I am a runner. It’s impossible to describe precisely how it feels for a runner to run to anyone who isn’t a runner and doesn’t already know, and to those who do, no description is necessary beyond the first statement, “I am a runner.” The rest goes without saying.
But for those who aren’t, I’ll try my best.
It feels like being a fish returned to the water, after being washed up on shore, dried out and longing to breathe.
The best word I can think of to describe what it means to be a runner is just, “balanced.” There is something so viscerally balancing about the act of running. Be it physical, the shifting of weight, the catching yourself as you fall, the push off, the fluidity of the changing of steps matched perfectly with the pumping or your arms. Or be it chemical, the perpetual commerce of oxygen moving through-out your veins and passing between your cells.
When you run, you feed yourself on air alone. It feels as if you could sustain yourself just by breathing- and in a way, you do precisely that. If you ever start feeling tired, you just take in a big gulp of air and let your heart pump it throughout your entire body, from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes pounding against the ground, all over your body the oxygen gets burned away as fuel. Breathing when you run is like stoking a fire buried inside yourself, and in terms of chemical energy, this is exactly what’s happening. It’s like a bellows blasting air on hot coals.
There’s an ineffable connection with the earth when running. As if I’m orbiting the world like the moon- steadily falling into the ground. When running, you’re always falling forward, but you’re continuously catching yourself and using the fall to move forward. Like a perpetual motion machine, you can swing your arms and legs like a pendulum.
Once the motion gets started, and you find your balance, you become unstoppable. You can run forever.
That’s how it feels to run- unstoppable.
In the city, during rush hour traffic, everything becomes slow. The cars get blocked behind each other. There’s gridlock on every intersection. Even Bicyclist, who usually can swerve in between vehicles, have to come to a standstill. During this time, running is the fastest method of moving across the city.
This time of day is the sweet spot for a game I like to call bus chasing. The Number 26 bus is just slow enough to keep up with, but it’s also just fast enough for it to be almost impossible. As it gets stuck behind traffic, stop signs, traffic lights, and slows down for pedestrians and sharp turns, and of course stops along each of its stops along its route, it sets the pace for a perfect chase. Always fast enough to get away, but it still slows down or stops long enough to catch back up.
My record is three complete circuits through the city.
The only rule is to stay with the same bus as it makes its way around town. I don’t have to follow its route exactly, I can take short cuts, duck in and out of alleys, run through community parks, shopping centers, plazas, playgrounds, community centers. I can swim through community pools, jump across the creek that flows through the city park. I can jump fences, even climb over buildings. And all of these methods I’ve used in the past.
It doesn’t matter how I keep up, so long as I get to the next stop on the route before the bus leaves.
There is something primal inside me that leads me into a chase. Like when a rabbit darts in front of me as I walk through a park, I always get a little twitch. I have to stop myself from darting after it like a lunatic. A small part of me always wants to just run after it. I don’t know what I’d do with a rabbit if I ever caught one. I’m certainly not hunting it, but there’s something about the thrill of a chase that’s so deeply rooted inside of me.
Not everyone enjoys running. Running is often paired with words like, “punishment,” “exhaustion,” or “pain,” and “suffering.” For me, the only words I can think of are, “exhilarating, freedom, and invincibility.”
I think, or I hope, everyone has something that makes them feel this way. For me, it’s the thrill of the chase as I run after the Number 26.