No account of how one began running can possibly explain how one becomes a marathon runner. It's easy enough to understand why someone would run a marathon -- it's festive, it's fun-of-sorts, it's a way of connecting with people -- but harder to explain is the life of the marathon runner (a quite different thing) the emotional or psychological impulses that drive you into running twenty or more miles on a weekend in preparation for a marathon, especially when the preparation is at best tenuous. I haven't run 20 miles since 2 December, but I did have a two-hour child-free slot last weekend, and eked out 16, which felt like an accomplishment. But it was also pleasurable. It's what I do. Now why would anyone do that? What am I -- or anyone -- running to? What am I -- or you -- running from?
People -- sane, non addicted people that is -- assume you think when you run, and for me that's half true. I fret about the things that are wrong in my life (there have been some of them of late), I dabble around in explanatory narratives (it all happened, because ...). But if I push those things aside, or if there aren't such things to worry about, in fact I think about very little. As the heart rises, and the mind finds its way into a rhythm, as your eyes begin to see things as they really are, as you see unaccommodated man and unfiltered space, as the blood takes over, there are no abstract or complex thoughts. The moment is what matters -- and perhaps, if you're racing, the moment at which you're going to collapse, literally or metaphorically, which has a nasty habit of fixing itself in your horizons -- and the moment tends to be free from anything but meditation on the immediate, material surroundings, or at most a good feeling about a friend, a lover, or the running itself.
This is the runner's secret. I think. For all I might claim right now that running is running from the pain of the winter, from realities I'd rather not stare in the slavering eye, or to the pleasures that the spring will bring, to the turning of the air, to the arms that might catch me, the truth is much less poetic and simpler than that. Running is its own down time. Running is a recovery period for the mind. That space, that unabashed intimacy with the naked, bony self, is both what we're running to, and what we're running from.