h a r r i e t m a y

Tag: Running

Repeat After Me

a lot of sorrow.jpg

We’re two and a half miles into a run when I feel it. “I’m going to stop and walk,” I say to Sam, who is running twelve miles today. We’re in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park along one of our usual routes, but I’ve been injured for three weeks so I’m only just remembering that the wildflowers have turned brown.

For those few miles I am in front of Sam, so cycling must be keeping my cardiovascular fitness at an ok level. It’s also keeping me bolshy: “I feel great!” I brag, running backwards to face him. He doesn’t mind. We get on so well because he ignores all the terrible aspects of my personality.

Initially I had thought that weeks of rest would make me a bit loopy, but actually it’s making me more sensible. I’ve taken off my FitBit (What is wrong?!, Thom had Whatsapped me on the first day as I slid down the weekly step count leaderboard), have added toning and flexibility exercises to my routine, and, having dropped the assumption that I can just eat anything, have actually lost four pounds.

I have been a runner now for nearly half my life. “What do you think about when you run?” asks everyone who has never tried. “Don’t you get bored?” But the secret is that running provides context for things that would otherwise be nonsensical: meeting at 6am every day in every type of weather for five miles and a tell-all with Pat and Vanessa; having a working dog with a quick-dry utility coat and no snooze button; earning medals just for taking part even as a bill-paying, newspaper-reading adult.

Running, like life, is largely repetition, and if you take it too seriously of course it’s difficult to say what the point is.

In 2013 the indie band The National played their song ‘Sorrow’ for 6 hours in a collaboration with the artist Ragnar Kjartansson. At Kjartansson’s exhibition at the Barbican in July, we wandered into a room where the recording of this event, in a piece titled ‘A Lot of Sorrow’, was playing in its entirety. We must have entered somewhere halfway through, because frontman Matt Berninger, although still steadily composed, is visibly tiring. We watched as two techies with trays of food enter stage left to offer burgers and fries to each band member; Berninger refuses but Bryan Devendorf eagerly accepts and crouches behind his drum kit to scarf down the offering.

Rather than stall the piece, this interruption adds to it. The band works to support one another and keep themselves interested, adding and subtracting various elements at various interludes, sometimes as a result of energy (guitarist Bryce Dessner’s nervousness, for example) and sometimes a result simply of time. But ultimately what the band creates is mindfully complex; many miles away from the reduction one might expect.

Why would anyone, in the first place, agree to perform a song on repeat for six hours? For the same reason anyone would take up long distance running.

We have to do something, to find out why we do anything.


Morning Routine


My morning routine goes something like this:

At 5:30 my Fitbit silent alarm wakes me up and I ignore that it’s so early and crawl out of bed. Then I either go for a run or do some weights or HIIT or something or I write. And then I watch YouTube while I drink coffee and eat the least inappropriate breakfast food I can find, like hummus.

Yesterday I run four miles along the canal past the sleepy barges. I read their names and think about what I’d call mine if I had one, but I can’t come up with anything better than ‘Die Hard’ which is my favourite so far. It feels a long way from Charlotte N.C.

When I get back I cast a video of Toni Morrison at the New Yorker Festival to our TV. She is talking about her father:

“One of the men who was a child at the time and grew up in that little town said that my father had seen two black men lynched on his street. They were businessmen. They had little stores and so on. And so he was 14… But I think seeing that at 14, not the murder of some terrible person, or the lynching of some bad person, but the lynching of two neighbours, and I think that’s why he thought that white people were– what did he say? Incorrigible? You know they were like doomed.”

She is talking to Hilton Als and they are both chuckling and enjoying themselves and it makes them, both of them, even Hilton Als who is not saying anything, engaging to watch.

“But, listen to this, he went back to Georgia every year to visit family. And my mother, who thinks of her days in Alabama as sweet, lovely, with the woods and the flowers and my aunt this and my aunt that… she never went back. Never.”

And I don’t much like Charlotte N.C. but I have been back three times in the two years I’ve lived in London and I’m so grateful I’m able to, politically and financially. At the moment Sam and I are also watching on YouTube a documentary series about a family escaping Syria for Europe, and it’s heart wrenching, they just want what we have: work, a home, to be somewhere safe and together. They can’t move freely through the world, not right now.

I can move wherever, however and it feels like a lot of luck.

UPDATE: I decided what I would call my canal boat if I had one: Mary J. Barge.