Running the Wave
What It Feels Like When I Run in the Morning
Finally, The sun is coming up. It’s half past six and I’ve been running for three miles now. I take this route whenever I run in Philadelphia. It’s a tidy loop that circles through Center City and West Philadelphia. I’ve now hit that point where I could run forever — that’s how I feel, at least. My brain commands and my legs follow. Beyond this, there isn’t much else going on.
Although this is only the start of my day, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a moment that exists on its own, independent from my life outside of running. My stresses and concerns change dramatically. Throughout the six-mile run, I don’t think about school or my daily obligations. I pay attention to the pavement on which I’m running. I attempt to control the traffic lights with my mind. “Please turn green, so I don’t have to wait thirty seconds at this intersection!” I tell myself. As the cars around me stop, I believe that it was nothing but me that made that happen.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”
I am not religious. But running isn’t far detached from a spiritual experience. There are two human species that exist when I run: those who run and those who don’t. This binary cutoff doesn’t exist in the normal world. I’ve discovered that there’s a sense of community amongst runners. When one passes by me, we exchange an offering of commonship. One of appreciation of one another. Withstanding the brutality of a long run isn’t an easy feat. The body is unpredictable. My left knee can start hurting like hell unexpectedly. But my mind knows I can’t stop. This would violate one of the many unenumerated laws of the long-distance run. Namely, to stop is to stop dead. Like a wave that has crashed on the shore, the run can’t be revived. It has one breath. Either I hold it or I don’t.
When the sun rises above Philadelphia, I wake up for the second time. Running in the dark is lonely and — at times — scary. A city doesn’t live on its own. Its pulse is determined by those who inhabit it. A city opens its eyes when its inhabitants do. So, when there’s nobody in the streets except for me, I could be anywhere in the world. I’m running on nothing but man-made infrastructure. There’s nothing pretty about dark pavement. It hurts more than it procures pleasure. This dichotomy between pleasure and pain is a motivating force behind a long run. I can feel my legs slowly give out, but I am pleased with my ability to continue nonetheless. The sun reminds me that this is but a start. Pain is never an obstacle if it can be used for something bigger, something more important.
As I run on Walnut Street past the Wharton School and other University of Pennsylvania buildings, I’m inspired. I have two more miles to go. But my mind doesn’t focus on this. My mind focuses on this academic paradise through which I’m running. One of my favorite aspects of America is the beauty of some of its universities. If a city is a body, then its universities are its organs. I see professors walk in and out of buildings at this time of the day. What kind of work inspires someone to get to work before seven o’clock in the morning? Will I have the opportunity to be as fulfilled? I continue running, promising myself that every step I take is the right one.
At last, the city is awake. Dozens of people walk by me. Some smile, cheering me on. Some look at me with disdain. “Don’t you dare bump into me,” some of them think, “I’ll spill my boiling coffee on your sweaty face!” But this doesn’t bother me. We’re most vulnerable in the morning. Sleep (and dreams) might be the only human construct we can neither change nor understand. There’s only one thing to do: give up to the movement. As long as the wave continues on gliding, I will follow it with passion and persistence.