slower roads

It has been a strange summer. For a while, I was doing regular 18 mile runs in 95F+ heat, until I suddenly lost the will to run, totally exhausted. This week, I jumped back into mid-range mileage, and feel less out of shape than encouraged because my running form seemed to come together, which was confirmed by a friend, who called it "finally harmonious" (!) This took two years to accomplish - admittedly, with no coach and along the slow road. The past two years have felt like the trial of investing an immense effort, more than I can fathom, unsure if I will finally arrive "somewhere", with something to show for it, though I have felt moved to "keep on". But like my now-improved running form showed me, a run I took yesterday also illustrated that there is something to be said for perseverance, even sans the coach one wishes for.
At one moment during the run, I thought, how can I possibly go 2/3 further, and the next moment, the distance - seemingly of life - was beckoning me forwards, like a mother calling to a child learning to walk; I felt a surge, I wanted to reach that distance: such experiences, almost metaphysical in nature, are my cheerleaders and my teachers. Through them, I learn why I can just let go of all the petty manifestations around me, all those times I am scratched or bruised by that which is insensitive or uncaring (which I am capable of inflicting, too), because the distance of a life, let alone of that something larger that we can sometimes get intimations of, is so much greater; we are given so much more than what can sometimes appear to be pried from us. (One of my old friends who climbed K2 many times, a photographer by trade, used to say: I welcome it when people steal my ideas, it forces me to come up with new ones, which I can always find.)
As I ran past the same trees that I have confided my frustrations in (especially two years ago), I marvelled at just how much angst I have let go of there, in that line of leafy height; and yet, despite all the black squiggly lines of thought I had put there, there was absolutely no visible trace of those scribbles; to the contrary, the trees were as beautiful and magnificent and giving of their shimmering windy arcs as ever.


Can I become a mirror to that? I am so tired of feeling like a victim of others' machinations - the very real circumstantial quagmires that seem to require pussyfooting. But what if, as a recent Runner's World article proposes, "the setback is the path"? I can illustrate with a recent anecdote that shows me in a rather dramatic light: after all, sometimes, it has been a long time since one has gone to the theatre, and one decides to bring a little theatre to one's own life.
Having not taken any form of holiday or away-time from my tiny flat where I spent so many hours awake at the computer and desk in recent months, and not having had any luck with last-minute holiday packages, I suddenly got the idea to join a trekking club - for which I would need a pair of hiking boots. So, after unsuccessfully hunting down the optimal pair, I went into a more locally-made boot shop, and picked out a pair on sale. My initial ten-minutes of delight at having found a pair that reminded me of Vasque's iconic Sundowners quickly ceded to dread that the restrictive feeling at the ankles would be too much for me, and would make for unpleasant walking. After a sleepless night of discovery (through research) that even trail shoes can be worn on the rockiest of downhills providing one has strengthened one's ankles, I tried to return the boots but to no avail, as they could only be exchanged. In that moment, I felt like even my summer was imploding on me, that there was no rest to be found, not even a weekend escape. I whispered to the kinder saleswoman, who appeared after I said I was too tired to argue with her coworker who was trying to pick a fight with me, "I had so hoped that this pair of boots would afford me a summer holiday..." But despite these demonstrations of fallibility, I remained calm, if genuinely exhausted, and thanked that kinder assistant for entertaining my worries about the boots, and went home, boots still in tow.


It just so happened that a few days later, a dear friend of someone dear to me said she was looking for just such boots, and happened to have a foot-size that would fit perfectly in the boots, so I promptly sent them off to her destination, and I feel content at having made someone else happy.
So, I wonder if I could just try to be a little calmer in how I feel inside when things look like they are "going South" and have the vision to just hold on, to see where things are really going, and understand that "the setback is the path".
The boot anecdote demonstrates that the ultimate solution might be one I never thought of - it had not occurred to me that I would be happiest this summer by doing something for someone else.
I am left in awe of how life works. To reiterate the experience that can be had in running during an exhausting stretch, it can seem that one is suddenly pulled forward by a deep, deep inner wish to reach and reflect the "greaterness" of the distance: there are times when we are given strength, "out of nowhere". It's as if a tiny fragment of the greatness of distance is buried within us and longs to be returned to the bigger picture it belongs to. Similarly, despite all the psychic junk that can be unloaded along a running path, no trace of that junk remains; rather, nature emanates as much beauty as ever. In other words: the nature of life gives back more.
If this idea is truly understood, then it should not be so hard to be a mirror to the abundance that nature gives, it should be easier to take the back seat to what looks like a "setback". It should be more comfortable to take the slow road, where destination is a long time coming.
The pattern of exhaustion I felt earlier this summer has given way to this new goal; I just hope I absorb this new vision of what "destination" means: it is not necessarily what it looks like to begin with, but may take on the attributes of the more abstract "intent" that is powering it. Intent is tested by the drawn out nature of the slow road which can also offer despair to weary travellers who begin to lose vision. But "happiness" and "fulfillment" are curious in their manifestations, especially if one can find peace in the mere bid to make the attempt.

Image: "Figure de guerrier oriental tenant un arc" by Pier Francesco Mola
on display at the Musée du Louvre, image via

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