Just to Pass the Time Away: A (Haphazard) Running Manifesto

I run not because I like it, nor because I’m good at it.  I run because it makes me feel strong, because I imagine my ancestors ran 5Ks every day, chasing deer across the savannah.  I run because I want to be able to keep up with them, even in my daydreams.  Spear throwing I may never master.  Running is attainable.

I run next to Gretchen at the gym.  We do our three warmup laps round the track, and then   reserve treadmills three and four.  We stretch on the blue mats in the corner, dangling our arms helplessly in the general direction of our toes (neither of us is particularly flexible).  We press our hands against the wall plastered with 80s aerobics posters-I’ll never be able to unsee the drawing of a woman in a leotard doing the butterfly stretch-and flex our calves.  I take care with this one, remembering when, a month ago, I woke up at five a.m. to an agonizing shin splint radiating through my left leg.

The usuals are in place already: the fellow treadmill runner who always wears a green shirt, the two women with calves of steel on the stair steppers, the scattered junior boys who watch themselves lift weights in the mirror that spans the back wall.  Gretchen and I take our places: she on the left, me on the right.  She flicks the TV to Jeopardy, which coincides happily with our run.  We look at each other, do some encouraging eyebrow wiggles, and hit “start.”  And then my track lets out its customary whine, as if it’s preparing once again to be trampled on by a clumsy twenty-two-year-old.  It starts to move, faster as I click the arrows up, and soon I’m running and taking care (as I do at the start but neglect at the finish) that my shoulders are straight and my gait even.  I feel as though I could run ten miles just like this, with Alex Trebek outlined in blue above me (benevolent as a god amidst a bright sky), and the vinyl road circulating comfortably below.

I am obligated to mention here, as I tried to disclaim at the beginning, that I am by no means a romantic, one-with-the-road runner.  In fact, a few weeks ago, when I closed my eyes while running in an attempt to attain some sort of zen enlightenment, I unconsciously slowed my pace and flew off the back of the treadmill, almost crushing an innocent passerby.

I can’t hope to provide much advice for those of you who want to start running.  All I can say is to do whatever Runner’s World tells you to, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.  I read an article about mantras recently, and scoffed at it.  George Harrison may have had a mantra, but I’m more down-to-earth than that.  And then I had a hard run, and there were five minutes left, and I was this close to faking a sprained ankle and telling Gretchen that we absolutely had to stop or I would never walk again.

In that moment of exhaustion, I decided to adopt a mantra.  “Pain is a state of mind” was first.  I mouthed the words, trying to match them to my pace, and thinking about the source: Freak the Mighty, a magnificent book I read in 6th grade.  As noble a quote as it was, however, it wasn’t working.  The next mantra that popped into my head was, inexplicably, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”  Over and over I sang that childhood song to myself, making up lyrics when my memory failed.

I’ve been working on the railroad

All the livelong day

I’ve been working on the railroad

Just to pass the time away…

And the tune seemed to meld with my footsteps, and before I knew it the five minutes was over, my ankle was intact, and Gretchen was looking at me like I was crazy:

“Were you singing, Holly?”

Moved In

After a series of events involving no curtains and a hmong cucumber, I find myself fully moved into my final Morris residence.

Of course, the lights are off because there are no curtains, and I don’t want every mosquito in town to find me.  And of course, there are two large hmong cucumbers sitting on the counter downstairs, because my landlord lets a sweet couple use her backyard for their garden, and they were kind enough to share the harvest.  I thought about having some spoils for dinner, but lacked the necessary hacksaw.

So now it’s just me, uncovered windows, and the cucumber-that-doubled-as-a-battering-ram.  The house is mostly empty and incredibly echoey, but my room is settled.  Beatles poster, world map, loaded bookshelf, Jeopardy calendar.  That’s all I need, really.  Maybe a bed too.

All is Right in the World

All is right in the world when you wake up at 6:30 a.m., sit through a committee meeting until 9, and then trudge straight back to bed for two hours.  And later, your writing class spends a half hour discussing how stories should be submitted; electronically or physically.  One girl couldn’t handle the stress and walked out.

Truth:  In all my years of schooling, I’ve only been in two classes that had walkouts: Creative writing in high school, and now advanced fiction writing.  Writers are touchy people.

Things continue to be wonderful when the awesome German teacher wins Jeopardy, and when you and your trivia-obsessed buddies decided to forgo leftovers in favor of a better dinner in the Student Center.  Then, at your work safety training meeting, you laugh until you’re wheezing on the floor after the trainer says the following:  “Too many people try to sneak free pump coffee refills.  Next time I see this happening, I’m going to be all: ‘I will cut you!'”

Volleyball doesn’t go so well.  One of your teammates is struck down by a charley horse, which you know hurts like the dickens because it happens to you decently often.  Your team loses to a team that you probably could have beaten, but you don’t feel too horrible because afterall 5-1 isn’t a bad record.  And because you knew the moment you were all lined up on the court that you were probably going to lose because your team just wasn’t playing like they usually do.

After the game, silently ashamed of being a living breathing cliché, you say you don’t care about the loss, but you regardless spend fifteen minutes in the snow talking about what exactly went wrong.  And then you skip off to the Convenience Store, where friends are buying ice cream and you’re just looking for an excuse to avoid reading your book of nature-heavy poetry.

And then you come home and read it anyway.

 

A King’s Life

I’m feasting like a king over here.  Baby carrots, black olives, and blackened grilled cheese (well, the blackened part was accidental).  A darling stick of fair trade chocolate for dessert, courtesy of one Gretchen Z., who gave it to me a few minutes ago.

Tonight’s duties include caucusing, taking the College Jeopardy online test (which you can take too, but only if you promise not to beat me), and working the late shift.

The caucus ought to be fun; I’m attending on assignment for Politics and Film.  I’m to observe, participate if desired, and then write one page explaining how I would film a small, rural caucus.

So far, my plan includes Jeff Daniels.