A Case for Control
I’ve had the bones of this essay sitting in my hard drive for about 2 years. Sometimes, I’d think about it a lot, adding notes to my phone and the master document incrementally. Other times I would forget about it completely. Undoubtedly there were times where I remembered a note that needed to be added to the file, but would soon forget to remember to add it in. I really hope those notes weren’t very good.
I’ve put a lot of myself into this essay, and have left a lot out, too. I find it quite hard and uncomfortable to share parts of myself without being prompted. Not for fear of any part of myself, but for the degree that I struggle to believe I deserve the air-time. I’m really trying to get better at it. But for now, speaking about myself, my experience and my ideas for an uninterrupted 6,000 words feels so self-indulgent that it makes me squirm a little. I really do need to the get fuck over it. Until then, this text is apologetically about myself, and about running.
My experience with running started as self-harm. I often catch myself finding it hard to believe that that was really the case, and try to hedge that notion down to position it with less weight, to remove the dramatic tone that is inserted as a consequence of the taboo –– but doing so would be dishonest and inaccurate. The nature of that initial running isn’t a realisation that has been found through the clarity of retrospect, or mysteriously uncovered upon enlightening investigation. I knew exactly what I was doing and why. It was framed as a punishment, as a ‘getting what I deserved’ and was the expression of a self-loathing that ran extremely deep, though to be fair it was not purely harm for the sake of detesting myself. It did simultaneously hold the underlying glimmer of reinvention. In mentioning these details, it is due to note that self-harm as an action or experience is a very nuanced concept that manifests in innumerable forms, behaviours and patterns. I use these words with great care and speak in regard to only my own experience, with no intention or means to detract or trivialise the experience of anyone outside myself, particularly in those instances that have proved extremely physically destructive, or fatal.
I hated running. I can’t think of many things that, throughout my young adulthood, I hated with more frustration and more depth. It wasn’t simply the sports class-induced state of ‘running’ that I hated, although that state alone was plenty. As an overweight teenager amongst a cohort of relatively fit, Aus-Kick generation young men, it was a struggle to feel like I belonged in the same room. I hated not being able to keep up with the pack in warm-ups, sweating more than average when exerted, continuing to sweat when at rest. I hated that my asthma –– often abused as a get-out-of-jail-free-card on the tougher and more calendar-marked sports days; i.e., athletic carnivals and the like –– would perpetually slow me down more than was considered normal, and far sooner than most others. I hated having to get changed after class, being just sweaty enough that I had no choice but to take my shirt off and change into a new one. I hated the shapes that my body made when I ran and the shapes it made when I got changed, and how those shapes made me feel inherently wrong and unlovable. On occasion I still see those shapes, and am moved to feel the same way. Other times, I don’t see those shapes, and feel the same nonetheless. On top of a fluctuating-yet-persistent degree of depression that I have had under my skin for as long as I can remember, circumstances such as these, plus many more, have the disposition to instantly become more weighted, more complex and inextricable.
Tangent – In my mind, depression can be likened somewhat closely to sleep paralysis, where the state of being awake resembles all that is reasonable, and beautiful, and clear, and joyful. But, from the sleeping state, it is all so abstractly out of reach. Not so much far away as demoralisingly close. After a while, you get really good at acting awake, like you’re Weekend At Bernies-ing yourself, playing a very curious game of master and puppet with a Bernie that’s just in a deep snooze. Thankfully, over the better part of 15 years, with work and support it’s possible to discover the tools and the people that help you stay awake, that throw cold water on your face when you’re stuck. I’ve noticed that I’ve picked up a habit of thanking people in books and projects by saying something along the lines of ‘thank you to the people that make the world not feel so far away.’ It’s taken from a song by a band called Crepes. I don’t much care for the song, but the sentiment is one of the most accurate and articulate that I have encountered when it comes to describing the positive influence of people around me.
