Practical thoughts about the meaning of running and cooking.
Today I went for a run. It was a day like any other. The weather was nice for Britain, the rain has finished. It felt like a Mediterranean winter (no wind with 7 ℃). For the past 34 days, I have run a circle around town no less than 5 km.
Living in the city, there aren't many places to go running in nature, most of the open fields are too far to run in, only to them. It was a Saturday, a day of rest when I decide what I do, and I do what I want. It’s the only day when I don't have an alarm and the only day when I can choose to do nothing.
Today I haven’t been very hungry in the morning so I wrote a page about cooking. After that, I felt drained, so it was time for breakfast. Downstairs, I noticed bananas going mushy black, to which I responded with a banana bread idea. While my breakfast was warming up I made myself a cup of fresh coffee and mixed the bread ingredients. Then, I placed the bread in the oven, sat down and took a bite of the cornbread muffin.
Today, my breakfast was better than any breakfast I had for weeks. I usually have good food but there was something in those crunchy corny muffins besides the maple butter that touched my soul. It was truly comforting, with a medium roast Brazilian coffee elevating my senses. I felt a great day coming. I chewed on the muffins with disbelief. I certainly made them but I started to have doubts. I’m often thinking about how I fool myself, being too hungry or perhaps too eager, to tell good things about my cooking. I enjoyed muffins nonetheless because they were impeccable, my senses didn't lie yet my perception was trying to deceive me. I felt the same about the coffee, it looked too pale, it didn't smell as amazing as I expected fresh coffee to smell. I didn't feel like I was drinking the “Snickers” promised on the pack. Yet it was one of the best cups of coffee to date, the best I’ve ever made.
Something within me was looking to find faults in my own devices.
How could I make and enjoy THIS?! Why wouldn't I? - I thought. I am a competent cook with high standards, a well-rounded pallet and the patience to sit and think deeply about every bite. What’s worse - to not be able to make something amazing or to never be satisfied with what you have?
Yesterday I felt that I needed to lose myself again. I did something extremely stupid, something a rare person would do. I feel good about it at the moment, yet sick/exhausted/drained/lost/shattered. The first feeling is great with the price of the other one. That’s the way that the majority of the significant achievements are made. At least in my life. And I am addicted to that. Psychologically, my life is meaningless if I don't feel the contrast, a choice of discomfort.
After breakfast, I decided to dance. It was on my agenda with only 2 days left to complete it. I love dancing, it’s liberating. I started when my housemate came downstairs to make his usual vegetarian full English breakfast and finished when he started practicing drums in his room.
I felt good exploring movements that I have done before, and even better, doing something new - jumping, shaking, punching the air, falling and rising. Afterward, I felt like going for a run. Warmed up and ready I changed into a dry set of clothes.
I left the house, dancing to the beat of the drums from the opened window. Everything felt pleasant, little droplets touching my skin, leaves and birds rustling and singing, people passing by in pairs, even the mud made my journey squelching. I missed the usual turn and I came to the point of the city where I have never set foot before. I was looking at the hospital for the first time since I moved to Cambridge, one and a half years ago. It’s a huge complex, impossible to miss unless you are avoiding it. All of a sudden, I felt a revelation, the city will always present opportunities as long as I am open for adventures. The journey took a new twist, I smiled for the rest of the run. I have made a discovery. A small one, for myself, nevertheless I felt like Marie Curie had felt discovering what had eventually killed her. I was radiating with joy that I could find something new, whenever I wanted.
I ran around the city many times before, empty in the lockdown and busy in the hot summer months. I have seen many people. Today, however, they would hear me sing if anyone was around.
I didn't want to take a busy road so I decided to make a detour. The path was closed and I was forced on a detour detour. Another discovery. I could have turned around but I made a choice.
I felt good running at the moment. I thought about the reason that I felt good. I kept wondering, questioning, speculating - Why?! Why was it that I managed to do two of the daily habits before breakfast? Was is the breakfast that I felt I don't deserve to have? Was it the caffeine levels of a new coffee? A warm-up dance? Was it because I slept longer today or because I am running away from a problem? Am I avoiding responsibilities?
When I decided to take on running it wasn’t because of the traditional reasons for getting fit or losing weight. I could have taken any other activity. A year ago I read Haruki Murakami’s - “What I talk about when I talk about running?” My interpretation of his work is that running is inherently meaningless. Once you are on the road, there is nothing better than to let everything go and keep on going. I accepted to run without any purpose or not at all. If I’m running to achieve or prove something, I’m aiming to change, lose or gain. I wanted to do something else.
