Sometimes I forget how therapeutic running can be. Not only physically but mentally as well. Frequently, it's a solitary venture and lately I've been running without music as it gives me a chance to listen to the voices in my head (not the crazy people kind that tell me to dress up in a chicken costume or go to work in a Carmen Miranda hat, mind you), but all those thoughts I spend most of my time ignoring and refusing to deal with. Running with nothing but those thoughts forces you to face them. But it also gives you a way of dealing with them and then leaving them behind. In your dust, so to speak. You can't ever completely run away from what's in your head but since I've come to learn that the only time one is ever actually successful at running is when one forces oneself to think about something - anything else, you can turn your attentions elsewhere.
You'll never get anywhere if you spend your entire run thinking about your next step or your next mile or, if you're me, whether your right knee feels a little stiff or if you're just imagining it. Or is that a shin splint I feel there or not? And what about my hip? Is it feeling a little balky today or is it okay? These are the kinds of things I always have to make a conscious mental effort to let go of, so that I can actually run. Actually running, I think, necessitates a focus on anything other than the physical act of running, strange as that may seem.
That said, an easier way to distract yourself is by having company, which I often do. Greta and I run together most mornings, meeting at 6:30am on my corner and doing a walk/run combination for about 2.5 miles or so. We talk about things while we're walking and catch up during the breaks in our running. I'm a little faster than she is so catching breathers at stop lights gives me the opportunity to remember the other things I wanted to say, or the advice I wanted to give, or the sarcastic comment I wanted to make. Which, at 6:30am, don't come as fast as they do during the rest of the day. But it's also therapy. These early morning runs are training for me, sure. And more often than not I'll follow them up with a longer training run in the afternoon or early evening. But these are the times you make for things like maintaining friendship and updating each other on the minutiae that only your best friends care about. It's not weird or uncommon for "Did you catch Hank Steinbrenner's meltdown about the DH?" to be the most pressing issue we share on any given day. But it's equally likely that it'll be something along the lines of "I have no idea what to do with myself in September." In all things, the running helps.
Yesterday after work I ran with Colleen, a good friend of mine from high school. Colleen went to college in New Orleans and moved to Boston in 2005, shortly after I'd gone through a breakup. I needed a roommate. She needed a place to live. It worked out perfectly. We lived together for two years but neither of us was running at the time. But last month when Colleen ran the Redhook 5K with me, we decided this was something we should do together more often. We run at roughly the same pace and can keep up a steady flow of conversation while running. "Let's make it an easy enough run that we can chat during it," she emailed me before we met up, "That will make it more pleasant." And it was.
We'd crossed behind BU and over the BU bridge and Storrow Drive to the river seemingly before I even realized it. Which is when I noticed that the route had become familiar to me.
"Oh," I said, "I know where we are. I run along here all the time during lunch." I looked behind me and saw the BU boathouse and the footbridge that takes me along Storrow and back to my office campus. "Yeah, I know this road."
Sometimes that kind of thing still surprises me about this city. I've lived here for nearly ten years and I've always had a pretty good sense of direction but there is something special about Boston - and infuriating to outsiders I would imagine - about the way roads turn into other, unfamiliar roads, only to turn back into those roads you've run before. That seems to happen a lot around here.
So Colleen and I ran, on a road that was suddenly familiar to me. We talked about all kinds of things. Boys and jobs and money and family and how she's newly in love with Ray Allen and me with Kevin Garnett. We talked about the trivial and the important. Mostly, we just talked. Before I knew it, we were turning around and heading back to her place for dinner, four miles completed.
It's runs like that that convince me that I actually will be able to do the half marathon in November. Because no headphones are allowed in that race (it's an open road course), I figure I'm going to have to get used to running and chatting. And my friends, because they're amazing and supportive people, have promised to run legs of the race with me, to keep me company. Katherine is running the whole thing. As is Abby. But both Greta and Amy have told me they'll run part of it with me as well. "Whatever 3-mile stretch you want," Greta said.
That means a lot. It means as much as Seb promising to drive alongside the course blasting the "Rocky" soundtrack the whole time.
Now that's some therapy.