The beginning to ‘my running’ that I continually glaze over as ‘my running’ began sometime at the start of the final year of high school. It was a short-lived fitness kick fuelled by a paralysing frustration. I had been recognizably overweight my entire life, with no shortcomings in the hardship and complexes that arrive with that. In hopes of finally dropping some excess body weight, a few days a week, at about 6:30am in a pair of beat up skate shoes, I would jog up the hill to the football oval, run a handful of sprints across the ground, maybe run an additional lap, and jog home. I remember the dew of the grass would soak my shoes and feet. When I got home from school, my shoes would be wrinkled from being placed too close to the heater. This all only lasted so long, until the early-for-a-teenager wake up call and alien level of physical exertion had me falling asleep in class. The program soon ended.
The beginning to ‘my running’ that is the true bookmark of events in my mind is very different. I remember it being winter, or at least very dark when dinner had finished. Most nights it was very quiet too, unless soccer training was on. The formula was simple. Dinner finished, hoodie on –– hood up, I would run a 7-8km loop that was mapped by joining the locations of my friends' houses. Admittedly, also by the houses of girls that I had crushes on. Hoping that they wouldn’t see me, but also really wanting them to see me. To see this unexpected version of me, and the effort and the volition. I did run into a few friends on this route once or twice. Seeing how surprised they were gave me butterflies. A conservative guess would say that I ran this loop, or a version of it, 5 days a week for a year and a half. Through injuries before I knew what they were, before or instead of parties, any weather. I would run, and cry, and play mind games with myself, making up stories and trying to make myself vomit, because I didn’t deserve the meal I had just eaten, or the meal that would follow in the morning. This phase of running would also bookmark the beginning of an eating disorder that would soon be seemingly attached at my hip, unlike a conjoined twin and more like an conjoined older brother –– I specifically use this character as it held the sort of demand and voice of reason over me that only an older, trusted sibling could –– for the years to follow. I was quite good at hiding it. I’m quite good at most things I do. I don’t remember if I listened to any music.
Tangent – from running in the same pair of old tennis shorts almost everyday (washed thoroughly and often), my large thighs chaffed holes through the fabric of the inner thighs of the shorts. I made a photographic diptych of it once. I thought it was pretty funny.
The eating disorder continued for quite some time, hidden for the most part, taking many forms behind closed doors and in conversation with a therapist at the time. It wasn’t exactly glamorous. It was largely sobbing over toilet bowls, hiding meals or skipping them altogether. Dizzy spells, extreme mood shifts and passing out. Having panic attacks in front of deli fridges overseas, obsessing over calorie counts, spiralling if my parents had purchased the decidedly ‘wrong’ type of honey. These patterns dissipated gradually after a lot of time and a lot of work, weaning myself into a less distorted headspace, though when triggered they still appear today in passing thoughts and familiar sensations. A lot of that period isn’t even memorable enough to call it a blur. I don’t really know where a lot of time and energy, specifically between 18 and 21, really went, although still recallable from those nights running around is the mindset of a sort of monumental focus. Dark, distorted, heartbroken, filled with such an immersive rage. Utter conviction that it was me alone in this, hell bent on tearing down every part of myself in chase of the guttural belief that something different was possible.
Tangent – I recall a Henry Rollins podcast from somewhere around that time in which he talked about his fascination with fitness throughout his adolescence –– namely lifting weights. In that space he realised that if we wanted to incite change, the only person that could lift those weights was himself. I hadn’t heard this simple sentiment of both the reclaiming of responsibility and exercising of agency be articulated quite that way before but it was crystallising. Both the target of change and the vessel for that change.
But this isn’t an essay about depression, or eating, or not eating. It’s about running as a vessel, the role that control plays and what each of these things are able to teach us about the other, of which the previous notes on myself form an important context. This text is making a case for control being the component that keeps us coming back, even if we don’t realise it, and explores the forces that control may bring with it, in its absence and presence. I’m not suggesting that this sensation is the only thing that brings us back –– it is not. The applications and services that running is able to provide are innumerable. Control is likely absent and irrelevant to some –– but it may be the most potent, the least wavering, element in the experience of more people than only those who realise it.
