Another week, another look inside what I am quickly discovering is my very limited iTunes library. This playlist is from the first time I ever ran five miles in one go. Enjoy a Spotify list if you are so inclined.
"Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades," Brand New
I talked a lot about running on a treadmill last week. That's only because it’s winter, though, not because I'm the rare combination of stupid and sadistic that enjoys running on a treadmill. Sometimes you just have to, you know? Besides, it's not all bad: there is something to be said for people-watching at the gym. I’m not talking about leering at women or men, I’m talking about the weirdos.
There was a guy running on the treadmill in front of me the other week wearing those Vibram FiveFinger shoes, which was bad enough. But he was also, like, slapping the treadmill with his feet as if they were hands. It was like he was running on his hands. It was the most distracting goddamned thing I ever saw and heard. Who runs like that? How do you not hear and understand that you are running like that? I felt like that boss in Seinfeld who hated the swooshing of corduroy.
There was also a guy running next to me with what had to be an entire roll's worth of quarters jangling around loose in his shorts. And a guy loudly singing to himself. I had ceased running in a gym in Westchester County and was suddenly transported to some kind of bizarro urban moonshine jug barbershop quartet concert. *Slap* *Slap* Slap* [awful caterwauling] *Jingle jangle* *Jingle Jangle* *Jingle Jangle.* Silver lining: I was so obsessed/flabbergasted with these guys that my run went by in a flash.
"Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," Led Zeppelin
Weirdo, impromptu fitness bands aside, do not ever run on a treadmill. Hoooooly shit, I cannot stress this enough. For my long run last week it was pretty nice out—most of the snow and ice had melted—and if I wanted to be able to drive to the gym I needed to wake up early and drive my wife to work. So instead, I ran outside. I am firmly in the running outside camp, with one exception: I won’t do it in extreme cold or sloppy conditions. I also had never before run very long distances outside. Also also, I am a creature of extreme habit and it was kind of freaking me out to run such a long distance outside. Oh, and my section of the Bronx is like a Russ Meyer film on its back.
"Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey," Lifetime
Despite all that, it was roughly 11 billion times easier to run outside. I ran a mile further than I had the week before and I still knocked 20 minutes off my time. There are a lot of theories for why running outside is easier than it is on a treadmill: you've got the psychology of physically passing things outside as opposed to remaining in one spot on the treadmill, the joy of seeing a finish line in the distance get closer and closer rather than numbers just ticking upward, and you're surrounded by the glory of nature, or something like it. All understandable draws. My own theory is that treadmills are conniving, shape-shifting gremlins.
On a treadmill—or at least the ones at my gym—a six mile per hour pace nets a 10-minute mile. When I am running six miles per hour on a treadmill I know, because of keen observation, that I am running so much faster than I normally run. My legs move faster when I am running six miles per hour on a treadmill than they ever do any other time. My lungs suck more wind when I am running six miles per hour on a treadmill than they ever do any other time. My mind thinks more You fucking asshole thoughts than it does any other time. Meanwhile, when I try to pace myself outside, I always end up right around a 9:30 mile pace. I’m not race-walking or anything, but I’m definitely not hauling ass like I am on the treadmill. And I run with no incline on the treadmill. Care to explain yourselves, evil treadmills of the world?
"(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," Metallica
Here’s the thing about running, and fitness in general: everyone’s an expert. Which makes exactly no one an expert. If we all know everything about this stuff—or at least talk like we do—then no one knows any more than anyone else and everyone should just shut up about what's the best way to train or work out. No matter what you think of yourself, you are not the World's Most Knowledgable Meathead. No one is. There may be empirical proof that one way of working out is superior to another, but it cannot possibly factor in the most important aspect: do I want to do this? Will I keep doing this?
For many of us, working out is a game of the lesser of several thousand evils. Whatever mode of working out makes you want to cry the least, you should do that. And it will probably change as you go along. I’m still figuring this all out myself with a ways to go, so who knows–maybe in a year I will be Joe Pro CrossFit. It’s impossible to say, but for now: you do you, and I’ll do me. Doing me involves lots of lube—for the bloody nips, pervert—and running to counteract the other things I like to do.
"Take The Picture Now," Mineral
I like to eat things that taste good and I like to drink things that we pretend taste good because it alters our state of mind. Younger me could do those things while also not ever doing anything else. Older me can’t. If older me has just a weekend where all he does is eat delicious things and drink disgusting things until he can’t tell that they taste disgusting, older me will be laid up for a week. AND, he will have gained, like, 10 pounds. So, he runs.
Every hero is a hero because they do great things and make sacrifices, right? So I look at it this way: I am the protagonist in the epic poem that is my life (hobbit tracking, always tracking hobbits*), and it requires sacrifice. Generally, the reward for sacrifice is eternal glory, but I'm not interested in that. I'd rather turn a sin on its head and make gluttony my reward. It's not an extravagance (food, drink) if you've experienced loss (workout). You're just evening the ballast. A word of caution on that: always do the workout first, and do not try to right the wrong immediately after. It is not smart. I've heard people say things like, "you gotta sweat the hangover out," which is just astonishingly stupid.
