve done trots in Sudbury, Albany, Guilford, Pacifica, Gulf Shores, New Orleans, in the magical desert of Joshua Tree. And after six years, I can tell you I still really suck at it. I never get faster. My stride doesn’t really improve. I have not become graceful or efficient. Truth be told, it’s an inexplicable magical thing where somehow, I have not become competitive or decided to give a fuck. Doing something I’m shitty at has been one of the best things I’ve ever done at all.

 

A run in Portland with friends.

Abdicating a sense of “improvement” has let me arrive for all the things I get from this practice that have nothing to do with the yardstick of accomplishment. I do not run to get better at it. I mean, I know I could get better at it. I could get faster for sure. But I don’t want to. I just don’t give a shit. I like the pace the world goes by at an 11- 12 minute mile. I like to look around me, listen to birdsong and watch the clouds skate out toward a horizon line. I often count my footfalls in meditation or watch my thoughts dip and roll along the pavement. I nod to fellow runners, smile, wave, and soak in the camaraderie of people I will never see again, linked by a common undertaking and citizenship of our bodies, of an endeavor. I like to wring out my bandana after a run, the salt and elemental water of effort enough of a medal for me.

My city running happens with no phone. The music of the town and my solitude among the humanity is the medicine. Plus, in a life of being constantly hooked up and plugged in, no one can actually find me without the phone. There is no email, no texts arrive, there’s no step counting machine to tell me I accomplished something, either enough or not enough, and no pace setter to inform me of my speed. It is just me, in this body, with a task at hand. I sometimes repeat Confucius on hills over and over,

 

It does not matter how slowly you go,

Only that you do not stop.

 

Brooklyn in the house.

Knowing that it is the texture of the experience itself that is the mettle of this thing for me, this rejection of aspiring to do anything at all beyond the miles or the time.

This utter lack of end game is also the exact mechanism I need to notice the other gifts of my toil. I sleep better. My skin looks a billion times better. It makes me remember to drink more water. My moods are more stable and my self-esteem is higher. EVEN WHILE BEING A CRAPPY RUNNER! Goddess knows I love the irony that being a disaster in this venue raises my self-esteem. It changes the way I see my surroundings, infusing the world with more color, sound, symphony.

And running has given me the gift to appreciate the nature of ambition I have in other venues. It has helped me to make meaning for my world in a study of contrast. If I do this thing so often that I don’t need to get better at, what is that feeling of striving that rises up in me about writing or about love or about the presence of coaching? These things I do want to get better at forever? How is my undertaking of being a new watercolor painter so different, so much richer, than how I feel about the casual hobby of making ceramics? I notice the reaction in my body about all kinds of feelings because running has given me so much time to notice my body at all.

 

Joshua Tree. An incredible place to run.

And isn’t that the biggest buried treasure of all? This pirated victory of having a new relationship to a body I have been at odds with for my entire cognizant life. At first I’d be running and the feeling of my sides jiggling and my thighs rubbing and my curves squished into the sausage outfit of the jog would bring me home in despair. Not just because of the judgment I placed on myself and how I had all this dumb patriarchal and misogynist psychic violence underpinning the most private and demanding relationship of all, but because of what that meant. How I would never be able to get out from under the pressure of a system that was so much bigger than us, me and my roly-poly vessel.

But I did and I do. It isn’t always and it requires consistency, but the more I move, the more it all falls away. The gratitude I have for this place comes right out of my pores some days with the sweat. Or just drinking strong black tea on a hammock on a Tuesday. Or watching my breath freeze at the gas pump because here I am, standing, driving a car, wearing a fabulous scarf and creating ice vapor clouds from my lungs, long since relieved of nicotine duties. Running makes me like it here more and more all the time.

 

Home. The little hill town of Leyden, MA.

And being a shitty runner relieves me of so many fears about failure. Or not really relieves me of them exactly, but I see that my ideas about failure are deeply flawed. Failure is so commonplace, such a guaranteed outcome in the course of life, that agreeing to be bad at something and finding it has so many fundamental positives associated with it allows me to open up my curiosity about living in bolder and more expansive ways. It allows me to be a beginner again as an adult, overturning the common delusion that I know what is going to happen. It returns me to a peak experience of just wondering about things, of being an explorer and get dirty on the mudpit of daily life. In turn, this particular perk has built up my resistance to shame exponentially. I EXPERIENCE LESS SHAME. I never would have imagined this possible.

So give me a crappy run any day. Give me the awkwardness and the struggle. Give me the pain and the mental doubt and the terrible outfits. And with it I’ll take the keeping myself company. I’ll take the companionship of asphalt and rain. I’ll take the solitude and the curiosity and I’ll take the sunrise.

I will happily give anyone else the ribbon at the finish line to just finish at all.

Sweating it out in Boston.