The ‘beginning’ to ‘my running’ ended with a royally awful 10K in London in 2013. It was nothing short of shit-house. I think I wanted to run under 50:00 and definitely did not do that. It was way too hot for a London morning –– even a summer one. I’d eaten too much for breakfast and had one calf completely blow up mid-race. Or maybe it was a stitch. I don’t exactly recall and it doesn’t matter. But fuck, it hurt. I also somehow ended the race with blood on my shirt. Regardless, the race was a milestone in my eyes. I intentionally didn’t wash the shirt, letting it sit, stained, as a sort of memento in my closet. In planning the trip, this 10K was intended to be a grand good-bye to running. A big send off, an “I don’t need you anymore, I feel better. Thank you.” I’d dropped a lot of weight in the last year-and-a-bit –– a total that would reach about 33kg before 2013 was said and done –– and was beginning to hit a bit of a personal stride too. Minor changes toward my imagined ‘normal’ felt like the moving of mountains. So I stopped running.
It wasn’t for about another 16 months did I start again, much to the concern of my parents who had cottoned on to how I was employing running as a largely destructive, though formative, tool. But it was the first year of university, I was stressed, a lot of life was being uprooted. I went for a couple of runs. I tried to ignore the motivations and complexes of the previous chapter, but they were still there. For a while I think I naively mistook what was really getting me out there door. Was it this new stimuli at school or in social circles, or was it really how those stimuli collided with patterns and dispositions that I had tried to just decide were resolved? As much as we cling to hope of it, we don’t get to make those sorts of choices. Things are not done just because you decide that they are. Not without the adequate time, or work, or thought, or care. The London Farewell was a hoax. Still, this time around running really did feet lighter than in the years before. Almost new, refurbished –– in fine working condition, but apparent were the places in which it was once broken. However, this time shortly after picking things back up, I wasn’t running totally alone. Not always at night, no hoodie, new shorts.
Running with people changed everything. Community, accountability, competition. It added a completely new dimension to what began as a torturous, claustrophobic activity. Meeting with people gave me a new reason to run, and a new perspective on what running could be, of which has only grown exponentially. Not long ago did I mention to my friend Sean that, to put it crudely brief, a relationship I really care for was coming to an end and I didn't want to run alone in the morning. All I got back was “What time?”
I can’t possibly give enough credit to what running with people has done for my livelihood and life experience. Running has placed me amongst endangered rainforests, in the middle of Death Valley, on wrestling mats with Emmy Award–winning creatives and Las Vegas pool parties. Not to mention in the cars, homes and dinner tables of strangers all over the world. Sharing ideas and stories, shedding skins of ourselves as we drag each other through some pretty ludicrous and invaluable experiences. First and foremost however, and a commonly overlooked component to the ‘put me here’ cliche, is that I’m forever grateful and in debt to myself for having the volition to pull myself into the sort of position that allowed me to be placed anywhere by anything. I would have never imagined that my running would ever, ever, leave that loop of friends’ homes.
However, keeping in tune with the crux of this text, I don’t believe that extravagant experiences like these are what keep me, and potentially us, returning to running. It’s simple to see that when these events cease to exist, we still remain to put one foot in front of the other, and we do so regardless of how pretty the horizon might look. If the last 2 years have illustrated anything, it’s that when a great portion of the perks and social accessories to running are stripped away, the gravitation toward a movement practice tends to remain firmly in place.
I really emphasise what I said before about shedding a skin too –– that phrase was chosen acutely. Digging, peeling the layers back, evolving. Blossoming. I feel really strongly that a large part of what I was searching for inside running over the earlier part of the last decade was a way to prove myself wrong. Somewhere to see, to prove, that all along I was not, was more than, all the things I told myself I was. There are innumerable people outside of myself that I have also felt a desperate, infuriated drive to prove wrong too –– people that I feel had swept me aside, had bullied and berated me, taken for a joke, treated as damaged, broken. However, it’s without hesitation that I acknowledge that no one has been more an architect of these things than myself. I also know too well how likely it is that I did all the above to myself well before anyone else ever had the chance to. I wrote an ode of sorts to this sentiment under the bill of the hat that I wore when running from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as part of a team for The Speed Project in 2018. I remember screaming parts of it running up the last climb and out of the desert before reaching the beautiful descent down into shimmering Las Vegas. About 80 kilometres on the legs from 40 hours of running by that point, pulling myself between the lights of team cars parked up the side of the highway, the yelling made quiet by the roar of trucks and traffic thundering along in the adjacent lanes. I was 23 when I did this trip. It changed my life. Before the race, when discussing how our team was structured, my teammate Mat told me that I was the second runner in the first unit. He told me that he could see how tough I was. Hearing that changed my life too. I’ll never forget hearing that.
