Tonight I’m Missing Home

It started with a song: Swedish House Mafia’s Don’t You Worry Child. Not my usual jam, but my iPhone was on shuffle, and tuned to my Running Playlist after an unconvincing 9km jog around Prospect Park this evening. In the rain, no less. Humph.

Running July

I downloaded the song the day before I ran my first half-marathon in September last year. I needed a playlist, and Robbie William’s Greatest Hits wasn’t going to cut it – – although Millennium and Bodies made it on. Naturally. Alas, there was no place for Feel, my patented Favorite Song of All Time. Still waiting for the right remix. It’ll come, I’m telling you; it’ll come.

Anyway, September 21, 2013: the day I ran my first half-marathon with best mate, Aveek. It started at Milsons Point and headed right over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. And I mean, right over. As in, they halt traffic and let the runners have their away. Amazing! See?

Running Bridge

And that song – –  Don’t You Worry Child – – started playing as I had this iconic view of Sydney, in all its morning glory.

So naturally, that sticks in my head, and resonates, and reminds me of home.

But more than that, the song reminds me of the night before, when Aveek and I stayed at a random backpackers hostel about a kilometer from the half-marathon starting point. There was the usual banter, you know, mate-to-mate chat. We went to bed early; had to be up at 5am, after all.

Nothing of note happened. I didn’t reveal my deepest, darkest secret to Aveek. He did not reveal his.

But for some reason, tonight, when I was running, and that song came on, my mind shifted back to that night. And of the afternoon after the run; sharing a 9am beer at the Sydney Opera House, exhausted as heck, and hungry. Man, we were hungry.

And that leads to other memories. Other runs, around home, my daily ritual; coming home, running more or less the same route, six nights a week. My second half marathon around Homebush; eating Chinese food the night before, with my parents. A mistake, let me tell you. And an earlier memory, running the City2Surf in August, with a bunch of mates, and the beers and banter afterwards.

Turns out one song is the key to unlocking the memories, and letting them flood.

So, tonight I miss home. The memories are returning thick and fast.

But I’m in New York now. Time to make some new ones.

The Running Man

photo

I began running consistently on the 9th June 2013.

I started because I’d agreed to participate in The City 2 Surf with a couple of mates. Two of them were regular runners. Their stats on the Nike Running app proved this. I was approaching the looming 14km run – and the dreaded killer hill – with an extensive history of cardio reserved exclusively for the gym. Six days a week I spent half-an-hour on the treadmill and twenty minutes on the bike, listening to music or podcasts, bored not-quite to tears, but close, as I expunged memories of a day sat at a desk, staring at a screen.

I was never a fit guy. I was, actually, the fat kid in school. It never really bothered me because very few kids derided me for it – at least not to my face. Sure, there were stifled remarks when it came to participating in weekly sport and things like that, but they weren’t cutting. No, the punches that packed the most wallop came from within – that voice in the back of my mind that lambasted me for not being able to do what everybody else seemed to find so easy. I’m very critical about myself. I always have been. Scathing, in fact. My own recriminations hurt far more than anything somebody else could articulate. But for a long time, in my younger years, I was stuck in a vicious, depressive cycle of wanting to change who I was, but not having the confidence to do it.

One day, that changed. I was inspired by several friends who had begun to take their personal fitness and development seriously. And I was buoyed by a growing love for football (soccer). So, at 17 years of age, I began running down to the park every afternoon after school and would kick a ball around for an hour. On my own, using rugby posts as goals, I would dribble past an imagined opposition, score, send the ball downfield, chase it, and begin again.

And I loved it.

Especially as, over time, my stamina grew. I began running for longer – began running faster – and by the time I graduated I was looking leaner.

And with that came occasional plaudits from my peers.

“Looking good, man.”

“Man, how much weight’ve you lost?”

I could never gauge the sincerity of these comments, because my brain would always warp those comments into condemnations of my previous size. Their comments, to me, sounded like:

“About time you lost some weight, you fat f**k.”

More time passed. I joined a gym. These were my university days, where I would sometimes skip classes just to ensure I spent a few hours doing cardio. Now, family would say I was too thin. “You don’t eat,” they’d say. “You spend too much time at the gym.” But exercise was my drug. When I was involved in physical activity, that devious, self-deprecating voice in my mind dissipated. I would often postpone going out with friends and family in order to squeeze in another session. I wasn’t interested in toning my figure. Whatever that means. I wasn’t really interested in anything besides culling that Goddamned voice. I exercised to silence it.

It was like that for a long time. I went to the gym because I had to. I hated it. I was bored. There is nothing worse, more monotonous, than running on a treadmill and staring at the same wall, day in, day out. But I needed to drown out the voice, so I continued.

Cut to earlier this year. Still going to the gym six days a week. Maintaining a routine I genuinely despised. Then I agreed to do the City 2 Surf, and I forced myself to change my routine, to actually begin running on the street and partake in proper training.

And you know what? Like football at the park, all those years ago, I loved it.

Free from the routine – able to navigate a variety of routes around my neighbourhood and beyond – I ticked off the City 2 Surf and promptly signed up for a couple of half-marathons. I am challenging myself to take on a full marathon next year. I’m not sure if it’s a realistic target – I am pretty wiped after 25km, let alone 40km – but it’s something to strive for.

And, see, that’s the difference. Now I run to challenge myself – to reach targets, and hopefully break personal bests – and because I enjoy it. The voice is still there. Of course it is. Occasionally it pierces the hard shell I’ve cocooned myself in. But it’s no longer the reason I spend hours of my week pounding the pavement. I do it because I derive genuine pleasure out of every run – even the bad ones.