Read on Medium.
I suck at running. Like many, I started running during the pandemic. So, I certainly can’t call myself a runner.
Still, it became a loose habit, and I have my routine. “Loose” has a lot to do with why I suck at it, of course, and I guess this is the first parallelism with my life. But let’s go in order.
I do my running on a precise path, in most part in nature. I never get tired of that trail and that environment. Despite being deep into self-improvement, I hate change. So, what’s better of a challenge on a perfectly-known game board? Exciting, right?
Over time, I built a mind map not just of the territory, but of the states of my mind over the entire route. A meta-map. Yes, I spend more time on meta-maps than I spend on maps. And what I should spend on the actual ground.
Luckily, with running, abstraction coincides with action.
The map has three stages, each split in two. Out of coincidence – self-produced or not -, this clear distinction came naturally to me.
So, six checkpoints. Actually, the last one is the final goal, but it’s still a checkpoint to me. Just the one that gets more visibility.
When I start running, I’m my own hero. Properly dressed, tracking on the smartphone started, taken the right decision, ready for the challenge, confident. I start running like I was a runner. Bolder than a runner, actually.
After two hundred meters, I’m already panting like a climber in the death zone of Mount Everest. I already know that the speed record won’t be hit. Each time I’m reminded how I easily forget how bad it feels to start.
I’m beyond naïve questions like “why am I doing that?” I’m more into affirmations like “Not even a limping centennial.”
I greet my teeth and, after a gentle slope, I arrive at the first checkpoint, half dead. It’s probably not a case that the first checkpoint is the cemetery.
However, this first success, the subsequent slight downgrade, and the tombstones help the morale, and I keep pushing. The red dot moving on a meta map has already covered a small but visible part of the track.
I’m still in town, here, and I have to cross the road, so I keep running on the side of the road as long as the cars go by, trying to guess the best moment to minimize the risk of damaging my beloved body bringing it to the other side of the obstacle.
More or less like in “Frogger,” where you were a poor pixelized frog. Splat, splat, splat, game over. But much less traffic in my town, luckily.
Then I start viewing the green fields, the sun in front (usually), and I’m running toward the second checkpoint. Holding on to the final goal is still uncertain, and pushing hurts, but I start enjoying being there.
I start sweating. The machine begins to get going. I start finding a balance between suffering and sustainability.
And the second checkpoint arrives. A farmhouse with an intense smell of manure. I finally find a way to breathe regularly and deeply, and it’s time for cow poop all around.
Anyway, this second milestone marks the end of the first stage, a roller-coaster of emotions at the intersection of motivation, demotivation, and suffering. I skip the motivational part and I call it “blood and tears.” Much more realistic. The goal of this first stage is not to give up. Putting the machine in motion is half the challenge, for me.
From this point on, I’m in nature. A long straight path along a canal. Only fields and trees.
Kind of heaven, to me.
You can also have pleasant encounters. Today, I met a giant rat. So huge I doubted it to be a rat. Whatever it was, after brief eye contact, we both deemed it wise to continue to mind our own business.
At this point of the run, calves burn and lungs scream to stop. But I’m there to run! I’m healthy, I’m alive, I’m so alive. That’s the best part of the run. It hurts, but I’m right in the middle of the challenge. A challenge that I can face today and that one day will only be a memory.
Sweat mixed with fresh air. Fatigue mixed with joy. Stillness and movement.
The third checkpoint, a bridge, is already more than halfway through the run.
I’m in the middle of the second stage, which I call “enjoy.”
The practical point here is keeping up with the routine, carefully handling the balance between pushing and not asking too much, between suffering and enjoying.
But the real point is enjoying. I’m halfway. There’s no better place to enjoy the run.
For some magic, the fourth checkpoint – a crumbling farmstead – arrives, marking the transition to the third and last phase.
I’m really tired, here. Now on, each meter weighs. This last part is short, but it feels like a world tour on all fours.
The goal is not in sight, but I know it’s there. And that’s precisely what I need not think about. I must focus on the process—one step at a time. Finalizing is the hardest part. That’s when you risk getting lost. That’s when the goal distracts you, and fatigue eats everything. You haven’t won yet, and thinking that you’re about to win is not motivation; It’s your worst enemy.
Squeezing my last energies, I manage to arrive at the fifth checkpoint—a big old tree.
The tree doesn’t seem too healthy, has big branches, and the path passes precisely under them. Other fallen branches of other trees are around, so I always hope that the old tree doesn’t fall apart exactly when I pass.
It reminds me of other risky, crucial points in life.
“Let’s hope my wife doesn’t see that, or I’m fucked.”
“Lord, let me clip this one. Falling here is no fun.”
“Not today, my dear computer. Not today!”
After the old tree, the target is finally in sight.
Despite my making an odyssey of it, it’s just 5 kilometers. I told you that I suck at running.
But it’s not about the 5 kilometers. It could be 10 or 20. Going through the meta-map is what matters to me. The journey from zero to five, panting at 0.2.
After the fifth checkpoint, I can’t allow myself to stop, even if all my body yells to stop. It’s what I call the extra mile. It’s actually way less than a mile and feels way more, so I do an average.
Mind over body. Process over goal.
“Mind and process.”
Yes, it’s a shitty name. But it makes sense to me (see The Extra Mile of Mind and Process).
And that’s when the target point arrives.
A small abandoned mall, on a busy road. Tall grass, wreckage, garbage. A crappy place.
Nature makes room for the dark side of “civilization.”
Better not to charge destination with excessive expectations. Or to choose a different one.
Sometimes I cross the road (stoplight, this time) and continue running in nature, sometimes I stop here and start walking back home. It doesn’t matter much.
And I can’t help but observe how all the stages and checkpoints relate to anything in my life. Especially the last checkpoint.
My projects, my ventures, my lost causes. I someway push through a crackling start, I gloriously and laboriously enjoy the view and the shit, then a final effort toward a successful disaster.
The run is a tiny, manageable, and successful version of my life.
I love to repeat my run, always the same trail. Because our unpredictable life is a one-way ticket. And I’m having a hard time getting over this truth.
Time to my way back. Walking and relaxing, this time.