Growing up, I skateboarded on-and-off. These days, the on-and-off-ness is more off-and-on. Stuck within a seemingly Groundhog Day loop of: not skating for a while, forgetting how to do the tricks you know, starting to skate again, relearning those tricks – maybe a new one, stopping or getting hurt, repeat –– it’s become a neat joke amongst mates. One that we probably express every time we eventually end up skating together. It gets an increasingly underwhelming laugh. Skateboarding has been all-consuming since day one, regardless of any other hobbies that came and went, and particularly despite skill levels, it feels like a third parent – taking me out on the weekend, pointing me to new music and cultures, instilling a degree of social confidence. But what has been lacking the whole time –– and actually forms one of the most beautiful components of skateboarding –– is control. Generally speaking, when you’re skating, you are at the mercy of almost everything you come to engage with. Be it a 10-stair handrail, or a teeny tiny rock on the sidewalk –– both can fuck you up, and you’ve got no seat in the conversation. I know that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Of course, as your skill level goes up, you gain more confidence, more control and physical articulation. You learn how to fall, but still – to some degree, you are physics’ bitch. I still have dreams where I’m doing all the tricks I’ve ever wanted to do, and it feels so natural, with such ease and familiarity. Then, when it comes to actually trying anything from inside this sleep state, my heart sinks the same way it always has.
It’s an extraordinarily common narrative in skateboarding to hear that it is an emotional outlet. Before the pseudo-Nineties boom of skateboarding over the past few years that has seen a skateboard become nothing short of a personality-prop, skateboarding was mostly this weird thing for weird kids that wanted to get away from who knows what. Obviously it had its phases of being seen as aggressively cool, but so did fluro tracksuit pants. For a long while, after enjoying it quite innocently from ages 5 to 13ish, skateboarding became the supercharged emotional outlet that was in place whilst a lot of life turned my mental and emotional health quite sour. And it couldn’t keep up with the needs I placed on it. There’s a particularly deflating frustration you feel when you try to escape your mind by going skating, pushing furiously down the street, only to hit a piece of glass, and fall into a puddle. When you so severely load an outlet with expectations of relief that it is ‘supposed’ to provide, you run the risk of having a really long way to fall when it doesn’t. And that landing is pretty fucking firm, even if trampolining is your thing.
(Yeah cheap joke, I know. Did you forget who’s writing this? You should have known better.)
What inevitably, very sadly, made skateboarding less urgent, less of a priority, was this lack of command over the physical outcomes it contained. Skateboarding still holds today many ideas that have been extremely valuable and formative, but eventually came a time that it didn’t hold what I found myself in need of. The more stubborn I was in my attachment to the outlet, insistent on finding within it what it was that I needed, the more strain was placed on myself and my relationship with skateboarding. Soon the idea of stepping outside to go skate somewhere was so fragile, anxiety-inducing and pressure-filled that it lost its attraction dramatically, afraid that any mistake or short-coming would further enforce any deconstructive thought patterns, initiating and fuelling a spiral that, through skateboarding, I was attempting to avoid in the first place.
