As I figured it, things were not going to be the same for runners for a while. Not for any runner anywhere. Not even on a treadmill. As I saw it, a shadow had been cast on the sport.
For me, I thought of the Marathon runners, how each had trained for a year to run in this event. Yes, a year. I had heard that it takes a year of solid work, specifically training to run this very long distance that our bodies are not really designed to do. I have heard that the half marathon, that is, approximately thirteen miles, is far easier on the body, whereas the full marathon is well beyond the scope of most people’s natural abilities.
Running is a solitary activity. I say this because you do it in your head. Or at least I do. I have never done it with another person, and don’t intend to. I cannot fathom it as a team thing. I see it as something one person’s body does by itself. It is not multiple bodies doing something in cooperation, as is synchronized swimming, a ballet troupe, or, say, a jazz quartet.
And so, when I run, I daydream. I go off places. Many places. Even when I ran at our track, called Victory Field, I loved to imagine I was ending my run at Copley Square, where the Boston Marathon ended each year. Yes, I imagined not that I was the winner in first place of the Boston Marathon, but that I was one of the runners of the race that was completing, anywhere, really, it didn’t matter to me, only that I had made it to the finish and was congratulated, a wreath of sorts placed around my neck as I passed across the line. I enjoyed this image every time I completed my final lap at Victory Field. I sped up as I rounded the curve. I told myself, “Julie, you’ve done it again. You are a winner.” Then, I’d leave the track, walk through the gate, and cherish that imagined wreath around my neck.
As I walked through Victory Field’s small parking lot, careful to avoid exiting cars so that they wouldn’t back into me, I’d imagine I was coming home from the Boston Marathon a winner, a protective foil draped over me. Nobody would drive me home. In fact, I was once in Boston’s Red Line station and saw marathon runners going home alone on the subway alone. Yes, alone. With that foil draped over them, the foil that told me they’d run the marathon. The solitude of these runners made me so uncomfortable that I guess that’s why I felt the need to congratulate them. Now, I realize that maybe what they felt inside was enough. After all, they were going home.
Or maybe not. It was hard for me to remember. Were they going back to lonely hotels? But as I left Victory Field, I changed the music to something else. I turned it down so that I could hear an oncoming car. You sure don’t want to be hit, to be so lost in a daydream and get yelled at by a driver, “Hey, watch where you’re going, idiot!”
I had to switch to treadmill running quite suddenly. I guess it was November. My fingers and toes told me to do so. My body told me to do so. When you are on your way home from Victory Field after a run and it isn’t even all that cold out, and you are convinced you can snap off every single frozen finger and every single frozen toe, and no daydream will cure that notion, it’s time to look for a budget gym.
I’m not sure when the mailing came. My mailbox is barely big enough for a postage stamp to fit in, let alone a letter. But along with the usual ads for tires for the car I haven’t driven for maybe thirty years came an ad for a gym called GymIt. GymIt? What a weird name for a gym. It turned out that GymIt was the new budget gym in town that believe me, turned out to be the best gym I had ever belonged to.
GymIt is operated by a couple of brothers to my recollection. The staff are always friendly and truly proud of the place. So when I showed up the day after the 2013 Boston Marathon, checked in, and said hello to the very kind staff person at the desk, I decided I might as well throw in my two cents. I said, “I’m not going to be daydreaming that I’m at Copley Square while I’m on my run today.”
I guess she misunderstood me. She asked me if I’d been a runner at the marathon, that is, Boston Marathons of past years. I replied, “Oh, no, not me. I only pretend. I daydream.”
She laughed. “Oh,” she said. “I get it.” We both laughed. “But you can pretend you’re at the London Marathon.”
“Perhaps,” I said.
“Enjoy yourself, Julie,” she said, waving. They call me by name because they see it on my tag when I check in. I headed off to the locker room, being careful to go into the Ladies’ and not the Men’s. One of these days, I’ll make that goof, but I haven’t yet.
