Running as Active and Imaginative Practice

I think the main reason that people hate running isn’t necessarily that it is strenuous but that it is dull. The reason that I am a decent runner, after all, is the same reason it is basically boring; all it entails is starting and not stopping. It’s as simple and mundane as that.

When we were children, though, we ran all the time. Bursts of energy sent us shooting off out of nowhere, feeling the thrill of our little legs pumping furiously beneath us. I remember running at recess when I was in kindergarten, thinking of it only as play and never as a workout. I ran because I was pretending to be a horse, then a superhero, then a mythical warrior.

Earlier this month, I fell into a running slump for two reasons: First, I’d injured myself from poor form and, second, my mind had grown weary. Running is a mental sport and, while it often restores me to my senses in times of stress, mental fatigue makes it an unbearable chore. But then—just when I was getting antsy and annoyed—the season began to change (better late than never, seems to be Arizona’s motto when it comes to the seasons) and something magical returned to my running route.

You see, I run because it is, of course, a healthy physical practice. It is also, though, one of the few times when I can be unabashedly foolish; I can play and imagine to my racing heart’s content because, to all the rest of the world, I look like just another jogger. Especially with the aid of a movie soundtrack, my imagination takes over, turning each run into an adventure. The Chronicles of Narnia, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Chariots of Fire, for example, have frequently encouraged me to shift from a joyless slog to a spirited sprint. Once, whilst listening to the Western ballets of Aaron Copland, I actually started to duck and dash about the park as though I were engaged in a musical gun fight!

Recently, cooler weather and the presence of a full moon revived me from a mental and physical block. Although my regular route is far from scenic (being merely a dirt path along a suburban canal), the moon reflecting in the water in front of me is utterly enchanting. As she rises, the moon casts her spell over even the most familiar sidewalks and fences. All at once, my trail takes on a mythic splendor and I become a huntress, leaping nimbly along an ancient stream in the company of Artemis and her maidens. A rather terrible sonnet was born of this episode, which I will share here in case any glimmer of beauty lingers in its lines.

Previously, I passed many miles by wondering with mixed delight and sorrow how a bouquet of daisies came to be left floating in the water. My favorite flowers, I fancied that they were left for me by a friendly river nymph. I feared, though, that they were actually abandoned by someone else’s scorned admirer or, worse, left in memoriam for one who used to love this trail as I do.

Less fantastically, I’ve also spent a solid number of steps marvelling at what Lord Peter Wimsey describes in Gaudy Night as “the massive continuity of ducks.”

“How fleeting are all human passions compared to the massive continuity of ducks.”

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

Running, too, is my brainstorming time. I have often paused a run to jot down a few verses of a song, a first sentence of a story, or an idea for paper research. Indeed, the rhythm of my stride has given rise to many a song and poem, though many of these remain only in my mind to keep me company on solitary runs. (My only complaint is that it is difficult to bring a notebook and pen on a jog and so I settled for taking notes on my unromantic phone. It any of you readers have a solution to this problem—perhaps a notepad I can wear like an athletic watch?—do write me in the comments.)

Meanwhile, the other joggers I pass likely have no idea of the things I am happily imagining. My breath is ragged and my shirt sweat-stained, like any other evening exerciser. And yet, I enjoy the release of both endorphins and pent-up ideas. I can think of no better example of my commitment to “an active and imaginative life” than that of regular running. Watching the sunset on Friday’s run, for instance, was transcendent, for I was at once aware of my own body and attuned to ethereal beauty. I highly encourage partaking of one’s “daily tread,” then, not merely in pursuit of physical health, but also that of the mind and heart—for the flexing of forgotten fancy and the invigoration of the imagination.

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