Without realising it until well after the absolute toilet of a 10K in London, what I had found inside running was a miraculous place where I could decide when it hurt. Where I could decide when I hurt. Here, I found an agency over my own experience of pain that was previously unimaginable. It is up to you whether that notion is morbid or empowering. It wasn’t for a while did I realise that this was what was at the root of my gravitation, compulsion to run. The layers of physical and emotional stress were consuming enough to not think to consider a deeper vein that was linked to what really had me ‘hooked’, and what motivated my placement of value on running as an activity and system of achievement. What the running and the numbers represented. The unexpected, the effort, the volition. Nowhere else in life could I imagine a place where this sort of agency can be found or rediscovered. Cycling and strength training share inklings of the sensation, but to me they lack the same clarity or ‘fullness’. Having a space in which to push myself into such a space of discomfort, suffering and scrutiny as far as I see to be willing, whilst simultaneously possessing the capacity to end this state at any moment, is an extremely interesting space to consider. As is the space that exists between wanting to stop, and stopping. That space becomes a risk, it becomes a surrender to what you don’t know and can’t know until you show up there. It’s a hard place to be. It hurts. But everyday, so many things hurt so much more, are so much more relentless, and so further from reach, than what you feel inside that space –– to the extent that it becomes almost easy, towards reasonable, to revel in the discomfort found there. That space became where I found I could begin to prove myself wrong. That space became where the skin is shed. When it feels like life –– romantic, social, professional, emotional –– is only a series of things happening to you, this becomes a space where a tone of control can be reestablished, even if only minute. From this place, I have felt new –– like my position in the world has been restated or affirmed.
Sometimes, you bet on this space, on the risk, and you lose. You come up short. Shit goes south. It’s interesting to consider why we so keenly look down upon not hitting the mark we set for ourselves. A loss taken through intentional action is a victory compared to inaction, to apathy. If this essay has any sort of supplementary takeaway it would be outlining that just because an experience within something is unfamiliar, uncomfortable or painful, it doesn’t mean that it can’t provide a degree of immense value or depth –– something possibly inaccessible from anywhere else. And that there is benefit and insight on the other side, ready for you if you are willing to risk something in the first place. When did something that held no resistance, that went exactly as you had liked –– that was just ‘nice’ –– get you to a place that actually contained any substance? Jerry Seinfeld has a great joke outlining that pain is merely knowledge rushing into your body really, really quickly. Consider it – ever touch a hot iron when you were a kid? You learn pretty quickly that irons can get really fucking hot. Stub your toe on your coffee table? I bet you know exactly where that coffee table is now. I’m sure you can pick holes in the real world application of this sentiment, but for a moment just enjoy the perspective. You will find something out. It will hurt. Figure out what to do with that.
Tangent – This line of thinking makes the idea of getting injured more interesting than it usually is. Usually it’s not interesting at all. It’s shit. You blow a muscle on a race –– you learn that it wasn’t strong enough, or hydrated enough, or covered-in-Gyaksou-enough. What is your outlet or device for agency now that your default is unavailable? Is there one? Who are you when that thing is rendered void, even if only temporarily? More on this later.
Like many others, I’ve heard a few things from Charlie Dark that really resonate with me. One, the caption to an Instagram post, where he had semi-sternly called out a paradigm within sports marketing, an extension of the one mentioned earlier, that makes visible only the attractive, healthy, ‘put-together’ runner. Or, more accurately, a paradigm that piggybacks value off of the back of what inherently is implied by this image of runner –– beauty, freedom, confidence, resolve. Pushing back, Dark states, "I think running attracts vulnerable people. And often, if people are honest, it attracts those who are looking for change. So if they are looking for change then there has to be some emotional thing that you go through. People are looking to get fit or lose weight. Trying to prove to themselves that they can do something, battling mental-health demons. And no one in the industry wants to talk about that.” That passage speaks for itself, and is the backbone beneath my very scrutinising position in relation to a large percentage of health and fitness media. It’s very interesting to find yourself amidst a target audience who, particularly through the last decade in sport – though changes have been present recently – is subject to a market that concerns itself purely with narratives of the picturesque, the free and the traditionally heroic. Not to mention that overbearing positioning of running, amongst other activities, being the one-stop, fix-all solution to hardship. Something far distant from my lived experience of running being used –– to put it bluntly –– as a weapon. It was, and remains to be, disillusioning to say the very least.
