steeper

Life got steeper in previous months: I no longer had time for blogging, or sleep. But then, I found myself two weeks ago on a literally steep mountain. For the first time in over a decade, I was running on a trail absorbed with boulders, stones, tree roots that wound around a coast, getting higher and higher - until I suddenly happened upon a large Indian family, whose little son blurted: you are going so fast! And I took their photo for them as they laughed on New Year's Eve, and I regret now that I was so deep in thought on that run that I did not ask them if they would mind sending me photos of that view, care of altitude.


It is supposed to be marathon-training season for me, but after those mountains, the very ones from my childhood, I don't see the point. I signed up for the marathon in the past two years to make sure I would train through the winter where I live now, replete as it is with winds that freeze hair. But I have come to love the days of inclement weather just grim enough to clear the paths of all but a few souls, usually including at least one driven pensioner on a romantic solitary walk.
What is the meaning of marathon training when you already want to go running whenever you can, and already mimic that mileage most of the time... When you now seek out any hills - if you discovered that your hunch was right, that inclines can be strangely easier than flats? The numbers in mileage training seem piddling to me at this particular moment, when I am in search of recreating that heaven I felt when I set out on a run just to clear my head and ended up in the middle of an elaborate trail, realising that even though I hadn't eaten anything in 18 hours in an unintentional fast, I needed to keep going so as not to become a trail causalty - and finding the strength to keep going in the series of views, ups and downs including even a beach that needed to be traversed, as I made my way not to the end but to a point from which I could navigate a further run back to a bowl of oatmeal and water.


It was a run that epitomized. When I went back there, I also encountered some of the feelings from before that I 'stored' in some of those vistas.
That the hunger I get from being a bit of an outcast, in part but not wholly because of my own stubborness, cedes views that are nourishing; the pain of counting off the miles of distance becomes irrelevant in the visage of grasses and geological formations. The miles are there, but their purpose is a bringing forward: an eliciting.
And while I long to have one of those sports watches like the Suunto Ambit 3, I wonder if their prohibitive cost is a gift in disguise. Being prescient of the fractions of numbers might ruin running for me, seeing that I am goal-driven. Take away the numbers (keeping only rough orientations) and what you have is will and the landscape.
Since coming back from the tropical landscape photographed in this post, I have discovered a new direction to run in, leading to an ancient park that became a carriage stop for royalty on the last night before reaching the city, replete with urns and winding, miniature moats that have made me think about pathways. There can be more than one route to reach a goal; this makes life tricky if we agree the journey is as important as the goal. We can appear to have made it but may have missed it by miles.
This relates to my running because I have gone through periods of doubt over not having a coach, feeling like it makes little sense to keep at something so much and not be doing it right. But every few-month increment later, I notice that I have new muscle I didn't have before, and was recently able to easily sustain a surprise moutainous jaunt. This has all been made possible by LSD-style running - where I run far just to get to certain vistas and where running shorter, less aesthetic distances is so less-motivating that I am apt to skip such training. In other words, I am becoming more intrigued than ever about running for the experience and not the numbers.
I won't try to explain this further.


But I will quote two books - one that I kept thinking of (an essay in Krakauer's Eiger Dreams) and the other that was given to me by a fellow runner on my trip (Born to Run). In the first, Krakauer cites John Gill's experience of climbing, which I think pertains to running, too. Gill says:
You’ll never feel the joy of movement if you’re struggling. You’ve got to get good enough and strong enough to be able to reach the point where you can feel this quintessential lightness. It’s an illusion of course, but it’s nice to be able to dwell upon that illusion. ...  I believe that all the years of mental and physical preparation … made it very easy for me to have certain kinds of mystical experiences. ... I consider experiencing that ... state to be far more important than being able to climb difficult boulder problems that nobody has climbed.

And Born To Run describes the experience of the hunt, also applicable here:
one visualizes the motion of the animal and feels that motion in one’s own body. You go into a trancelike state, the concentration is so intense. It’s actually quite dangerous, because you become numb to your own body and can keep pushing yourself until you collapse.
The book sets out in at least two places that how to live is how to run – how to run is how to love life, weaving thought into the landscape. I found it so strange to read that, just when I was remembering just how often I have 'stored' my feelings in certain places: finding the place that reflected them, and putting them there. It's like the land and sky and water give themselves to these thoughts if they are earned through physical effort.


And life. It gets so steep. I feel hungry and might have more than another half to go. But I can't give up, mustn't give myself to the famished road, but must persist, somehow. I need to remember to look for the views - they are the fuel. And the uncomfortable persperation is nonsense in the face of all that beauty: there is no place for it. Can you see it in these photos?


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