Monday, February 28, 2011

Taming the Tan (how I learned to love running)

I’ve never been a ‘runner’ as such. I love playing sport, and am competitive as seagulls after a chip. Throw a ball out in front of me and I’ll chase it mindlessly like a dog, but put me on a running track and I’d just ask ‘Why?’

I tried a few times over the years, got up and ran around the block at Mum and Dad’s – maybe a kilometre at most – once or twice. Problem is, I get out there and my mind is immediately tracking way ahead of my feet. I’m prone to thinking too much, and running in itself didn’t distract me enough. I’d constantly just feel like stopping and walking – what was my reason to keep going? Yeah, fitness, but I mean short term. It was bullshit, boring exercise.

Yet playing sport, basketball or a casual kick of the footy in particular, and you couldn’t stop me. I’d wear myself out, and then instinctively tear away after the ball or an opponent in a 20 metre dash. My focus was purely on my target; with some thoughts maybe on trying to impress others with my ability, though often failing.

I moved to Richmond a few years ago and started heading to the Tan – the 3.8km running track around Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens. With the part jog, part walk to and from the Tan it’s 7km all up.

Starting the Tan run at the Anderson Street hill climb and heading around clockwise, my initial efforts left me panting and buggered about 300 metres into the run, where I’d stop for a drink at the Moonlight Cinema entrance.

My expectations were, from then, naturally low. I tried to run a little further each time, and eventually got to the point where I could run about a third, then walk a third, and run the final third. I can’t remember why I started doing this, maybe I’d stacked on a few kilos, but I was uncharacteristically committed to it, despite my intense dislike of running, and made it a new years resolution for 2010 to run a full lap.

Around the same time I was standing near the bar at Transport one night, watching the footy while I waited to meet some friends, and I got talking to a couple of girls. Again, I don’t really know how we got talking and it’s rather unusual for me to find myself in such conversations. We got onto running and I talked about my inability to run the Tan.

‘Sure you can,’ one of the girls said, ‘it’s all about your breathing.’

She didn’t give me any specific instructions on how I should be breathing but I thought about that the next time I went out onto the track, breathing slower and deeper.

Just a few weeks into 2010, with this in mind, I ran past my previous furthest point and kept going. See how far you can go, I thought. I made it through the section I usually walked and to where I would start running again. By that point I was thinking, well you’ve come this far, just keep pushing.

I finished. A goal for the year ticked off just a few weeks in! Now I knew I could do it I had no reason to stop and walk.

I started listening to music and found it spurred me on a bit, took my mind away from the boredom of running, and even helped reduce my times a little.

Later in the year I discovered yoga. This revolutionised the way I thought, or at least dealt with those tiny, distracting anxieties that pop into your head and grow with a watering of attention. It also flowed into my running. Thinking too much when I run properly drains my energy and is painful. I too often get stuck dwelling on such thoughts, and previously they’d probably be enough to stop me in my tracks. But I was learning to give them all the attention they deserved – none; because it was too difficult while running.

So my runs became a form of meditation where I could clear my mind and narrow my focus. Afterwards I feel not only better physically, but mentally too. Sometimes, if you need to find energy, you have to exert a little first.

Recently I’ve been forced to run without music. The earphones I have won’t stay in my ears while running – heck they barely stay in while I sit at my desk. But that was kind of a relief. I’d been using the music as a distraction to keep my mind from slowing me down. I feel strong enough now that I not only don’t need that distraction – but I’m stronger without it.

My good times are around 18 minutes. In October a friend and I raced each other. It was a friendly affair, and a few others came to watch – and celebrate afterwards. While there would be no bitterness either way, we both wanted to win. He’d never run the Tan before so I had a mild advantage. He took the hill hard early, leaving me behind and a little nervous about gaining the ground back, but I just ran my own lap, making sure he didn’t get too far ahead. I gradually gained on him and we entered the final stretch neck and neck. I won by about two seconds, at a time of 16 minutes 4 seconds, about a minute and a half better for both of us than our previous bests over the same distance.

I did have music that day, but I barely remember what songs played. Most of the time I could hear it but I wasn’t listening. I was purely focused on the path directly in front of me, and the pair of shoes pounding it that I wanted to catch.

I used to hate running. Now I’d almost say I love it. I can certainly say I love what I get out of it, and that’s enough; and I can’t go two days without some form of exercise. Eighteen months ago I’d have struggled to motivate myself to go two days in a row with exercise.

Ten songs for running, or ‘Songs that get inside me and make me move about’ (no order)
‘Abel’ – The National
‘No Cars Go’ – Arcade Fire
‘Feel It’ – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
‘So Alive’ – Ryan Adams
‘Too Young To Love’ – The Big Pink
‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’ – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
‘Tomorrow’ (live) – James
‘Superconnected’ – Broken Social Scene
‘Stale Thoughts’ – Ground Components
‘Gunslingers’ – You Am I (dedicated to my friend and rival)

No comments:

Post a Comment