Monday, April 15, 2013

Runner's High (Repost)

Note: I wrote this in October of 2005, when my uncle ran in the Twin Cities Marathon. In the midst of the horror that happened this afternoon in Boston, I wanted to remember this day in the past, when I first had a glimmer of understanding as to why people would want to run a marathon. To everyone in Boston, my family and friends there, anyone who is feeling shaken, sad, and angry; all who are affected by this senseless violence... love and light to you.

I don’t like running

If I had to run for my life, I’d die.

I quit track after 9th grade because they would not let me just run fast and then jump, and they would not let me just run fast and then stop. They wanted me to run. They made me run. And run. Just run. Run and run and run.

I didn’t like it.

This past weekend was beautiful. A showcase of Twin Cities autumnal majesty. One sparkling, warm yellow light day, and one grey blue breezy day. It was the weekend of the annual Twin Cities Marathon, and my uncle and aunt had arrived so that my uncle could run in it. I was excited to see them as they are two of my favorite people in the world and my example of how a couple should behave; madly in love, even when you are doing the dishes. But I don’t like running. I don’t know if I have mentioned this, but I just don’t like it. It kills my prematurely old knees, and it makes me sad, deep in my respiratory system. It would be great to cheer Mike on, but being that close to so many people who are running…. I just didn’t know.

I don’t understand marathons; I don’t know why anyone would want to do it; I don’t see the point. This does not mean that I am not impressed by the achievement because I most certainly am, but I did not see how I could get much actual personal enjoyment out of being a spectator for a marathon. And actual personal enjoyment is an important pursuit in my life.

Pete and I decided to ride our bicycles. Most of the route through St. Paul was familiar and relatively close to our house, and it seemed strange to use the car to cheer on people who are running. Jump in the car, drive the car, park the car, get out of the car, “GO MIKE YAY MIKE”, jump in the car, drive the car, park the car, get out of the car, etc. I figured it would stress me out and make me feel even more of a fitness loser than I already am. I jumped astride Stan and Pete got his bicycle (who will remain nameless), and we struck off to meet the marathoners.

We arrived at the Lake Street Bridge that connects Minneapolis to St. Paul where the Mississippi River separates them. People, everywhere. Cheering and whooping. Waving signs and clapping. Runners passing under us on the River Road, clearly members of the elite, still cruising along at Mile 21 like they had just started out. We were meeting the family at mile 18, across the river. I was surprised by my reaction to all the activity. It was as if the air was full of the runners’ endorphins, and I felt no pain, just a positive sense of ineffable joy. It was the kind of free-floating goodwill that makes you say nice things to people you don’t know, remark on the cuteness of strangers’ dogs, and walk around with an idiotic grin on your face, directing the glow at everyone in your vicinity. I found myself looking for things to compliment. “Nice boots!” “I love your top.” I look forward to moods like that.

We crossed the river and rode up the path alongside the course. The family was there, dutifully waiting for Mike. Spectators were stretched out as far as we could see, each way along the route, and the runners formed a steady stream of endurance. Almost eight thousand people would pass through here once the day was over, running, wheeling, walking, breathing, smiling, wheezing, and sweating. It was unbelievable, and I felt emotional, teary. I thought that perhaps I was losing my mind until I looked at Pete, who said, eyes red, “I feel like crying.” Freak. Freak like me.

I guess that it was the upbeat nature of the event. It is what it is, and this positive sense of accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment was hanging in the autumn air, just underneath the canopy of grey clouds. And it was affecting everyone. From me with my low expectations and disdain of running to the women who were across the course from us on Mile 18, cheering indefatigably for anyone, everyone who went by, using some stand-out aspect of the participant’s costume or appearance to designate them. “Go Spam! YAAAAY!!! All right you guys, you’re looking great!! Woo Hoo! Number 8413!! Super Fly!! Sparkle head! Batman! Robin! Superman! Keep it up!! Great Job!! YAAAAAAAAYYY!!!” They were incredible. My uncle would tell us afterwards that the crowd was pretty quiet, compared, at least, to Pittsburgh. But we can’t be compared to steel workers of the western Appalachians. It’s just not fair. I posit that they were pretty loud for a bunch of passive aggressive Minnesotans.

It’s a gorgeous route to run, if you have to run. Or if you want to run. It starts in downtown Minneapolis and wends its way past the Sculpture Gardens, though neighborhoods that inspire envy, home of the Mary Tyler Moore house and Walter Mondale’s home, past the chain of three lakes, Isles, Calhoun, and Harriet, along the Minnehaha Parkway and around Lake Nokomis, north/northeast along the river and then back down the other side, over and up along Summit Avenue through Saint Paul, past the Governor’s Mansion, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s brownstone, Garrison Keillor’s neighborhood, and down past the Cathedral and on to the State Capitol. Pete and I put in over 16 miles on our bicycles, a pittance in physical expenditure compared to my uncle and the thousands of others who finished, but it felt good. It was fun to ride alongside, to look for him in the crowd, to cheer him on, to have that brief moment where I actually understood why someone would want to do this. I won’t be running a marathon any time soon, or ever, I should say, but I will probably get the bike out again next year, and cheer on a bunch of strangers.

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