This is the confession of an addict.
I will admit that I have spent a lot of time not writing about my love of jogging, or running (both words mean different things to me; I will explain them later). Running was one of the things in my life that I came to completely under my own power. It was never something that I was encouraged to do. I never did track and field in school (never even made it onto a team of any kind). I saw no one in my family who enjoyed going for a run. And it was not something that I ever suspected would change my life.
But it has.
I had better give a personal history lesson on this one.
My teenage years were not ones that I would want to relive for all the money in Elon Musk’s back pocket. My father passed away when I was ten, and I overcompensated for the pain with food. By the time I started high school, I could not bear to look at myself in a mirror; I did not date; I started to lose friends who were deeply devoted to sports that I no longer cared about; and I was taking courses that I had no talent or skill with (math and science). Of all of the above, the one thing that concerned me the most was my weight: I just could not stop eating. And I could not listen to the ones who wanted to ‘help’ me. I was stuck in a vicious circle of my own waistline.
So, why running?
The other thing I noted was the fact that I had no access to a car in our neat little suburban hell. I walked everywhere to do everything: to the mall, the bus stops, the library. I would use my brother’s mountain or ten-speed bikes while I could (he soon moved out). But my feet were my main form of transport. If anything happened to them, I was in serious trouble. So, of course something happened to them.
I had no idea that someone so young and stupid about calories could get that disease. I did not even know what it was until one day I was flipping channels and heard a character in a television program complaining about swollen joints and the agony in their toes and fingers. They also mentioned how walking and jogging could help with controlling the symptoms.
A light went off in my fat head. I decided to finally use the local park for more than just a short cut to my weekly snacking at the mall. There were two large soccer fields that were unoccupied at night and I made a plan: I would begin by trying to cross the field from goal to goal. This was something I mapped out carefully and it was lucky that I did it when it was too dark for my behaviour to be critiqued. The cramping and leg pain I went through that night was an exquisite agony unlike anything I had felt since my father’s passing.
And I did not give up.
I checked on when I was eating my meals (I am now a morning runner and try to have no more than water, protein shakes and the occasional granola bar). I wore the loosest and most appropriate clothes I had for the summer. And I went right back to that pitch. From one run, I soon ended up doing two sprints…then three and four. Finally, I ran around the entire field. Then I covered both fields…the park…and finally, the streets. By the time I was in my twenties, I felt comfortable enough with it to run in Toronto when I was student; in Tokyo as a teacher; and eventually in Montréal as both a student and teacher.
But it is an addiction. Not one that I could give up if I tried. Every run seems like another challenge and I would not have it any other way. What goes through my mind is a lot tougher than anything I could ever do to my body. Therefore, most people I have invited for a run have declined. One other thing that gets to me is how much locale influences the type of run I will have. In suburbia, I feel like there are eyes on me, even when I was still living at home and could be surrounded by family. In parks, you feel competitive and willing to speed past people who just wanted to walk their dogs or let their children run free near the jungle gyms and sand pits. I have been inspired and depressed by what I have been surrounded by (other runners and my environment). It is all a part of the process.
Now, as a contributor to Vocal, you might be wondering if it does have an influence on my occasional scribbles.
Indeed, it does.
After a good run at one of the many parks nearby, I find that my mind is focused and that ideas I had not developed suddenly become sharp and clear. And I am beginning to agree more and more with the advice I heard from Stephen King on notebooks: don’t use them. They are “the best way in the world to immortalize bad ideas” (a hard thing to hear for a devotee of stationery). And it is true that I never really plot much anymore. I just sit and write.
Sitting and writing... Writers are odd creatures. We all have different methods of getting the words on the page. Some stand and write (Hemingway). Some go to the paper and pen first (Toni Morrison). Some drink and eat too much and pound their heads on the wall until something comes out (the rest of us). There are not that many examples of great scribblers throughout history who have put on a pair of running shoes and hit the pavement. It is a life that encourages both loneliness and pain (in both running and writing). This is why Haruki Murakami for me is such an incredible role model.
I have a well-read copy of his “What I Talk about When I Talk about Running,” his memoir of a life devoted to both the page and the road. The man, for twenty-five plus years, runs every single day – a near marathon, at least to me - and I wondered what kind of advice he would give to those of us who are devoted the physical and the written. Here is one passage that stood out to me:
“No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes contemplative, even a meditative act. As a writer, then, as a runner, I don’t find that writing and publishing a book of my own thoughts about running makes me stray too far off my usual path. Perhaps I’m just too painstaking a type of person, but I can’t grasp much of anything without putting down my thoughts in writing, so I had to actually get my hands working and write these words. Otherwise, I’d never know what running means to me.”
I agree with most of this, perhaps diverging from the idea that I cannot grasp things without writing them down (Stephen must be right), but this is the truth about both actions: one feeds into the other. I cannot imagine my life without the page and my feet guiding me toward certain trails and paths.
I cannot wait to get back out there again.
But first, I need to write...
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You can find more poems, stories, and articles by Kendall Defoe on my Vocal profile. I complain, argue, provoke and create...just like everybody else.
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