Drenched in sweat, I am blowing hard but steady. All I can hear is the sound of my own breathing mixed with the wind in my ears. I stare off into the middle distance with what is probably a stricken look on my face. I no longer look at people but past them. I was looking at people earlier. Looking to see what they were doing, what they were wearing, how they were traveling. But none of that matters now. All that matters now is how I am travelling. All that matters now is putting one foot in front of the other.
I came late to running. I have always tried to keep pretty active and that often included running while training for football or hockey but it was only recently that I discovered the joy of running for its own sake.
It could be that this appreciation is a sign of my age. Completing a triathlon or running a marathon seems to be the stock-standard answer of middle-aged men to growing older. That might be the reason but I don’t really have any inclination to run in organised events. I have begun to appreciate the joy of going for a run.
I think it might be the simplicity of it. I like the fact that I could step outside, run as far as I like, time myself if I choose and not have to pay someone for the privilege. You can go for a run whenever you feel like it, at anytime of the day or night. It doesn’t really matter where you are or if the weather is clear or overcast. You don’t need teammates, a dedicated venue or umpires. All you need is some shorts, a battered old You Am I t-shirt, a pair of runners and off you go.
It is also a great way to get to know a place. Running through parks, gardens and back streets, you see places that you wouldn’t go to in the inflexible A to B journeys of everyday life. You get to explore the world while escaping it for a little while.
I am very aware of my surrounds in the early stages of a run but once I find a rhythm I slowly find the way into a world of my own. It is a simple world, one where your senses are channeled from the inside out rather than the outside in. Your hearing is dominated by the sound of your own body. You are conscious of the sweat that streaming from your brow, the burning in your legs, the heaving of your chest.
This feeling is only interrupted by the occasional glimpse of the outside world. For a moment or two you become hyper aware of your surrounds. You have spent twenty-five minutes in some zen-like exercise induced trance when all of a sudden you notice the evening light dancing on the surface of the river or hear a kookaburra laugh at you from atop a eucalypt. Out of nowhere, people are everywhere: walking their dogs, riding their bikes or running just like you. A moment later and you are back inside yourself and all that matters is putting one foot in front of the other, sucking as much oxygen into your lungs as possible then blowing it out as hard as you can.
Like everything else, running can be taken to the next level. You could buy expensive shoes, compression tights and a heart-rate monitor. You could get an ipod or an mp3 player and run to music. You could put together a dedicated playlist full of running tracks and power songs. You could do that but you don’t have to. You ignore all that materialistic crap and just run.
I am sure there are some great songs that really compliment the running experience. Something like TISM’s Greg! The Stop Sign!! or 19-20-20 by The Grates would work. But there will always be that transition between songs when the music stops and the noise of the world comes flooding back in. For a few brief seconds you will hear the sound of your shoes pounding the footpath, you will hear your ragged breathing. The sun will be shinning, your t-shirt will be wet with sweat and your face will be glowing crimson red. Your legs will be heavy and your calves will be tied in knots. You will be running. You will have escaped into a world of your own.