A Runner’s Work.
It’s Christmas Eve. The sun is going down. I haven’t run for nearly two months. I have felt elementally tired, missing out on gifts of runs on St Andrews beach and elsewhere. I have hated not running, but not enough to start again.
I have been here before. I get tired of running. I stop. I get tired of stopping, so I run. But this time it felt different. I haven’t stopped for so long before.
I’m packing to go away for Christmas. As I descend through the drawers, I get to the ‘running’ one. I fingertip the handle and move on to the next. With electrical reflex speed I think without thinking that I won’t need any of my running things. I’m not running for the rest of the year. Something happens, though, when I go to pack my shoes. I’m listening to the radio and before I realise what I’m doing I find myself removing a broken pair of laces on my favourite running shoes. And, like I’m working hard with a coarse tapestry I am forcing the bright new laces through the eyelets and relacing them.
In minutes I am out on the road. I am imagining that this is going to hurt. I am so out of practice I don’t expect to go further than a mile without stopping.
It is a lovely time of day to be running. The air is unseasonably warm for Christmas Eve. Everyone is busy in their front rooms. Everyone seems to have their Christmas lights on. Christmas is happening for everyone, so what the fuck am I doing? Parents and children walk hand in hand in the street, coming or going. And within a few minutes, the presentness of running reminds me of its essence and I realise, it is an experience and not a memory. It is a mental state that can only happen and not be recalled with any reliability. Then it strikes me…
Running is an aesthetic experience.
No really. I know this sounds like over-dignifying nonsense. But it is the only way in which I can think that a runner’s mental state can make sense to the non-running. I always misremember great art. It seems to have a space into which I move and do the aesthetic work ‘with’ it. I have a much more reliable memory for art that doesn’t interest me.
Running, like art, is long. It doesn’t happen on any particular run, it’s made up of multiple chapters. When I was out on the road, I remembered a lovely bit from one of Van Gogh’s letters “I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may. But what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough draught turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it, through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought. (Van Gogh to Theo – July 1880).
Shit! It’s 5.30 on Christmas Eve, and like everyone else, I’m supposed to be somewhere else, but am thrilled that once again I want to keep going; keep going come what may.