I had an itch.*

Granted I’ve never been much of a long distance runner. I get bored. Anything over an hour and my mind starts yawning or focusing on unnecessary things like the bloody pain. But it had been two years since I’d done over 15 km and I had much accumulated energy to release. So I set out for a half-marathon. From what I understand, the half-marathon is a loser’s run. Not even close to hurting as much as a full marathon does, not requiring much commitment, nor extensive training. It’s half the distance but two thirds less difficult. Totally me.

Of course I was concerned I might fail even at the loser level, so I carefully bred and raised secret sophisticated excuses for aborting early, while the day was going by and I tried to psych myself up for the evening. I always run in the evening, or late afternoon. It’s the time of day at which I am less of a wimp and more of a worm, which is better. In the morning, I wouldn’t last a mile. My metabolism doesn’t kick in until late and I am barely able to hold a full coffee cup with one hand.

So I uploaded 50 or so additional songs to my MP3 player for the circumstance, mostly Sisters of Mercy and Rammstein. The mercy, I would need. And I don’t understand most of Rammstein’s lyrics, a good thing.

I grabbed a gel, a fruit bar from Trader Joe’s and planned on hydrating at the two or three water fountains I’d pass by on the Sea Wall, around which I was going to run twice. Exactly double my usual 10.5 km loop.

At 3:00 pm, it already seemed like a much worse idea than it previously had. By 5:30 pm when I headed out, it felt like sheer madness. A bottle of Stoli and garlic-stuffed olives were calling me back home. I don’t know how I resisted.

I ran the first half of the half-marathon at almost half my normal speed, half-worried I wouldn’t have it in me to venture into the second half. (It’s one thing to run a straight line from A to B like I’d done in Duluth; it seems harder to complete a loop and launch into another, when the finish line is so near and tempting.)

Old ladies were passing me. Running dogs were passing me. Even a three or four-year-old little girl who had barely learned to walk managed to scurry past me in a triumphant sprint, until she plunged head first into a resting Canadian goose that thankfully took the insult quite calmly and simply relocated a few feet away as the girl was crying and trying to rub all the guano off her face.

But I knew what I was doing. I was pacing. I was buying life insurance. Putting money in the bank. Gathering supplies for the hurricane to come. Being la fourmi instead of la cigale. Wise. Chicken.

So when I hit the half-way mark and still had most of my energy untouched, I figured I could resume at my usual pace. The strange thing is that I was only about 3 or 4 minutes slower than I would have been on a 10K run. Funny how differences are so insignificant. Just like the margin between happiness and sorrow. Thin razor’s edge. Sharp.

I then threw myself into the bottom of the first hour, furiously rowing to pick up the slack. I passed every single old lady I could find, looking straight ahead and making sure I painted a look of intense concentration and sheer determination on my face. They must have been stunned and moved. Actually I almost literally moved one but that’s because she had a bit of a vacillating style and suddenly stepped sideways as I was passing her. Dogs would run back to their master tail between their legs. Children did not dare compete with me. I was the king of the path. Thank God, for some odd reason, no real runners happened to be tackling the Sea Wall on this gray week-day.

At the 3/4 mark, things suddenly went sour. My legs turned into lead and running became as complicated as handling an engine failure while flying an IFR approach. I suddenly felt like I was multitasking. If my breathing had allowed, I would have stuck my tongue out to concentrate better. It’s amazing how complex a simple running motion is, once you’ve lost the automatic drive. So many muscles are involved and they all want to do something different. But then I crossed paths with a guy who ran all over the place, apparently supporting his stride with wild random motion of his torso and arms. I hope I only cracked up after passing him. It made me feel better about my own shortcomings – until I remembered reading that Emile Zátopek himself was well known for having a horrible style that went against every rule of proper running form.

I dragged my sorry buttocks through the last stretch, cursing at myself for even coming up with such a stupid idea and pondering the reasons that make us do what we do. I finished in 1:51 hour, unknowingly having run 20.4 km instead of 21, I had my calculations wrong. Oh well.

So here’s my theory: we run because it hurts. It hurts because we’re lazy. We’re lazy because of gravity. Gravity is hopelessly fighting entropy. Entropy was the only possible outcome of the Big Bang. The Big Bang was our universe’s greatest achievement; everything since then has been boring. And hence, we run. To avoid the boredom of a universe still expending but decaying as it does so; to forget that we too, even while growing and learning and maturing, are slowly but irremediably decaying and succumbing to entropy.

We run.

* For those of you who instantly thought of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, funny, I did too. ;-)

“I was not talented enough to run and smile at the same time.”

Emile Zátopek – Winner of three gold medals at the 1952 Olympics for the 5K, 10K and a last minute decision to run his first marathon.