It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Well, not thinking, really, because that implies that joy has been in the forefront of my mind and actively being noodled around with. It’s more accurate to say that it’s a topic I didn’t know I was thinking about until all of a sudden I realized I had been.
I know that’s confusing. Bear with me.
This is one of my favorite pictures of myself. It was taken shortly after mile 21 of the New York City marathon. Thirty seconds before that picture was snapped, I was a dejected rider on the struggle bus. Everything hurt. The wind was picking up again and I was freezing. To add insult, my stash of peanut butter pretzels was nearly depleted.
And then I saw a couple of my friends, who had schlepped themselves from various locations on the eastern seaboard to this very spot in Harlem to cheer me on while I did something epic. I remembered, too, how good it can feel to run, even when it feels lousy. Under my own power, I’d covered 21+ miles in the greatest city in the world and only had five miles to go.
That moment was full of joy. Likely, it also contained a soupçon of exhausted delirium, too, but mostly joy.
I stopped long enough to collect gritty, sweaty hugs. One friend offered her very nice jacket, since I mentioned I was chilly. I turned down the kind offer because I was super-duper gross and, again, it was a nice jacket. But I also didn’t need it anymore. Just being there in that moment feeling that joy was enough of a lift to forget all of my complaints.
That wasn’t the first time I’d felt like that on a run. There have been moments in three-mile "easy" runs where I’ve had flashes of amazement at how absurd and wonderful life can be. On a long run out into the countryside, I remember awe at how the light was hitting the fall leaves on an otherwise ordinary September day. Even during the dullest indoor track run, where 8 laps are required to make a mile, I'll have seconds where I am overwhelmed by the sheer joyousness of moving my body through space.
My husband gets it. He’s a golfer who easily admits that chasing a little white ball around a very large lawn is a frustrating way to spend an afternoon. But sometimes, he says, you hit it just right, you can hear how perfect your shot is when it leaves your club, and golf is the best pastime ever invented.
Which isn’t to say that every single moment on every single run is like that. Seriously. My runs follow the same pattern: force myself out of the door, grouse for the first mile (or two or three), settle in, and get it done. More often than not, there are moments of irritation whose target can be anything from a flopping shoelace to a pelting snow squall. The joy is occasional.
Joy has been harder to come by lately. Spending a week coughing up my lungs because of some kind of plague didn’t help. But to be honest, apart from my glee at finding $1, I haven't felt that running joy for a few months. That picture from the marathon might have documented the last time.
The weather in the Northeast, which is gray, icy, and yet more gray right now, isn't helping. Running, lately, feels more like an odious chore that I squeeze in when I can drag myself out into the slippery dark or up the stairs to the stuffy indoor track. I'd realized that something was missing but couldn't figure out what.
It was on this weekend’s long run, during the podcast I was listening to, that I put it all together. My subconscious brain had been chewing away on the problem: I was so wrapped up in hitting the distances and paces on my plan that I’d forgotten about the joy of what I was doing. Running is a thing I get to do. And with that realization, I remembered why I was out there and felt, briefly, the joy.
Where have you been finding your running joy lately, BAMRs?