april 19/4 MILES

45 degrees
5% snow-covered
mississippi river road path, north/south

Spring is coming! Spring is coming! High of 50 today. 60 this weekend. So much snow still on the ground and the walking path, but the sidewalk and the bike path above the river were clear. And the sun was burning bright. And the birds were chattering.

Before heading out to run, I reread Jamie Quatro’s wonderful op-ed about Running as prayer. I wanted to think about what happens to the inner and the outer as we run. What is the relationship between the inner (soul? mind? thoughts? imagination?) and the outer (other people, landscapes, the air, the path, trees, the river, the gorge, etc)?

Quatro writes about a deep layer of consciousness that we can access during long runs:

a state of prayerlike consciousness. Past the feel-good vibes, past the delusions, my attention moves outward: I’m intensely aware of the cadence of a bird’s song, cherry blossoms weighted-down after a rain. Things light up and I experience an interior stillness that somehow syncs me more profoundly with the exterior world. It’s a paradox: only when I’m fully present in my body do I begin to experience the absence of myself.

I read the op-ed with the intention of thinking about inner/outer while I ran. In the first mile, I did. I kept thinking about how porous my skin is and how I inhale and exhale the outside air and how my feet strike down on the path and how the inner and outer work with and against each other. And I wondered about what it means to be a self moving through a landscape–when are you just admiring the view, looking down at the river while perched on the edge of the gorge, and when are you a part of that landscape? Am I part of the Mississippi river road path more than the person driving their car next to it because I am moving through the outside air, feeling the path, smelling the melting snow? I want to shout Yes! but why is it the case? Looking down on the river today, I felt connected and removed from it, like I was admiring the scenery. Does my self dissolve in these moments of moving, becoming a part of the path, not feeling anything, just moving and being?

All of these thoughts came to me about 5 minutes in. I tried to hold onto some of them–and maybe I did, fleetingly–but other thoughts about how fast I was running or whether or not my left thigh was working as well as my right one or if I should try to catch up to and pass the runner ahead of me or how to slow down my breathing kept creeping in and taking over. On most of my runs, which last around 36 minutes, I would guess I spend 10% on deep thoughts, 25% on smells/sounds/textures/interesting images and the rest (65%) on mundane running things: form, breathing, pace, possible injuries, how sore my legs are, how to avoid people or debris or other animals on the path. Is that accurate?

Anyway, that was how I started my run. What else do I remember? Mostly the wind was fine, but occasionally, when the path curved slightly, I ran straight into it. Yuck. There was no ice on the path. Few puddles. One or two dogs. Less than 5 other runners. No Daily Walker. I smiled at people, but didn’t greet anyone. Heard some geese down below the Lake Street bridge. Saw lots of bikers. I encountered one biker coming from the other direction who was playing music on a radio. As they passed, the music warped–must have been the Doppler effect–and I couldn’t recognize it. Another biker, this time a fat tire, slowly creeped up from behind as we were both climbing a hill. They were biking so slow I was almost able to keep up. Then they crested the hill and disappeared. Running north, with the wind in my face and the sun on my back, I was pleasantly warm. Running south, I was hot. No wind. Bright, burning sun. An extra layer of clothing that I couldn’t remove. After my run, as I walked back home, I noticed all of the melting. Water slowly streamed down the alley into the street and also dripped down from the gutters. I think this is “The Great Melt, part 4”.

Addendum: Just discovered this amazing short film. Wow! I want to write about this soon. So fascinating. I love the music and poetry that accompanies it.