Every person I know and meet runs around the park in a different direction to me. It seems like this could be a signifier to something deep, dark and meaningful, but I think I might be reading too much into it. Still, I mean it’s a little bit odd; a good three quarters of runners in this park run counter clockwise, and I – for whatever reason – go against the grain. Sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully slowly, but always facing the ‘wrong’ way. Why on earth could that possibly be? And then to add to matters, I’ve even gone and complimented this faux counterculture status by recently shunning the tarmac and trails entirely and running along the park’s open grass. Added again onto this, I’ve never researched a training schedule for running before, never read any of the magazines and indeed only ever run with others three times before in my life.
Basically I’m really starting to feel somewhat of a black sheep when it comes to the ‘sport’ of running.
I don’t go out with music in my ears. There’s a very specific reason for the absence of tunes; I’m looking for a process into absence. Every step forwards kills another few seconds; the minutes passing nullify conscious thought just a little further, until you’re completely empty. A simple machine, operating on reflex and conditioning alone. It’s a pretty weird head space to get into, one which on first flirtation with is incredibly and tediously boring. I mean, all you’re doing is absolutely nothing but moving your feet, not concentrating on any particular idea for long before the next half-baked electron of conscious thought spirals in to take its place. This flat world can really wear thin quite quickly if you’re not used to it.
Yet like breaking through the physical ‘wall’ in marathon running, if you smash through the insufferable monotony that accompanies such lack of stimulation, you slowly – step by step – descend into a calm and empty space. In this realm, my whole body becomes merely an extension of the watch on my wrist; a segment of time ticking down until the next drink of water, the next pit stop and ultimately the end of the exercise. This is – at least for me – an amazing, almost zen-like process. The closest I ever really got to this previously was in the fluid-movements that accompanied a flawless ascent whilst rock climbing, where every move flowed seamlessly into the next one, in big warming blur of satisfaction. But even then, those climbing moments only last for a few minutes. When I was a boulderer I counted those instances in mere seconds.
But with running, two whole hours can pass me by without comprehension, aside from the minutiae of feedback coming in from your feet, legs and lungs. It’s a feeling I’ve become well accustomed to over my previous expeditions, but never as powerfully as when my legs are flying. Running, like expeditioning, is meditation. It’s a process for internalising time. And for correcting misaligned priorities. After all, when faced with the great enormity of the void ahead, all the little worries and niggles of the day usually slip away into complete obscurity.
What I get from running – aside from permanently sore legs – is clarity. The best bit of this process is it really doesn’t matter which way you run around the track to find it. Keep on going and the emptiness will come to you soon enough.