***This post originally appeared on Amber Karnes’s wonderful site, Body Positive Yoga

I May Never Be a Gazelle

I keep trying yoga. I’ve tried Vinyasa, Bikram, Kundalini, Anusara and Hatha.  I’ve tried new teachers, both incredibly peppy and those that brought quiet and calm. I’ve had men teachers, women, and some delightful people somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Done it outside. In ashrams. Tried it with video. And I’ve done it simply to prepare for meditation.
Everything about it is an obvious match for me. I like a practice that keeps us in the present. I am a devout believer in tending to our bodies with physical care and reverence. I enjoy a group endeavor that can bring together a diverse gathering of people. I am fantastically inflexible with hamstrings chiseled from granite. I got a nice mat. Obviously, yoga could be just the nourishing practice I fit into my life. All manner of people have tried to help with introducing me to teachers, styles, and giving me support.
But still, I kind of hate it.
For me.
Not for you.
Making my way through a packed city to a packed class to spend a ton of money on a series doesn’t feel inviting. Rushing to serenity doesn’t make sense. And when I let people know I have not yet found a yoga that works for me, there’s a certain way the face looks back to mine. I know the face. The eyes soften at the corners, and the mouth drags across the teeth into a quarter smile. It borders on pity, pulls up just short of it. People are sad that I have not found the joy they’ve found. Or they feel sorry for me that my enlightenment is so off track. Or they remember their own yoga story of being where I am now, adrift from the mat, body gnarled up with muscles begging to be unfurled. So I go again. But I’ll shift around some old stuck spots and get nauseous. Starting feels terrible. I know it will pass, but do I care? My yoga friends see a way that I could.
I see it too, and sometimes I agree. That’s why I keep going. Every few months or years, I’ll try again. A friend will convince me they found just the class for me. And so far, they haven’t.
Now here’s the thing: when’s the point what I just let myself agree it’s not my jam? I don’t like the culty vibe of some studios or the cool, popular vibe of others. I don’t like doing it alone because I can’t tell what the fuck I’m doing. Plus I am also prone to a compare and despair problem where it’s difficult sometimes to be the platypus in the room of gazelles. No offense to the platypus. Of course I understand that no one in the room really cares what I am doing. I also understand that there is a path to when one finds a gazelle in the mirror eventually.
What feels like the tough part is to tell when it’s time to just maybe accept that my path isn’t this one. I do not have that gazelle reflection waiting for me. AND THAT IS FINE! It will save me many hundreds of dollars in Lululemon wear, and I can continue my humble stretching in the corner of the gym. I will be the awkward running lady. I never got good at that and I still like it. I can do that. I like lifting small weights. I like walking and I enjoy the feel of a good badminton game in the summer. I do balance exercises and I think often about boxing. Doing what I’m drawn to seems to serve me and it definitely kicks the ass of making exercise a chore that feels like a torturous Game of Thrones undertaking.
Still, the last time someone described Yin Yoga to me I thought, “Maybe I’ll try that one.”

To Rock, Or Not to Rock…

When I began running on the streets of San Francisco, I took out my ear buds and hit the pavement free of electronics. It’s not that I don’t like music, I LOVE MUSIC, it’s just that I don’t particularly want to make a wrong step in the middle of Back in Black only to find myself in the hospital and out of the running for becoming America’s Next Top Model. I want to have all my senses available on the road to listen for cars, hear my breath, and be awake to traffic light changes.

I ran around town for hundreds of miles leading up to the marathon. Hours and hours of my life ticked by with my lungs filling and my legs moving and the sweat saturating one bandana after another. Running. And all that time, just my mind to keep me company. It was an incredible way to get to know myself anew, a person in an immersive endeavor, a durational undertaking I have no talent for. It has been some of the best time I’ve ever spent with myself even with all the pain, the sunburns, the failures and the nausea. I had so much time to observe my brain doing all the little dances it does: on a good day I could see the Samba of Support, a kind of cheerleader for me, or a long Waltz of Compassion after I’d run down the grudges of resentment. These things are heavy to carry, literally, and running 50 miles a week is a good way to discover their true weight.

Look who got some Vitamin D

After the race, which I finished gracelessly, slowly, and yet in complete bliss and triumph, I took many months off the road, came back to movement slowly. I now split my time between the gym and the road, right now heavier on the gym. And since there are no cars there, I re-employed beloved music into my exercise practice. I thought maybe we could talk playlists. Great.

He likes Slayer.

Here’s some of my highlights.

1. They played this song at the starting line of the marathon so I think about that every time I hear it. I also think about the San Francisco Giants’ Championship Season. But mostly, I still think about Tony.

My Favorite Sociopath really inspires work on the Elliptical

 

2. Beyonce – Check On It
3. M.I.A. – Paper Planes
4. Kyuss – Hurricane

 

You Call That Running!?!?!

5. Hall and Oates – Rich Girl
6. Wolf Parade – Shine A Light
7. NSync – Bye Bye Bye

Vintage Justin: Just Hit Him with the TRUTH

 

8. Wiz Khalifa – Black and Yellow
9. Shirley Ellis – The Clapping Song
10. Public Enemy – Bring the Noise

The Finish: Powered by Chuck D.

 

The playlist goes on and on.
But how does yours go?
Help me change it up some, wouldja?