The second thing that comes to mind when I think about Charlie –– a leader in the popularisation of contemporary running culture, as well as running’s vein of democratisation, and trendiness –– is how he has discussed a straying from his run practice, and into practices like yoga and bouldering. I remember a very clear detailing of how, to him, running had become an immensely pressure-filled item in his toolkit for the everyday. He soon grew concerned that once running was designated as this space for thinking, feeling and fixing, the space became compromised. Expectations are set, stakes are raised proportionately. For a while in my own running, naively, deludedly, an optimistic voice in the back of my mind would often entertain the hope that, when I got back from a run, everything would miraculously all be okay. Buying into the running-as-a-fix-all solution, everything would be in its right place upon the watch stopping. A quiet, deflating confusion would arise when, exhausted from expending enormous amounts of physical energy –– largely fuelled by an persistently fragile emotional energy –– everything I was concerned with remained seemingly unchanged. It took a sobering minute to confront the fact that I was diverting all my energy and momentum into a space that I felt I had the greatest sense of ownership –– the space that I had redefined for myself, the space that had become a new comfort zone or scapegoat –– instead of confronting the space that contained the issue at hand. Naturally, feelings, motivations and frustrations flow freely across channels of a lived experience; think work, relationships, money, rest, and how feelings from one are able to impact or carry over into another. But change is largely contained and reciprocal to the state of the channel it relates to. Have you ever furiously pumped the volume on your TV up and down, hoping your broken oven would get hotter? Of course you haven’t. That fucking isn’t how cooking works. Similarly, in The Chairs Are Where The People Go by Mischa Glouberman and Sheila Heti, an account of an improvisational theatre class is outlined with the same sentiment in mind. A student mentions to the teacher that they had missed a couple of classes due to feeling emotionally unwell. The teacher insists that coming to the class regardless will likely help the student feel better, and they would leave the class in a much more positive light than when they had entered it. The student responds “Yeah yeah yeah, I understand that if I came to class it would probably fix my bad mood, but I didn’t want to start thinking about the class as some sort of therapy that I use to raise my spirits.”
If I had to guess, this dynamic of running as a sort of coping mechanism became cleanly apparent to me somewhere in the months surrounding The Speed Project, feeling completely burnt out from the race and the trip as a whole, absent of any desire or goal, I found that I held only a forceful compulsion to run. That through running, I had to prove I was still here. That if I did not run, or assert myself in this physical space, I was instantly my 18 year old self all over again. Heavily influenced by encountering Charlie’s account of his own movement practice, this intersection essentially pulled me to call myself on my own bullshit. Something I do a lot. I’m quite good at it, as I tend to be. For some majority of the part, I really had expanded beyond running as a tool engaging with my own self-loathing and for body-image concerns, though those patterns were still to be found. Patterns that I had hoped were traces, but truthfully remained to act more like foundations. As much as I attempted to decide that it was no longer the case, running still held and supported a lot of the pressure that I continually poured onto it via the pressure that I continued to pour onto myself –– a dialogue that works directly in tandem with fluctuations of headspace. Upon reflection, I don’t think I really acted upon these distinctions to a substantial ability until early 2020. At this time, sometime in 2018, I think I more closely acted to various points that subconsciously negotiated both progress and protection. Generally speaking however, learning to intervene in these default states –– particularly the almost autopilot reaction of running, and broader acts of physical exertion, as a one-stop solution –– has arguably been the most valuable lesson learnt whilst running that is actually about running. To have the discipline and the restraint to know when not to move, and to instead sit with your bullshit, your despair, your confusion, and to instead follow this divine cocktail so deep inside yourself that it makes you squeak. Making an active effort to get in my own way has been nothing short of vital, and is also so, so confusing given that in ‘training’, in order to excel and push through barriers, so much emphasis is placed on getting out of your own way. This is exactly the reason I asked Sean to run that morning –– I knew exactly how the run would have played out had I settled for my default and run alone. It was too familiar and no longer the sort of option that I choose to entertain.
Discipline gets thrown around a lot when it comes to sport or training –– commonly a persistence and unwavering commitment that I for instance tie specifically to boxing, for whatever reason. Maybe I’ve watched the Creed films too many times. Probably. This common idea of discipline is what I will now frame as an ‘outward discipline’ –– possibly a ‘convex’ discipline (Spicy!) –– where I picture the puffing out of a chest, a discipline that is positioned around a degree of performance. Showing up, laying down the work, etc. A crucial part of the framework no doubt. However, on the other side of the coin is potentially a ‘concave' discipline (Did you want some extra spice with that SPICE?) –– a discipline of absorbing, reservation, going inward. A discipline of not winning the warm-up, because it’s just a fucking warm up, of not engaging with the felt need of asserting your position, just to feed the ego, whilst really compromising physical yourself. Potentially the coolest thing I have ever seen a runner do was pause after having just started a workout, look at their watch, and say “Nope, my heart rate is way too high, I’m gonna walk home.” This capacity of self-assurance will get you further than your expensive jacket, your hat and your super shoes.
