Note: In case you missed my last post, I decided to run 100 miles in 3.5 wks in the month of January, taking 2 days off/week. As of today, I’m at 80 total miles since January 5th, and I plan to finish ahead of my goal sometime this weekend 🙂
A common complaint about running long distances is that it gets “boring” after the first mile or two. I can honestly say I don’t relate with that sentiment. Rather, I find in long runs a feeling of solitude and a sort of meditative state of thought I’ve not been able to replicate any other way. I suspect many runners share in this sentiment; it’s what keeps us putting one foot in front of the other, right?
Perhaps it’s helpful that I got my start in running while living in arguably one of the most uninspiring/unmotivating cities on earth: Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Sorry, GF…what you lack in aesthetics, you make up for in…party rockin’?
I used to run the same square-shaped loops from my apartment, past the foul-smelling Simplot potato plant, around campus and back, venturing as far as downtown GF (slight scenic upgrade) or along the river path (nature? what?) for longer runs. And let’s not forget the freeeeezing temps! I ran my very first long distance runs in the dead of winter, trudging through fresh snow with negative-degree winds whipping past my face. I’m not trying to sound tough—plenty of runners do this all the time—I’m just saying it’s a small miracle that I got into running in the first place, considering I started in less-than-motivating conditions.
So clearly, living in a big, bustling city surrounded by mountains and ocean has really added a lot of excitement to my running life. I remember my first run in the city back in October: I busted out the door of our apartment building into the warm fall air and immediately fell into a brisk, steady pace. I was using Google Maps on my phone to navigate as I wasn’t very well-oriented in the new neighborhood yet, and within a couple of blocks I realized that order to get down along the river, where it’s a lot more “culturally appropriate” to be running, I would have to take one of the narrowest, busiest, steepest streets of Bilbao: Calle Iturribide. Iturribide begins with a descent of 6 flights of stairs (about 60 total steps), followed by a 300-foot downhill 3/4-mile plunge into the old quarter of the city. And what goes down…must go back UP on the return trip! Hills were a pretty foreign concept for my flat-lander self, so I became very quickly overwhelmed. On the return trip, I’d have to take on that elevation change in reverse…every time. Not only was it really steep, it was full of people and cars and dogs and…jeez, how was I gonna do this on a regular basis?! Overwhelmed, I halted to a walk in order to navigate through the mess of crowds and traffic until I reached the broad river promenade. I remember feeling really discouraged and almost wishing for the boring but open, unobstructed running paths I knew back home.
If there was any hope for me to keep up running, I had to change my perspective.
So I’ve made it a game. An obstacle course of sorts.
In this game, the people in crowds become the moving walls of a maze. You musn’t make eye contact with any of them, as their looks of confusion and/or disapproval in your running can be distracting, but you must be keenly aware of what type of wall they are. Are they a predictably-moving and relatively forgiving wall (teens through middle-aged people)? Are they a miniature, erratically- moving, delicate wall (small children and dogs)? Are they an equally delicate, but slow-moving, taller wall (elderly people)? You need to remain very focused for the crowd-weaving stage of the game, always aiming for maximal speed with minimal crowd disturbance.
Then there are the inanimate obstacles—some are stationary and can be used to spring off of or jumped over just for fun (steps, benches, street performers’ money buckets), and others are mobile and range from mildly to extremely dangerous (cars, taxis, buses). There are other walls on wheels (cyclists) which are also sometimes found weaving through crowds, but they’re usually pretty safe to get close to as they’re likely playing the same weaving game as you, often with even greater agility.
Once you hit a wide open path, it’s time to kick back and relax into your steps until the next set of obstacles.
This game is exhilarating and rewarding: like games should be.
So, whaddya say? Why not get out there and play the running game?