The path is light and then suddenly dark, then light again in the briefest of seconds. This goes on for about a mile. I try to memorize the details of the street in the split second of illumination before:
Darkness. Unbelievable darkness. The stark contrast is dramatically worse than the sustained dim. My headlamp must be having a wonderful time amusing itself with me. I toggle the button and get a few longer bursts of light before it starts up again.
Light. Dark. Light. Dark.
The final joke is the dimmest of lights, grayish, flickering, wavering. I sigh, click it off for good, and try to settle in for a darker run than I had planned. Running hurts. I feel like this is something I don’t hear very often. Its painful, bizarre, embarrassing even. It hurts, sometimes worse than others, and in lots of ways that always seem to be reinventing themselves. I think we get used to it, and we dwell on the things that are great about jogging instead, and for good reason. Who in their right mind would keep doing something so painful? Who wants to deal with blisters and rashes and all kinds of other lovely afflictions that befall runners? I mention this not to distract from the joys of running, but because I think it illustrates something curious about human nature and our deeper seated motivations.
There are plenty of things we do on a regular basis that cause us pain, emotional, physical or otherwise, and the reasons we continue to do them I think may be found in the answer to what keeps us running. I’ve developed pretty wicked foot cramps over the years, whether as a result of running or something altogether unrelated, I don’t usually get through a day where I don’t feel that familiar and debilitating twinge where my toes seem to be contorting around themselves. Often an early evening occurrence, I’ve come to regard them as the nice reminder that I’ve been out on a run that day. Conveniently when I’m ready to relax from the day, either as I’m sitting down to dinner, or curling up in bed, the pain will sneak from out of nowhere to take my breath away with its intensity. I’ve been woken out of a sound sleep to the sensation that quite literally feels like my feet are breaking themselves in two. Believe me, it’s a rude awakening.
I hop up and down for a while, stretching my feet and toes nearly to the breaking as I press them as close to in half as I can against the wall or the floor. Anything to stop it. I’ve developed a few good tricks to help me deal (a frozen can of juice, if you can stand it, helps relive mine sometimes) , but it still happens with alarming frequency and regularity. Sometimes sparking pretty intense self-reflection, as I find myself standing in the kitchen in the middle of the night, rolling my contorting foot over a tube of frozen orange juice. I shiver, hop, roll til frostbite must be ready to set in, and hop some more, stretch, wince, and repeat. I find myself asking why? Why suffer through this? In the grand scheme, its a minor inconvenience at best, but I still have to wonder why?
Is it something as noble as persistence, determination, or, dare I entertain the notion, stupidity? Do I keep expecting different results from the same behavior as the essence of insanity attests? I don’t think I’m crazy just yet, but it may be a matter of perspective. Like so many other things we pursue that reward us with pain, I wonder if it must be a weird strain of loyalty. It may be an aggravating, unrelenting, tear-jerking foot cramp, but its my aggravating, unrelenting, tear-jerking foot cramp.
I do know that it makes me appreciate when things are not so painful, the beauty of the freedom from pain when we have it. I guess with a better answer still outstanding, I can be satisfied with that. I kept running, that night the headlamp batteries died, and it was scary initially. Not knowing when the sidewalk might try to sweep my legs out from under me, no longer a firefly, unable to determine what other obstacles awaited in the road ahead. But after my eyes adjusted to what I thought was utter darkness, only then did I notice the silver moonlight that seemed to appear everywhere. What I got in return was the clarity of an Orion above so resplendent and a winter night sky so close, I could no longer feel afraid.
And just for fun, here’s a great New Balance ad: