The memory of the run. That one. Some runners, when asked, can’t list just one run. I’m not in that camp. I know which run is my favourite.
My favourite run only exists in summer. When there’s that hot hot heat of August. The smell of hot pine needles. The whoosh cool breeze when I run the road between two orchards. The sweet, cold smell of orchard fruit ripening.
My favourite run is a short one. I don’t know it by GPS or miles. I know it by route. By whose house I pass by. What orchard I cut through.
When it’s summer and I’m back in my hometown, I lace up to loop that old, familiar route. I leave my parent’s gravel driveway, pass by the neighbour’s house around the corner (the one owned by the elementary school music teacher), and down around the corner. I pass by the old couple’s house whose house is now gone, and so is their orchard. And so is the couple. The husband died first, then his wife. Pavement turns to gravel again, and I pass by old high school classmates’ houses.
The two-lane pavement narrows to a one-lane gravel road that if you follow it long enough will pop back out to the highway. But, I never go that far. The trail I am headed for used to cut through an orchard until one summer I found a fence. With a gate and a sign. It was one of those farmer gates that I loved. The sign said, feel free to use the shortcut, just shut the gate after you. The sign didn’t really say that. I can’t remember the exact wording. Instead of cutting off access to a well-worn trail shortcut, the orchardist put in a gate.
Since I started this training, I have also started reading books about running. Last week, I picked up several books including Robert Moor’s non-fiction book “On Trails.” Moor explains that many cities are designed by trails walked by animals. He calls them “cow trails.” In Japan, these trails are called “kemonomichi,” or beast trails. In his research, Moor quotes Colonel Richard Irving Dodge from the 1876 book “Plains of the Great West” on how trails create transformative actions on the landscape:
“Something miraculous happens when a trail is trailed. The inert line is transformed into a legible sign system, which allows animals to lead one another, as if telepathically, across long distances.”
Some nights, I sit in my living room hammock chair, reading about trails and those who researched how animals make trails and how humans utilize them. I do recognize the humour in the moment: me sitting and reading about movement. I like research, and write quotes from other books in my journal in between notes for a future short story or a grocery list (oranges for stockings, toppings/stuff for Xmas Day pizza). Or, notes about meditation. (On a page across from my running quotes, I wrote: use the body as a resource. Come back to the body, feel your breath.)
Another page, I wrote Dec 21. Selkirk (college) with dogs. 1.21 miles. Another page, the words of novelist Haruki Murakami. Who doesn’t love a running book that plays with the title to a Raymond Carver story (“What we talk about when we talk about love?”). Murakami’s non-fiction book “What we talk about when we talk about running” is a repeat. I read it years earlier. This time, I note his candour in the prologue pages where he comments that “one thing [he] noticed was that writing honestly about running and writing honestly about [himself] are nearly the same thing.”
I love reading Murakami’s honesty throughout the book (I’m still working my way through the book). Murakami hits the clichéd nail on the head. Much about running can be covered in simple steps: just run, just go outside. (Or, as Nike has made millions telling us, just do it.) The writer brings up an essential nugget: ritual. “To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace the rest will follow.” Murakami talks about how he felt embarrassed in the beginning to have people he knew in his neighborhood see him running. He explains his feelings: “When I first started running I couldn’t run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky.” He writes that his fitness changed and his running distance grew as his body accepted the changes. He adds that the main thing isn’t the speed or the distance “so much as running every day, without taking a break…[and] as it became a natural habit I felt less embarrassed by it.”
I get Murakami. I get his feelings, his honesty. As I “suit” up in the winter to run, I feel protected because all my layers cover the non-athleticism of my current body state. I am tall and lanky but I weigh more than I did in the past when I was a regular runner. I admire the writer’s doggedness. Two weeks ago, I started running every day. I made a deal with myself: I would run every day for a minimum of a mile. By not missing a day, I would become a runner over time (and greater distance). I want to do this until the Broken Goat July trail race, or for a full year.
Murakami wrote that he went out to a sports store and bought running gear, decent shoes, a stopwatch, and read a beginner’s book on running. He wrote, “This is how you become a runner.”
I think he has it, but there’s more. You need the one, that favourite run (or runs plural) and the feeling. The runner’s high. You need feeling. You need the good.
I go back to the summer, to the hot hot heat. The cold, sweet air between the orchards when the sprinklers go chk chk chk chk chk chk chk. I’m back on that gravel road. I’ve passed by that spot where the tiny log house used to be before the new property owners moved it or tore it down. The property that used to only be a half poured basement (aside from the log house) that overlooked Okanagan Lake. My feet move fast because now it’s the corner where there’s the grey house with the flag and the bench the owners put in alongside the road. A bench meant for anyone: as if to say – here sit down. This is for you. And past the house with the bench, there’s that orchard and that gate.
Girl opens gate. Girl runs down the kemonomichi, the beast trail. She thinks, we are the beasts. Girl wears her favourite runners. The ones she wore when she won her spot to go to the provincials when she was in grade eight. The runners felt like slippers, made running feel effortless. Girl runs from orchard trail to road. Past the house with the trampoline in the backyard, to the service road access. Girl’s feet skirt the corners of the service road, and a stick looks like a snake. Later, a snake looks like a stick. Girl runs past the utility building at the end. A dog barks in someone’s backyard. Girl runs out onto the road where she can see the lake. But this isn’t the place. Girl keeps going. Past the 1980 split level homes and the quaint bungalows. The new Big Uglies (BU, the new houses on the lakeshore). There’s the lake access that the BU’s have to put up with. A little bit of lake socialism. Protected lake access that anyone can park at, put the towel out on. And the girl stops. Shuck off the outer layer. Girl swims in run bra and underwear. Girl layers again, and returns shoes to road, to beast trail.
This is chaos magic. Nature magic. The feeling of a hidden trail, behind a shared gate where people feel like they are the only ones who know the way. A secret switchback to the lake. The feeling of trading road for lake. A boon, a gift, at the halfway mark. Run, swim, and run again. The feeling of running, that chaos magic – how you can hate a run at the beginning and love it at the end. This is how you become a runner.
Do you have a favourite run? Trail? Loop? Why? Share it with me below – I love hearing where other people find their magic!
Follow Carey as she posts every two weeks about how the training for the 2017 Broken Goat 25K trail run is going!