So once on the treadmill, I set my player to something I’ve been using lately by Podrunner. It’s free running music you can download off the Internet. I decided to use what I’ve downloaded from their “Intervals” training program by “DJ Beatsmith.” Actually, I call him “Steve” when I talk to him in my head, because the other DJ’s name who does the Podrunner mixes is Steve Boyett, so I figure I might as well call them both Steve. I talk to them both in my head while I run, not out loud, but to myself. I tell them I can run faster than them.
Today, the guy to my right was running up a storm already. You really should have seen this guy. He was so into it, not that you could blame him after what had happened the day before. He was throwing punches into the air. I do the same thing, but only in my head. I punch out anyone who ever called me Welfare scum. Sure I do. But this guy, he was really punching, really throwing his fists while he ran. I thought that was cool.
So I began the treadmill. Soon enough, it was going up close to the speed of 4.0, then over 4.0 as I walked. I generally don’t let it go past 4.3. See, I’m short, only 5’1″ tall. So short folks like me can’t walk super fast. But all the while, all I could think was that anyone who ever looked down on me was going to have something to reckon with. Then, the music gave its signal to break into a run.
I knew that this particular mix would have me running for twenty minutes straight. Given that I took a bit of a break in there, I knew that twenty minutes nonstop was perhaps at my age, 55, not something I should take lightly. I knew I shouldn’t do this at breakneck speed. At the same time, I’d done it a few times before in the past couple of weeks, and knew my capabilities. How much could I push myself?
As I began to run, I chose a speed far slower than usual, under 5.0. Suddenly, I found myself into a daydream, and I didn’t look back.
No, I didn’t look back. I looked ahead. I watched the road ahead of me. I watched the pebbles. I didn’t want to fall. I concentrated. I thought of my legs. I didn’t think of my legs at all. My legs were not my legs at all.
I thought far, far ahead. I thought of a friend of mine, my friend Michael, whom I’d messaged with on Facebook the day before. My friend Michael who does not have a home.
I thought far, far ahead, to Copley Square. Ahead to Copley Square, to the Boston Public Library. Here, next to the library there is a grate where the homeless men and women sleep, by night, by day, to warm themselves.
No, Michael won’t be sleeping there. It is the day after the 2013 Boston Marathon and no homeless folk will be sleeping in Copley Square tonight, or anytime soon.
I thought far, far ahead as I ran on the treadmill, and the guy to the right of me punched as he ran. I punched in my head along with him and said to myself, Michael, this one’s for you.
I didn’t notice that DJ Beatsmith, whom I call Steve in my head, had signaled me to stop running. Or I guess I hadn’t noticed. In fact, the music had changed over to another mix entirely. I hadn’t noticed at all. I kept on running, and suddenly noticed that I’d gone on much longer than twenty minutes; in fact, I’d gone longer than thirty minutes. I had run nearly 5k. I kept on running and then there I was, the steps of the library, the Green Line entrances, the smell of sausages cooking, everything. I was there. Copley Square.
To my left, there had been a cycling of treadmill users. The two that had been there, two women conversing with each other had been replaced by two others who also conversed with each other. I thought that was amusing. The man to my right was about done with his run. I wanted to tell him, “You rock, fella,” but I didn’t. I figured it was unnecessary. I mere nod of my head was enough. Finally, I slowed my treadmill to a walk. I wanted to spend some cool-down time.
I thought of the foil draped over me. I thought of the blankets a homeless person such as my friend Michael might keep wrapped around him to stay warm on a cold night. I have passed by that grate many times. It is indeed warm there. I slowed the treadmill further. Michael, this one’s for you.
I passed by the desk and said goodbye to the GymIt staff. I had to wait a long time for the bus that evening. I didn’t realize that our town, Watertown, Massachusetts, would at the end of the week be at the center of the world’s attention. In fact, right where I was standing at the bus stop, where our tiny shopping malls were, hundreds of cops, FBI people, National Guard, media people, the military would be all over the place, and it sure wouldn’t look like what I was used to seeing. Sure, the atmosphere was tense. But for now, the sun was behind me, a nearly empty water bottle was nestled in my hand, and a daydream ran through my head, as free as daydreams can ever be.