"Unless It's Kicks," Okkervil River
Sweat a hangover out guy: [slaps washboard abs] Drank too much last night, gonna go sweat this hangover out.
Me, with an actual hangover: flrglsmpher
Sweat a hangover out guy: It really works!
Me, with an actual hangover: [writhing on floor]
Sweat a hangover out guy: You should try it, you'll feel better.
Me, with an actual hangover: Excuse me, sir? Sir. Please stop speaking nonsense to me. As you can see, I am hungover. I've been in your situation before. You are tired. You had a few drinks, didn't sleep well because that's what alcohol does, and you are now calling yourself hungover. You don't sweat the hangover out running after that, you sweat the sweat out because you are not hungover.
This–[indicating flecks of salt falling out of eyes]–this is a hangover. I can't even cry properly because I drank seven bottles of wine and am so dehydrated that there is nothing to sweat out. So, no, I will not go running after that. Running while your body is in the process of returning the enormous middle finger you just gave it last night is a fool's errand. I know because I've done it. I bought in to your snake oil and I threw it up all over Van Cortlandt Park. "Oh, shoot," you're saying. "Got all these paper cuts. Let me go take an Italian Dressing bath to kickstart the recovery process!" That's what your telling me to do right now. Listen to how silly you sound.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lay on this couch and watch 18 hours of Felicity on Netflix. Get out of my face.
"I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," My Chemical Romance
These guys just broke up. 10-years-ago me is slightly bummed. Come to think of it, I probably hadn't listened to this song in about 10 years, but, man, did it jack me up for three minutes.
I’ve become somewhat obsessed with looking at old pictures of myself. It’s crazy what a mess I was. It’s crazier how OK I was with it. Like, there were two people living inside my skull: the person who knew what a disgusting slob I was and the person who, with deceptively strong hands, slowly and quietly smothered that knowledgeable person with a pillow. There is a transition in which you go from looking in the mirror and shuddering to looking in the mirror and shrugging and then looking in the mirror and not feeling. It’s a coping mechanism, I guess. It allowed me to continue to function in the world without acknowledging whatever shame I secretly felt. Which is why it is so wild to look at those (not-so-) old pictures. They have become my Drago on the Siberian cabin’s bathroom mirror. If I get bored tracking hobbits, I just start running up a mountain or trying to lose the crazy Russians monitoring my every move in the cold-ass tundra.
"Insistor," Tapes 'n Tapes
Speaking of, you should definitely start following Carl Weathers on Twitter. All he does is tweet BE PEACE at people you don’t follow, so he won’t clog your timeline.
"Girl, Why'd Run Away?," Reggie & The Full Effect
"Everything Is Alright," Motion City Soundtrack
I think the closest I want to get to dance/electronic music is a Moog keyboard, so these guys work for me.
I mentioned before that my wife is a Runner. She is actually crazy, too. I mean, on top of being a Runner. She gets both Women's Health and Men's Health in the mail. I have absolutely no idea why. I have never once opened the Men's Health cover. Every single one is a dude with, like, a 27-pack, a tightly-cropped beard, and a huge, welcoming smile: "Read this and you too can look like a genetically engineered female wet dream!" No dice, Men's Health. Throw a couple schlubby dudes on the cover and I might find something relatable in there.
"Saturday," The Promise Ring
Making these playlists has had an unintended yet welcome side effect that helps me out for my longer runs. My process is basically this: The day before a scheduled long run, I make the list. I try not to repeat artists within the same list and I try not to listen to more than a few seconds of a song before deciding whether or not to add it, so as not to spoil the possible surprise of hearing a song for the first time in years. It makes for a nice trip down memory lane and it gives me something to look forward to when I'm getting anxious about the idea of running longer and farther than ever before in my life.
"Under Cover of Darkness," The Strokes
"Don't Stop Me Now," Queen
I think it is actually impossible to not be brightened by this song. That's why I stuck it near the end of my run. I figured I'd be feeling pretty lousy at this point and would need a little pick-me-up, courtesy of Freddie. It reenergized me just enough and segued perfectly into the home stretch.
"Killing In The Name," Rage Against The Machine
"Ohmygod you're so tired. You basically did five miles–no one knows how far you're supposed to go, just call it.
Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.
So just slow down the pace, then.
Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.
Your shoelace feels a little loose. That is a legitimate excuse to stop for a second: Pretend to tie your shoe, catch your breath, and then get back to it.
Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me. Motherfucker.
*In last week’s column I mistakenly referred to Aragorn tracking Frodo and “Rudy.” Aragorn Son of Arathorn, along with Legolas Son of Thranduil and Gimli Son of Gloin, was actually tracking Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) and Peregrin Took (Pippin). A regrettable error.