getting to know the hills

spectral mist giants stalking slowly across the mountain,
raggy legs hanging down into the valley.

back into shoes. wishing i could run barefoot again. some small twinges returning, not injuries as such, but indicative of the fact that i am back in shoes and running uphill and downhill (there is no flat here) on asphalt. right hip, right knee, then something in the right arch. nothing serious though. i’m trying to be hyper-aware of my alignment and my strike.

my short 6 km daily run has taken on a new level of difficulty since returning home. kilometer after kilometer of uphill (and downhill) running with varying gradients, some quite steep, some unsealed and slippery. it’s hard on the body going downhill and sometimes on slippery gravel. would love to be close enough to the beach to vary surfaces and routes. here there’s just one route. the road.

so, sunday has become the day of the long run. while i was caring for my mum, i would do a 12 km run with beverley every sunday. running 12 km was not something i ever really considered undertaking, especially not on a regular basis, but beverley has a good 30 years of running under her belt and made it seem so doable. and it is. somehow she shared her ease with me and so i’ve done it a good number of times now, but only on the beach.

yesterday was sunday and my long run was a considerably shorter long run than i am used to. however, factoring in the terrain, it was a respectable distance at this point. i ran 8km winding way up into the hills around tuntable creek, heading up to the very top of the ridge. it’s a beautiful run, and i can get lost in that beauty in the moments when i can just be in the run.

mostly, though, i spent the 8km pondering the pain that lurks at the edges of my conscious mind threatening to intervene in this “being” process. notice i didn’t say  “the pain in my leg” or other specific body part. that’s because it’s not locatable in the body. i mean, i’m not injured. maybe there’s a tightness in the legs or a bit of a struggle in the lungs but this pain in not “in” the body.  i guess i could say it was “mental” pain, and on some levels “emotional” pain, but neither of those adequately describes this diffuse and intangible pain, which seems to disappear with any attempts to pin it down, and yet is a force unto itself. threatening to stop me dead in my tracks because it is so intolerable.

this sounds melodramatic, but i am that thing, i guess – melodramatic i mean. i think running might be a context in which the door to a kind of existential pain is opened. i’m not a natural athlete. running is not easy for me, and doesn’t seem to ever get easier. so there are the physical barriers to overcome, absolutely. but it’s not just a physical activity. it’s a mental, psychological and existential activity. i’ve touched on the existential in previous posts, specifically in reference to my selfhood as a fragile experience, one with no infrastructure, no inherent truth that is integral to its shape. running is the means i employ to create constancy, and constancy builds musculature and intestinal fibre. all of these things help me to create an existence with, if not meaning, the perhaps substance. in the process i get to grapple with the pains of growing that musculature up close and personal.

there is this thing which lots of runners say, and it is that the mind will quit long before the body does. or that the mind can trick the body. equallly i think the reverse is true. the mind obliterates physical barriers. anyway – permutations on a single idea. i think samuel beckett in the unnameable said it perfectly : “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” in fact alot of beckett (doesn’t) explain my existential struggles perfectly! i can’t get up. i get up. i can’t eat. i eat. i can’t run. i run. etc. ad infinitum.

when i was on my long run, there were a bunch of locals running as a group. i was going downhill and they were running uphill, from the bottom-most point of this route by beardow rd, at the hairpin bend and the causeway. all were walking uphill, understandably. they had clearly been running this hilly course for some time already and this particular climb is a brutal hill. around the corner and up the hill, easy as you like, came a local marathon runner who i had never seen before, but her reputation preceded her. passing the running group, she seemed to be almost flying, no strain, just a sleekness that was a joy to behold. she grunted a hello and i felt unworthy! but i knew i would be running up that hill soon enough, with less grace but hopefully even a smidgen of her confidence. at the worst i’ll be perpetually deferring respite just to get to the top. you can’t fight the hills. you have to meet them where they live, somehow, find a way to embrace the challenge they provide, at a deeply existential level. 

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