We live in transgressive times where the Coronavirus has, with a shocking immediacy, imposed boundaries previously seen only in futuristic dystopian movies. Yet, here we are being asked to live in self-imposed isolation, understandably fearful of what the future might hold.
The last time we experienced anything similar was in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when the nation’s air travel was shut down and a general anxiety of the unknown gripped the country.
Yet in this time of the Coronavirus, a quick perusal of social media sites finds example after example of runners sardonically declaring, “I’ve been self-quarantining for years. Nothing new for me here.”
Yes, running has long been populated by quirky, independent types who find comfort in time spent alone. But for those who look for a safe outlet from the restrictive home bound order of the day, and recommendations against group meetings, a run outdoors remains a safe, blessed escape available to all. In fact, what a time to start.
Despite its millions of practitioners, and races that attract entrants by the tens of thousands, running is a primarily an individual expression. Full of fire and fatigue, it nonetheless signifies very little other than the fitness and feelings it arouses.
Like music and art, even when done well, running takes time and dedication, yet offers no promise in terms of a tangible payoff.
Training to run well is a primal behavior where being blissfully unaware of outside influences is both the freedom engendered and a requirement to prepare optimally. No care beyond this. That’s not saying being in a state of denial, but instead one of purposeful isolation where one’s responsibility is to the training and preparation alone. Anything added will come at the cost of that focus.
1980s boxing legend Marvelous Marvin Hagler used to set up his training camp in Provincetown, Massachusetts on the tip of Cape Cod. No wife, no kids, no friends, no visitors, just his managers and sparring partners. And for three solid months he would live in that spartan environment preparing for his next opponent, all the while becoming increasingly angry at the guy for forcing him to live that rigid, isolated existence. But the end result was a Hall of Fame career and recognition as one of the greatest middleweights in boxing history.
When I first moved to Boston in my right-hand-drive post office van in 1974, I promised myself never to accumulate more stuff than I could squeeze through its roll-up back door until I managed a level of financial freedom. I knew that if I began buying things on credit like a couch or a new car that I’d become beholden to those monthly payments. And while I didn’t want to keep free to just run, I did want to keep free to just do a radio show about running. And that meant I needed to spend my days doing interviews, producing the show and selling ads, not taking a job I didn’t want to pay off bills I shouldn’t have accumulated buying crap I’d eventually never need (I have a garage full of such crap now).
Today, that stripped down, spartan life is still the norm in the parts of the world where running remains the bootstrap sport that can lift you out of poverty and provide a new path for family and friends.
In America in 2020, though it may no longer be a road to public stardom as it once was for the likes of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, the act of running itself remains a welcoming, open vessel that can hold all your dreams and anxieties and, more importantly in today’s uncertain times, by quickening our hearts, make still our worried minds.
And so it was, and thus it goes.
Be well and run safe.