On running: A Guest Post by Gerri Brightwell

I’m a wimpy runner, I’ll admit that right off the bat. I’m not someone who runs twenty miles before breakfast when it’s twenty below, which it often is here in Fairbanks. No, I’m a fair-weather runner. I break out my running shoes when the snow’s mostly gone, and the puddles of meltwater have shrunk enough for me to dodge around them.

For the first week or two I jog around the block and tell myself I’m building up stamina after a winter of doing less-than-aerobic exercise (a bit of skiing, a bit of rowing on a machine) and then one day I’m off, settling into a three-mile run when it’s only six in the morning and sensible people, like my husband and children, are still in bed.

Every year I promise myself that this year—at last, never mind that each year I’m sinking deeper into middle-age—I’m going to work up to longer distances. Five miles, like I used to run (back when I was in my twenties), or ten, or heck, up to twenty like some of my friends who have a sleek look about them. But every morning when I’m out in the cool air with the sun just starting to warm it, when the morning smacks of possibility, the prospect of running faster or farther on this particular day, of making my lungs ache painfully and my legs turn to jelly, just isn’t appealing.

Here’s the thing: I’ve only lately realised that I use running as an excuse. What I really want is to be outside in that bright summer air, listening: to stories, to discussions about writing, to interviews with writers, all of it packed onto my iPod. It’s my time to be alone with words without them coming at me through print, and it changes the world. Now my neighbourhood is dotted with sights that remind me of what I’ve listened to: there’s the corner I was running past when David Lodge explained prolepsis (a revelation of what is to come); there’s the stretch of road I was pounding down when I got that itchingly creepy sense of what was about to happen in Borges’s “The Gospel According to Mark.”

I’ve tried listening to music. In fact, back in the days of tapes, that’s all I listened to. I’d come belting out of my front door with something fast rattling into my ears and take off up the road like a hare. Now I prefer to find my own rhythm, but it’s not just that: my favourite podcasts are stories because I rarely read during the day. I’m sure that’s partly my own fault—I must prepare class! I must make dinner! I must write! To sit down with a book before evening gives me the guilty sense of slacking off.

No wonder listening to a New Yorker podcast of Rivka Galchen reading Leonard Michael’s “Cryptology,” or having Tobias Wolff pouring Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven” into my ears, feels like a pleasure smuggled into the day, and to earn it all I have to do is run. You’d never even guess that was what I was up to, seeing me in my shorts and T-shirt: Look—I’m not reading! I’m running! That’s why, when the mornings are dark and the roads turn icy, I still put on my running shoes until I’ve slipped one time too many, or been scared by yet another car coming fast and close out of the gloom, and I stop.

The rowing machine’s just not the same. There’s the whoosh-whoosh of the wheel turning. By the garage door sit my sons’ schoolbags, and I remind myself to check their homework, or go over their spelling words at breakfast. I ask myself what I can make for dinner that they’ll eat without one of them doing the cat-with-a-hairball act. The world hasn’t been left behind. No, it’s all around me, making me lose a few words of the story I’m listening to, sometimes a whole shift of scene so that when I catch up with the story again I’m all at sea and wonder, “But wait—weren’t they at the undertakers? Why are they drinking coffee?” The story and what it could have been to me is lost.

Since the autumn I’ve been saving up stories. Tomorrow at six I’m going to put on my running shoes and listen to Roberto Bolaño’s “Gomez Palacio,” and I won’t miss a word.

4 thoughts on “On running: A Guest Post by Gerri Brightwell”

  1. That's the most convincing case I've ever heard for jogging, Geri. We've been pounding the pavement in Oviedo to a soundtrack of RadioLab and This American Life.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Good idea, Geri! I've listened to the New Yorker podcasts but I could definitely use some advice on where to find more writer interviews or lectures to download. If anyone has found a great place, post it here!

  3. Jeanne Klaver

    I do the same thing! I run 4 miles a day to New Yorker stories; then listen to more as I fall asleep at night! I feel more connected now that I know other places to find stories/interviews/lectures. Thank you!

  4. The New Yorker podcasts are wonderful. Another of my favourites is CBC's Writers and Company–hour long interviews with big-name writers. There are some more newsy podcasts that can be interesting: the Guardian Books podcast, Books and Authors (BBC) and the New York Times Book Review.

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