When I first talked with my husband about my interest in training for the LA Marathon, he encouraged me to get an iPod. Weíd had an early model that succumbed to one of the bugs since purged from more recent incarnations. As anyone who runs knows, for most people iPods are as much a part of serious running as decent running shoes. But I declined. I didnít want running to be like everything else.
My life is full of life. Kids, work, house, car, phone, text, blog, read, talk, think, shop, plan, coordinate, do. Endless stuff inhabiting brain and physical space. Some some good, some essential, some pure junk. Most of the time I succumb, moving along with the current without putting up much resistance. Usually thatís okay, part of the pattern and demand of living, though once in a while I sense a simultaneous withering and winding at the center of things. Wouldnít it be great, I thought, if running provided an antidote? At the very least, I didnít want another contributor to the mental noise.
During the week, when I run on my own, I run in the dark, before and into the dawn. This time of year it is cold and quiet. Though the cold here is never really cold (see my Chicago run) and is in fact great for running, anything below 50 degrees and the number of fellow runners drops. Today, in the course of 45 minutes circling the Silver Lake Reservoir, I encountered only four other people. The roads were quiet too. The cold, plus the holidays, make this perhaps the quietest week of the year.
What is so great about the quiet? It makes running a sensory act. All aural stimulation comes from my own breath and bones -- every creak, pop, gasp, pant and shuffle. It makes me both more reflective and more aware. I see what is inside my head more clearly, but Iím also more attuned to my surroundings, to other runners, to raccoons at their morning ablutions.
I was pleased to learn Ė after Iíd decided to run music-free Ė that the program Iím training with through AIDS Project Los Angeles bans all personal music devices during training (theyíre also banned by the marathon itself, but that rule is widely ignored).
When Coach Scott told us of the ban, no one in my group complained. Above all, he explained, itís a practical matter. The courses they design for us have us running in the street a fair amount (which I never do when Iím alone), and ear buds make it harder to tell if the drivers are honking in support when they see our yellow AIDS marathon jerseys or anger at our impingement on their right of way. Coach Scott explained that the organizers also want us to bond as a running group. The more we feel beholden to one another, the more likely we are to drag ourselves out of bed on Saturday mornings, week after week, and subject ourselves to mile of brutal pounding.
The silence of alone-ness and the silence of a group are two very different animals. One is fundamentally internal. The other is social, even in its lack of verbal communication. In our group we inevitably start out talking, catching up on the news of the week, delighting in these fresh, unfettered friendships. But by mile 8, 9, 10, the talk fades and the sound reverts to its natural rhythm of thumps and sighs.
In this way our running group is a throwback, an unplugged form of socializing that relies on neither Internet nor any other form of electronic stimulation to connect. Nor, at times, does it rely on talking. Sounds good to me.