Being injured for the majority of the stretch of time between November 2019 and June 2020, a perfect storm of circumstances formed. The waters of learning when not to run had been tested, and theoretically the awareness therein was a new strength. But now I could not run, or move in the ways that I was accustomed, even if I wanted to. Fortunately, the injuries were somewhat low-impact on the scale of things, but were extremely tedious and persistent. It was met with a reflex of resistance and frustration, although that can only stand for so long –– it’s exhausting. Without a series of explicit details, this window of time spotlighted a necessity for some big, big personal shifts. Not so much to do with the moving forward, the raising of ceilings, the shedding of skin, but with the pieces already in place. These pieces had been previously designed to serve different aims and perspectives, by a previous skin. Emotional fatigue from numerous sources had me clinging to the hope that the foundations were entirely sound –– to a point that for a long time I believed they were, and in turn catered to that belief. But, when at the pointy end of the culmination of a series of events and happenings, the only thing to do was to face up, to lean into breaking things down. Something that was perfectly familiar, though only if I was the author of the break –– if I was the one deconstructing, proving myself wrong, motivated by the conviction that better was possible. Not if the break was rocking up uninvited, unannounced. Not even a box of bloody Cadbury Favourites in hand.
Amongst a smattering of other pieces, it was clear that running, and the larger field of physical movement, as one of many Jenga blocks in my tower, sat far too close to the bottom, still tied to more insecurities around eating and appearance than I wanted to acknowledge, holding up more weight than it should bear. I’ve found that it can hold a hell of a lot. But just because it can, does not mean it should. That capacity should be used delicately, and with reserve. In an episode of the Runners of NYC podcast, Sam Anderson interestingly states that “running is preparing me to one day not have running.” Similar to “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” both are turns of phrase that I’ve thought about a whole lot. I still don’t know exactly what the fuck either really mean, but the former feels somewhat aligned to this idea –– that for the fortunate, running becomes a vessel for learning how to acclimatise to all that exists alongside running, by ways of going inward –– moving or not. Learning how to feel every single piece of it and, with vast awareness, how to engage accurately. Serendipitously, if you run a lot, you can put away a hell of a lot of cake too, no worries.
The most fulfilling response to this period of injury and rebuilding was the sensation of seeing so many pivotal concepts with a new degree of nuance, clarity and depth. Self-trust, confidence, delusion, rest, satisfaction, as well as the misconceptions that surround the idea of ‘breaking down’ –– the list continues. Looking closely, it became more apparent how these loose ends could all be traced back to the mornings and nights spent running in the backstreets between friends' houses nearly 10 years ago. I didn’t know it in the slightest at the time, but what had begun was a decade-long exercise in recognising when and when not to break, and to do both very deliberately. A class that I am still very much a B+ student of, albeit a damn eager one with hopes of an outstanding attendance record by the end of it. Running has encompassed a series of lessons on recognising when there is more to be had if you are willing to move away from familiar and from ‘nice’. On understanding and recognising control – when it is of service and when it is not. Where it is coming from, and where maintaining it, or letting it go, can place you. It has highlighted a capacity to not only actively inciting change, but to believe in a sense of security that allows this change to be tested, supported or disproved. Learning to learn again.
As more and more miles drip away, it has become apparent that exercising the capacity to dismantle is vital, that having the integrity to fold is a strength, and that those who look down on this have missed the point. To see when the ceilings can be raised, when the foundations have to be replaced and how to have the awareness to do so aggressively, delicately, with urgency. When it’s right, when the number is called, if you have the means to let yourself, you must show up not only to hold your ground but also in the breaking, in the pulling apart. Trusting that, it will come together again, like it has before, over and over. Just like you’ve taught yourself to do, just how you’ve prepared for, just like it will.