I went running today. I pushed myself extra hard, just like I do, every other day. I enjoyed myself. Just like I do, every other day.
OK, that last one is coming from the ancient city that lies buried under the Fib Kingdom. Truth is, some days I barely manage to put one foot in front of the other. I pant and heave and try desperately to ignore the stitch in my side by thinking about nothing but the stitch in my side. How it grows…how it spreads…how it burns its way towards my chest…
I’m not one to give up. So on days like these, I keep going – plodding one labored foot in front of the other; In perfect harmony with the breath that comes sputtering through my gaping mouth. I know I should breathe through my nose, but in these moments, any attempt to shut my mouth is met by the vehement resistance of my lungs.
To the unwitting passerby, I might look like a dying volcano – dormant, save for the limbs that flail just enough to give the pretext of movement. But inside my body, a riot rages! My heart beats like Shaka’s drums. My tummy churns like boiling lava. My lungs fan the flame and the stitch…the stitch refuses to be left behind! It grips and spreads faster than a bushfire. When finally I give up the fight and look curiously at my phone, I am neither shocked nor disappointed that I managed a measly 2.3km at the pace of a turtle with three times its weight in shells!
Those are the bad days.
On the good days – and today was a good day – I work that run like a model on the runway.
You see, I have this app that tracks my run. It’s the best coach I could ever ask for. It measures my speed, distance, cadence, calories… It pauses when I pause. It resumes when I do. Then it unpacks all that data for me. What’s more? It respects my space and keeps only with my pace. It never judges with an upturned nose. It never scowls with disappointment. My app is beautifully expressionless. It understands its scope of work and it never transcends. Awesome, right?
Especially awesome on a day like today when the universe takes a moment to cheerlead on my behalf. The weather is just right and the traffic just light. Leaves ruffle overhead and crumple underfoot. Birds sing, and sometimes shit – missing just narrowly, the crown of my hair. The sun touches gently and watches from afar. The wind feels fantastic on my face. It whistles beautifully in my ear and strums a groovy chord in my heart. It kisses my skin and lightens my feet. There’s a buoyancy about my step and the thoughts in my mind. The freeway in my lungs stretches all the way to my toes. It is an awesome run. I can feel it to the roots of my curly, unshakable afro.
I run. And while I do, I think about nothing in particular. Sure, I might glaze over a myriad of unrelated subjects. I might stop for a little while at Central Perk and agree with Chandler Bing’s assertion that Baywatch is awesome because of all the running.
I might wander over to Alfred Mutua’s Cobra Squad and grin widely at the memory of the overweight cops and all the running they did in that show.
I might dash over to the Olympic tracks and finally comprehend the powerful sprints of Usain Bolt, Kenenisa Bekele, David Rudisha, Tegla Loroupe…you name them…I’ll be right there with them. I might visualize them breaking their own records time and time again. I might even shiver. Feel the goosebumps on my skin as we cross the finish line. I might feel the quiet wash of emotion, the steady rise of patriotic pride as multitudes rise with the flag and the Anthem.
What can I say? I have a wandering mind…
A honking matatu pulls me up short. From its speakers, blares a different anthem. Not the patriotic kind. Not in the strictest sense of the word. It does not praise one country nor one flag. Instead, it appeals to an amorphous nation, an unnamed patriot, to Legalize it…Recognize it…
I grin as if I just caught a whiff of the stuff Sean Paul is chanting about. After reading about my liberating sprint with Bekele and Bolt, you probably think I have gone ahead and indulged, don’t you? Don’t even bother denying it. It’s written all over your face.
Thing is, I don’t need a whiff to know that this is awesome. I don’t need validation. I am killing it in this competition with myself. Stride after stride. Lap after lap. Kilometer after kilometer. When finally I stop, it is because darkness has fallen, not because I’m exhausted. I approximate that I’ve done just under 10km. I take out my phone to confirm my performance. The app stares back at me. The words ‘TAP TO BEGIN RUN’ stare unblinking at me. Angry thoughts spew from my mind, faster than tennis balls from a malfunctioning launcher.
It’s like that huh? Are you trying to pull that reverse psychology shit with me? Dude, that stuff belongs on the tennis court with Richard, Venus, and Serena! Out here among us mere mortals, that shit could get you killed….or you know, tossed in the trench with smelly stagnant water!
Ok Martha, breathe. What was I saying about validation? Oh yeah…I don’t need it. It’s enough to know that I did great. But damn it! How come this never happens when I struggle? It would be nice to pretend the terrible runs never happened. How could it do this to me today? How could it take my awesome stats and give me a blinking contest? Now I know how Marion Jones and Ben Johnson must have felt when they got stripped of their titles.
In my heart of hearts, I know it happened, but all evidence points to the contrary.
“It didn’t happen!” It screams in my face.
In a voice laced with sweat and disappointment, I whisper back “It did!”
In an even quieter voice, “It will. Again and again.” I vow.