After narrowly escaping getting toasted, I was feeling pretty crispy. “How about we take a rest day today?” I asked.
“The rest day was yesterday,” Mom said. “I’ve got a long run today, and I was hoping you could come with me.”
“But I’m not rested!” I said.
“For you I’ve noticed that time, not distance wears you out. What if I promised that today’s run would be short because it’ll only take a few hours on your paws?”
“How would you know when I’m worn out?” I said. “Who’s the coach here? It’s me!”
“It’s not rocket science. You sniff and run ahead when you’re fresh, and when you’re tired you stay on my heels and lie down every time we pause for a pit stop. Your battery’s got about 2 or 3 good hours before you poop out, regardless of whether we’ve gone 2 miles in that time or 20.”
Amateur mistake! She was confusing my running economy with laziness. “There’s no use running extra steps if they’re not being counted,” I told her, quoting the scholarly articles I’d read on Facebook. “…and you’re the one wearing the watch. I’m only staying close to finish my miles faster.”
“That’s just what I mean. When you’re fresh the miles don’t matter because you’re running around to see everything there is to see. It’s when we stop noticing all the wonder in the world that we need an arbitrary, prescribed number of miles or minutes to aim for. That’s not just boring, it’s a fast track to burnout.”
“That’s what I’m saying. I’m fast, I’m burned, and I want to opt out,” I told her, nosing deeper into the blankets.
“So how about rather than grinding through a half-day hike, we enjoy the sunrise and the cool part of the morning by sightseeing for a couple of hours, and fast forwarding through the boring in-between parts? Then we can stop after we’ve seen all there is to see. So long as we’ve gone 13 miles.”
If there was a way to fast forward miles, then maybe acting like a dog at the end of his run would skip to the finish faster. I tested my idea by flopping down in the car kennel while Mom wriggled into the packpack straps. When she started running, I drafted so close that all I smelled was socks, and followed in her whipstream.
“Clomp!” said my chin.
“Ow!” said my mouth.
“Cheese, spud!” said Mom. “Back it up. This is really going to be an unpleasant run if you’re so close you’re getting kicked in the face every other step.”
“Fine. I didn’t want to run with you anyway!” I said, falling back just enough to show that I could keep up if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to.
Each downhill rollercoastered into an uphill that ended right when the downhill’s push spent itself, and then we would drop into another trough. When Mom announced it was time for our 5K water stop and I lifted my nose out of the bush I was investigating, I found her behind me. I’d been so busy sniffing that I didn’t even notice I was back in the lead.
The rock skyscrapers we’d been running through reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place. Carrots? No, that wasn’t right. Bananas? Hot dogs? Pickles? Chorizo? “What are they?” I asked.
“The signs call them spires, which is a fancy word for tower,” Mom said.
Suddenly I realized what they looked like. “Hey, don’t they kind of remind you of…” But Mom was already jogging down the hill.
We may have been running, but it was starting to look like our run would take much longer than Mom had promised.
“I think that running here was a mistake,” I told her while she did a set of deep squats and lunges looking for the perfect picture.
“Why? The conditions and surface are perfect.”
“Because you’re not running all that much.”
“We’ve run almost every step.”
“Yeah, but you keep stopping between the steps. It’s too cool here. Maybe you should have found another track or sketchy dirt road so you could practice being bored. Isn’t that what endurance training is for?”
“What do you think the point of running is?” she asked.
That was a dumb question. “To get the zoomies out. And spend time with me, of course.”
“And what puts the zoomies in?”
Dogs get the zoomies when our pack is all together and then a door opens. But what do people get zoomies for? I thought about the things that made Mom look forward to a big run. “Isn’t it because they only sell Peanut M&Ms in Share Size?” I guessed. “…and to punish yourself for all the bad things that happen to you?”
“Sure, people do it for those reasons. But does running out of self-hatred and regret sound like a fun way to spend your free time?”
“But if you don’t punish yourself, who will?”
“There’s more to life than punishment,” Mom said. I was surprised she knew that. “As a life coach, why would you recommend that someone run?”
“To get out and smell the world. And because it feels good to move. And because food tastes better afterward. And to spend time with your life partner. Running helps with all the good things in life.”
“Right. A track or treadmill is an okay substitute in a pinch, but it can’t do all of those things. I run on a track or treadmill to get rid of all the variables so I can shift my brain into neutral and see where it goes. When there’s nothing to pay attention to, the only place to go is deep inside myself. That may help me concentrate on my body’s signals in a tough workout, but on a long, slow run like this one where the whole point is to resist the desire to stop, that can take me to a pretty dark place. On the other hand, every time I have a thought about this scenery, or which way to turn, or how to pace myself to the top of the next hill… is a moment that I don’t need to spend in the pain cave.”
“But what about all the stopping? Shouldn’t you be out of breath and stuff? Don’t you need to barf just a little bit? Isn’t it supposed to hurt?”
“I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure,” she said. “Fast runs are hard on the body. When I run slow, it’s a lot more pleasant and I’m less likely to get injured. If I get injured, then I can’t run at all, and then how will I see the world and get the zoomies out?”
She had me there.
We stopped in front of an enormous lump that glowed the grey of a french fry in the early morning sun. “I know what it reminds me of!” I announced. “It looks like a giant potato!”
“It’s called Mammoth Spire,” Mom said. As if I didn’t know what I was looking at.
“Mammoth? It’s got no tusks or trunk or anything. It’s definitely a potato. Potatoes are very noble tubers.” I should know. After all, I’m a potato beast myself.
It felt good to know that Mother Nature was an Oscar fan and had left a magnificent momument to show her admiration. We dogs don’t make things, so when we’re happy and we know it and we really want to show it, we wag our tails, or play tag, or wrestle with whoever is making us feel that way. So I was confused why Mother Nature would show her appreciation with something was only good for looking at, but I was still flattered.
“Mom, what’s the difference between art and sports?” I asked.
“Hm. I guess that sports are a way to have a conversation, and competition is the language they use. As people bring new ideas and styles into play, the conversation incorporates them and keeps evolving. Art is communication too, but it usually goes one way. When an artist has an idea that inspires him, he creates something to represent that idea. If it resonates with other people, they adopt his art and pass it on for other people to appreciate. The more popular an idea is, the longer it lasts, and that way an artist might shift the whole world closer to what his idea represents.”
I looked at the Potato Spire and all the other french fries in the distance, and thought about all the people who would come here and be in-spired by them. We were running here today, but we’d be somewhere else tomorrow. It seemed a shame to let this memory get lost under all the other runs that would pile on top of it without so much as a medal to remember it by. I wondered if maybe that was why Mom took so many pictures.
“So if we’re not racing, is our running a sport or an art?” I asked.
“I suppose it’s art, and our bodies are the tools we use to make it,” Mom said. “But that’s a cheezy idea to end on…”
Oscar the Artist