Running is wrestling.
Running brings the demons to the surface, the doubt, the defeatist self-loathing. It reveals them more quickly, more reliably, than weeks of the most skilled therapy.
I ran fairly well last night, an unathletic 5K for those of us who quantify such things, and a fifth of the way along I had already persuaded myself twice to keep going. A demon manifests and points out the sore knee, the stitch in the side, the sudden hungers literal and metaphoric, the likelihood of something better happening somewhere else. They suggest, rather pointedly, that I stop.
They are angry bees. Stop to address them and you feel their stings, but if you keep running they will only follow you a little way. I pick a landmark a hundred feet ahead, a hundred yards. I tell myself to run at least to that lamppost ahead, to the bridge over the creek where the swallows build their nests, to make it at least that far and then decide whether to continue. If I stop there, it is a victory of sorts.
More usually, I remember hundreds of yards past the mark that I was supposed to make a decision of some kind. At least in this one way I can make the attention deficit work for me.
Distraction is armor against the demons. Last night, rumination on a friend’s recent note about the notion of “redemptive grief” got me much of the way up two kilometers of hill. What is “closure,” after all, but the expectation of conclusive redemption? Crating Zeke between book covers did nothing to prevent the muddy paw prints tracked across my mind, the claw scratches at the back on my neck as he asks to be let in. It was a night like this 18 months ago that the inevitability of that loss sank all the way in, and the Futility Demon suddenly sucked all the oxygen out of the bay-side air as I ran. I stopped short that evening without conscious thought. Any path I choose to run leads back to the demons eventually.
The hilltop is only three blocks away. Make it that far, 2.5K, and then decide.
At one block from the top I meet the end boss, the demon most difficult to beat. My ankle starts to ache, and I think without intending to of that time in 1997 when I ran on a sore ankle and limped afterward for months. This demon is suave, a fighter native to my internal territory. He knows the terrain well. His voice is comforting, nurturing. “Are you overtraining, Chris? You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to run if it hurts.” He plays all the angles. “What’s with the ridiculous stoicism, the macho? You’ve done great already. There’s no shame in stopping here.”
I tell him to get back to me in a hundred yards. A hundred yards won’t make all that much difference to an overtrained ankle unless I twist it, which I could do just as easily walking home.
Twenty yards on, as I run down a narrow walk cloaked in overgrown oat and mustard, a rustle comes from my left. This is skunk country. I am hypervigilant these days. Every hair stands on end and then I see the source of the noise: a black-tailed deer.
We run together for a hundred yards, my pace feeling the way hers looks, a long series of slow, buoyant arcs.
I am demon-free for another mile or so.
Divorce is looming, though, and displacement, dislocation as of bone from socket. This is a perfect run, I think, even running into this tree-shattering wind, even running into this North wind driving tall whitecaps on flat San Pablo Bay, and after June when wilI I see the Bay again? My laps through this neighborhood are numbered.
I stop running then, without even thinking about stopping, at around 3.5K. I walk a little.
I turn around and walk past the spot where I stopped, about a hundred yards past, and turn again, and when I am ten feet from the demon spot I begin running again, a hundred yards at a time. Again I approach the swallow bridge, a quarter mile away. I will stop there, I promise the demons. Let me make it there and I will stop. That’s 4.5K. I can live with 4.5K. Let me get that far and I’ll let you win.
At the far end of the bridge I turn, ready to stop.
An enormous red moon is rising. It hangs low over the hills only eight hours before it’s full. The wind shifts a little, blows my hair off my back and over my shoulder. It streams in front of me.
I force myself to stop at 5K.