October in Houston is perfect for running. The mornings and evenings drop down to around 60 degrees, and frequently there’s cloud cover to keep the sun off. All the sane runners who stayed inside for the blistering summer re-emerge around this time of year, and the trails and parks are now bustling with people exercising.
I’ve joined them. Heights Boulevard, the trail I started running on about seven years ago, hasn’t changed much. There are a few more trees, and the water fountains are a bit rustier. The devices people listen to their music on have gotten smaller. But my feet still know the feel of the path — the tree roots that need to be carefully avoided and the spots likely to form little lakes after a rainstorm. They know the crunch and slip of the gravel. No matter how many years have gone by, feet do not forget.
I ran that trail for five years before I went to Chicago. I’m not in as good shape as I was two years ago, before I left. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose. But it is humbling to be gasping and tripping down the trail that was a small feat to conquer such a short time ago.
So, like anyone who is unemployed, disenchanted, and living back at home with mom and dad, I have been trying to get back into shape. It’s a part of my attempt to feel like I have some control over my life and myself. It’s a part of my search for stability.
Because I remember how much running can help in these endeavors. As any long-time runner knows from experience, once running becomes a routine, it becomes your most important routine. It does so much for a body — and a soul — that it’s kind of hard to put into words.
For one thing, it can be the most gloriously effective antidepressant. The happiest parts of my life have been those during which I was running regularly. It makes my body feel whole and clean and light all the time. There’s a blissful calm that comes after a hard run, and it makes the painful part totally worth it.
I’ve been running every day for the past week. I feel great. My body is responding slowly and hesitantly to the new routine, but I can already feel the change happening. I have more energy during the day, I sleep like a baby, and I walk around with a warm feeling of accomplishment. By wearing down some of my nervous energy in the morning with a run, I have a calmer outlook on the rest of the day. My legs feel stronger. My head feels clearer. Even when I manage to make a total mess of the rest of the day, I can say to myself, “Well, at least I ran today. I got one thing right.”
These great things are surprisingly easy to forget when you’re bummed out and it’s cold outside and you’ve got a paper to write, but those are the times when you really need to run. It’s kind of like what some pastor told me about prayer one time: “In your darkest hour, when you’re tired and lonely, when you want to pray the least, is when you need to pray the most.” I don’t pray, so perhaps running is as close as I’ll get.
Over the past two years, I’ve done a lot of forgetting about how much I need to run, but I think I’m finally starting to remember.
P.S.: This post comes on the heels of me finishing Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a collection of essays about his experience as a runner and a writer. It’s certainly not as good as his novels, but for anyone who wants a glimpse into the life of a successful writer who makes running a big part of his life, it’s certainly interesting.