The streets were empty. I remember running along a canal that did not seem to end until a bridge appeared. I crossed the bridge to the other side and ran back the same way I came. The city of Rotterdam was lit as usual, somewhere after midnight. I neither knew the time nor the distance.
I have been running since I was in high school, in between other sports life has thrown at me. The only way for me to stay in control of my own body is to let it move. In the early days of my childhood, an Indian self-proclaimed holy being - as I refer to them - told my mother that I would follow the course of a flowing river, untamable and free. I believe him and the only thing any godly personality would ever have to say about me. I believe him because it is the truth.
I run more than thirty kilometres a week. These unabated and unconditional units of distance come at a rather debilitating cost. I run because I don’t like people. I don’t like crowds gathered together to prove a point or to celebrate and compete. These kilometres come at a cost of social anarchy that revels in my being as I run to change everything this society stands for.
So it came as a surprise to me when I found myself on the starting line of the Lausanne Half-Marathon minutes away from the gun shot that would, as I were to find out, dramatically not change anything about my life. Ryuta, my Japanese friend, finished the marathon minutes before I was about to start mine. He urged me to come here and I signed up because well you know everyone runs. So what the hell.
Barefoot shoes, check. Heart rate monitor, check. GPS active, check. The first few kilometres were fun. I was striving to maintain my speed while not tripping over slow and coagulated hordes of runners one of whom just smoked a Marlboro light merely twenty minutes before the race began. Not to judge anyone but hey, when you run, don’t run with your tobacco deodorant in my face. Anyway, he was long gone as I sped up to 11.4 kilometres an hour.
There is a strange sense of abandonment in running. Your head clears out as if the momentum of the body is much faster than the brain and the thoughts don’t have enough time to catch up. Sometimes I get out-of-body glimpses of myself where I imagine my strides perfectly touching the ground one after the other.
Lausanne was stunning. It was a clear grey sky, thanks to the sun doing its magic over the lake. The clouds acted as a perfect spread between the sandwich of mountaintops and a crystal clear lake. Every time I felt exhausted and not in control of my pace, I looked left glancing over the shadows of vineyards to see sailboats and windsurfs moving steadily in an ocean of water that looked like a painting straight out of MOMA (Museum of modern art). I just like the sound – moma.
Running is beautiful, except of course when you outrun your joy. Some famous runner must have said that somewhere and it stuck with me. I always make sure never to outrun my joy. Running amidst a crowd of eclectic runners not only confused my thoughts but also my strides. When I run, the only thing that matters to me is to feel in control of my body and let go of my emotions. There is a beautiful space in my head that gets developed every time I let go. But running with so many people made it look pointless. At kilometre nine I normally realise a brush of burn on my inner thighs and run past it, but it started to feel drab and pointless at this time and the burn became a constant badgering thought in my head. I looked left failing miserably to grab any ounce of motivation from the sandwiched clouds or the quiet blue lake. The lean and lanky fellow next to me was quite focused, running with a gait unmatched by anything I have seen before. He didn’t have a watch, a cap, and sunglasses or for that matter any music either. He was apparently running for the beauty of running in plain simple clothes and shoes that looked straight out of the eighties.
A lot of running is now industry driven where people (including me) frequently buy new gadgets. Some make it to marathons; some get washed away by lack of a strong will to keep the ground moving beneath their feet. Some never care. They run for running. Heart rates don’t matter. Water seems to appear when they need it. Sun is a boon not a bane. There are some people who just… run.
This guy jolted my soul to fade the nonsense and keep running. I picked on it and maintained a steady pace for the next three or four kilometres. He was obviously here to do what he did best and in a timely manner went past many in front of me. He even crossed the pacemaker that I intended to cross.
I am not a competitor, and I couldn’t give a fuck about winning (winning against what?). But this race brought out the worst in me. It made me want to finish, but finish better than the person running in front of me, every time I crossed one. Given that my performance was average, this would be a never ending task. I felt appalled with the lack of joy I was experiencing. The innocent smiles of children throwing their hands at the athletes in unreserved joy were the only thing that kept me going.
The race did give me a dose in reality. I am much more aware of my body limitations and the hacks to overcome them. I was never a runner who ran because running was so awesome. I ran for the aftermath, the cold and desperate thought of feeling your internal organs breathe against your skin. There was a moment when I became aware of my existence as a micro individual in lieu of being a soldier in an army of some ultimate being wallowing in the misery of a questionable routine.
Now, living through a mild ankle injury, I look over my cold and dark city. I see a meandering trail longing for every step of this lonely road. But I promised someone that I would wait till I fixed my ankle.