I would be lying if I said that running doesn’t mean anything to me. When I run everything just fades away. It’s a transformative experience.
I can’t run without looking around, hearing my breath, or listening to birds sing, being aware. I feel my leg muscles push and pull, arms move back and forth and when I feel closer I recognize the difference in temperatures between myself and the air. I feel the rain, mist, wind and sun on my face. After the rain, comes the familiar smell. In the forest, the trees, and along the roads, cars fuming and roaring. Because breathing is heavier, so is the perception of the smell. The only sensation I think I miss is the taste, yet sometimes I feel iron building up on my tongue.
Running is a meditative experience for me. I take time to be present, to be aware of myself and the surroundings, to tune in and out of my body. It’s the most obvious during hard runs. My muscles tense up, I feel pain, throbbing and tension under the skin. When the run is easy I feel weightless, senseless, left alone with my thoughts. I believe that’s how birds feel when they fly. I think that’s why I run.
The challenge lies in getting over the preconceived notion of what I “can’t”, “won’t”, “shouldn’t”, “don’t want”. At times, I find myself being not what I intend to be, working against myself, telling myself that I am not enough, not ready, dream too big. How is it possible that my thoughts aren't aligned with myself? Aren’t we one and the same? Don't we have the same goals? Wouldn’t it be better to work together?
“You won’t know until you try your best. But even then, you wouldn't know what your best is. Challenges and hardships are essential parts of life. You must fall to get up. It is in that position that you can see a different perspective, choose to be better, worse or enough.”- I keep telling that to myself.
Today is another day. I ran yesterday. I will run again today. I made running my habit and by extension my addiction. It’s not the only addiction I have but it is the one I choose daily. I eat, sleep, and aim to feel warm and comfortable (but only sometimes). I pursue love, connections and joy. I want to feel relevant in this world so I create. There is no other way, except if I suppress my emotions and needs with drugs or destructive behaviors. It’s in me to do what I can to break myself apart because I don't feel like I belong and meaning is so hard to find. It’s my duty to build myself afterward. In my life, running is meaningless on purpose but nothing is truly absent of meaning.
No matter what I do, on purpose or by accident I feel like there is a reason for that. Human stories are a way to wrap up experiences in a short, digestible form.
I ate because I was hungry, or we enjoyed seeing each other over coffee; after dinner, we watched a movie to relax; I cooked her favourite meal to impress her; she loved the chocolates, so I got her a present.
I will be doing meaningless things until I die but my stories will be told afterward. Right now mine is about a guy who chose to run without purpose, got addicted to it, failed, then overcame that challenge through practice. Now he is looking to complete another challenge but during his Saturday practice, he discovered that he lost his goal. Shouldn’t he stop?
I start to think that is how life goes, I do something meaningless and with enough time I tell myself that it has a purpose. After that, it becomes easy to find comfort and pleasure in what I didn’t do.
The day that I ran around the airport I had a good breakfast. I didn't do it on purpose, I had to eat, I had the food, and I ate. The day before that I cooked that food. Before that, I looked up a recipe and made adjustments I see fit to make it the way I like. A day before that I went to the shop and bought all the required ingredients. Years ago I tried cornbread that left a mark in my memory. Even before that, I decided to dedicate my life to culinary discoveries, understanding and pursuit of the best foods.
When did I become a runner? Or a cook? Or a chef? Does it mean anything but growth in a certain chosen direction? If I didn't have an initial seed of talent or predetermined abilities, does it even matter what I do? How much time did I spend perfecting my craft? I don't remember the process of choosing it. I could have been something else.
Right now I am ready to go for a run. I will be ready later or could have been ready earlier. There is no time that I can confidently say is the best or worst for it.
When I cook I feel I’m on an open road with nothing in my head but a journey to the finish line. Then, I stop and look back at what I have done. It will be remembered for a while and with time it will fade away. But look, I didn't come here to be lost in my own thoughts, I came because thoughts mean nothing to me. The process, work and results are what matters. I believe in the process, I work to achieve results and the outcome will be telling the story.
I am going to eat, run and cook again tomorrow, and the day after. What it means is meaningless but my choices are not.
Taking step after step, my shirt was drenched in sweat, my right knee was throbbing, and I unzipped my overcoat. I thought I will run a couple of extra blocks because it was a good day, it will be a nice circle around the city. I thought to myself that the only reason this thing is worth doing is that it is fun.
This essay about cooking and running was written in February 2021. If you like to run along, support me with tips, pledges, comments and likes. I will run for it.
About the Creator
The Food Guy
I read about food politics like it's a Harry Potter.
Eating my way through culture and cooking up the future.
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