an early morning jam

Monday July 22nd. 10.3km city run

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jam looking happy in jubilee park as the sun is rising, water behind. halfway through our run.

i got a text a couple of days ago from my friend jam saying “hey vb! wanna have a run monday morning… 5.40am…10ks over the anzac bridge”. naturally i replied that i was game. every new location and every new running buddy evokes a little trepidation and a bit more excitement. i’ve been running steadily down the east coast for  a couple of weeks now. from yeppoon in queensland to tuntable creek in northern nsw—the heart of hippy land, then wingham on the mid-north coast—gateway to some stunning state forests and home to “the log,” a monument to the town’s timber-driven history, and finally sydney.

i’ve been running solo since i left “up north” and beverley behind. this is on the one hand challenging and on the other hand pretty cruisey. challenging because long distances can be boring alone, or painful alone, or lonely alone. cruisey because i think it’s easy to plateau out and not push through the next challenge when running alone, but maybe that’s shifting for me. that’s the way it used to be. i do seem to run at a faster pace when i’m with someone else, either i push them or they push me and it’s hard to know who’s setting the pace sometimes.

i enjoyed running around the roads, parks and green spaces of sydney alone the other day, mid-morning on a stunning sunny winters day. jam’s invitation to run across the anzac bridge before dawn when the weather has snap-chilled held a whole set of other charms. mostly to do with pushing through some mental boundaries, watching the dawn break over sydney and keeping up with jam, who i suspected was a strong runner, despite her reassuring text to not worry because “i’m really slow”. she’s a strong girl, with calf muscles i would like to appropriate, and i suspected her idea of slow and my idea of slow were two different things. therein lay some of the trepidation. also, i’ve never undertaken a city run of this type, in the city proper around the cbd, running alongside cars on a 6 lane bridge, breathing in the exhalations of many many vehicles and looking out over a landscape of industry and high-density commerce and residential buildings. it’s a different psychological event.

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10.3km run, through redfern, the city, across the anzac bridge, then glebe and back to redfern

i mentioned i’m slow, yes? this morning i’ve been reading about fast-twitch muscles and slow-twitch muscles and i’m certainly more marathon than sprint. i think. seems my body is to-type also, for long rather than short. i’d hazard a guess jam is a strong short-distance runner. and we certainly took off at very different speeds, but i think i prevailed in the pace-setting, and jam slowed down to meet me. well, there’s not much chance of me speeding up to meet her, not if i want to last more than a couple of km.

something else that strikes me about my practise, or my play, or whatever running is—is that i’ve really come late to the game. mark rowlands in “running with the pack” talks about one particular experience among many of running as a child, and the freedom he experienced on that day as he ran pretty much from dawn to dusk. he had a profound experience of freedom on that particular day, and it’s provided a lot of grist for the thought-mill about why he had that experience on that day and what that experience of freedom was, exactly. but in general terms, as a kid, he ran. and ran. and ran. because running was not something that was in a special category marked “exercise” or “competition”. it was just something you did, to get from a to b. you ran all day long, because you couldn’t not run. you ran from morning to night. to the sports field, or home to lunch or with the dog or to school and back. the joy of running or the value of running was something the body knew, but it was not instrumental. it was itself, and nothing else. now i don’t have that memory buried in my childhood body. because i was, as i said, reading a book, my long skinny body curled up in a corner avoiding sport at all costs, slouching from place to place tiredly and probably with a scowl. the idea that running is a freedom we once knew in our bodies and which we now strive to know again is foreign to me. i’m still sorting it all out, and while i am finding it to be more and more necessary to the constancy of my days, i am still finding it to be 90% conscious hard work and 10% liberation.

but you know, it was a lovely run, and i think jam broke the back of her 10km limit by a whisker. we ran and talked, and it was a time to catch up with an old friend, in a space which was carved out before the normal daily activities or work. time out of time. jam navigated around the never-sleeping streets and laneways, across parks, under the overpass, round the fish markets. it’s all about finding the rhythm of your environs. cars are wildlife too, you know. when i’m running in nature, i may begin with a busy head but soon i’m aware of the crunch under my feet, the slap of the tides, the song of the birds. the nature in the city is beastly, it’s mechanical and relentless and sinuous and full of fumey cars breathing and growling industry. and then ah! you burst out onto the bridge, high up over the water, and the sun bursts over the horizon in the way it does every day at dawn but we never see it quite like this and then there are green spaces for dogs and people to commune and we run through them and we are in the run. in the rhythm of the run.

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me running across jubilee park, anzac bridge in the background, in the first flash of dawn.

talking later to jam about what is great about running in the city, what joy is to be found in the city run, she talked about how life can become formulaic, in the sense that there is the commute, then work, home, prep for another day of same. wash, rinse, repeat. you get the picture. but when she’s running through the streets early in the morning she feels like she’s stolen a chunk of time for herself, for refection, to do something that contributes to a feeling of having a fuller life, i guess. as we run, and this is before dawn, the wide-laned streets are already full of people commuting, and she’s deferred that moment for the duration of the run. she said she was tired and sore in the evening, but happy that the tiredness was running tiredness not life tiredness.

i’m still in a place where running is work for me, and i’m working to get to the place where it is play. waiting for expectations and striving to fall away. the city has been a lovely place to practise. home now, and back to hill runs. more thoughts later.

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