I have a friend who is really good at anagrams. Like, really good. While I’m completely one dimensional in reading comprehension, he is a lexicological visionary, seeing words within words within words. I read the name “Elvis” and immediately start drowning in a sea of rhinestones and white jumpsuits. He sees the name Elvis, and the words “lives” and “veils” and “evils” jump out at him with equal clarity.
Did you know that the letters in “George Bush” can also spell “He bugs Gore?” Or that “Presbyterian” can be rearranged to read “Best in Prayers” and “Britney Spears?”
Yeah. (Or, “Hey-a!”)
Like everything else in life, anagrams are simply a matter of perspective. They represent a new way of looking at something that we previously took for granted or perhaps didn’t see at all. They spin things around and mix things up until “The best things in life are free” turns into “Nail-biting refreshes the feet!”
Chew on that one. (No pun intended.)
Running has definitely rearranged my thinking. I still remember the first time I heard someone talk about running high mileage. I was eleven or twelve years old, and my family and I were at a Labor Day picnic. I overheard one of my dad’s friends talking about running eighteen miles earlier that morning. (I believe he was using it as justification for the third hamburger he was about to consume.)
Eighteen miles? I thought incredulously. That’s impossible. That’s crazy. That’s not right. Normal people don’t run eighteen miles.
I never would have dreamed that a dozen years later I’d be logging the same impossible distances or that those distances wouldn’t seem impossible at all. I never would have dreamed that the miles wouldn’t seem crazy or that they wouldn’t even seem unusual.
I never would have dreamed that they would seem, you know, normal.
Try as we might to remain unbiased, we’re not as objective as we think we are. We are creatures of comparison. Our experiences color our perception, and our perception colors our reality.
I often listen to sports radio when I run. Earlier this year, before baseball season began, all the talk was about big contracts for the top pitchers in Major League Baseball. Locally, Adam Wainwright’s five-year, $97.5 million contract with the Cardinals was a hot topic. Nationally, the airwaves resonated with the details of Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander’s seven-year, $180 million deal.
Yes. $180 million buckaroos. To throw a baseball. Really hard.
Two thoughts crossed my mind as I ran and listened to the cackling voices of ESPN Radio: First, I really, really regretted that I never pursued a major league pitching career. And second, I began to wonder if non-runners look at marathon mileage the same way we look at astronomical professional sports contracts. The numbers just don’t make sense, yet here we are, tossing around the concept of a twenty-mile long run like it’s an every day occurrence.
Because, in some ways, it is.
In their own anagrammatical way, the miles have flipped my life around. Once I was a person who sometimes runs. Now I’m a runner who sometimes doesn’t. Running colors my reality. I feel displaced when I’m not running. Even if I’ve logged my miles for the day, when I see someone else running down the road, I have my own semi-traumatic “ET phone home” moment. “Hey! Wait for me! I should be running!” I cry. “What am I doing driving this stupid, stupid car!”
Runners have strange joys and strange problems. My whole week can be made by the unexpected discovery of a park bathroom that is open during winter months. Conversely, showing up at a long run location only to discover that I forgot to charge my Garmin can provide enough devastation to scuttle the next seventy-two hours. And if I end up missing my scheduled run for the day… Well, I would just like to take this moment to address my family, to whom I owe my sincere apologies for last Tuesday.
Yet, despite ancillary quirks such as excessive diarrheal fears, I am grateful for the way the experience of the miles has colored my perception and, in turn, colored my reality. You see, running has shown me that limits are not unmovable and that normal is not defined. Running has shown me that impossible is not a concrete reality at all. Because once impossible was three miles. And then it was six. And then it was twelve. And then it was twenty-six.
And then… it wasn’t anything.
We should never lose the wonder of running. We should never take the distance for granted. We should always acknowledge it to be the extraordinary feat that it is. Because reality isn’t restricted to the roads, and if there is one thing running has taught me, it is that I am stronger and tougher and more capable than I ever thought possible—even in races not marked by miles.
And that is a perception I want shaping every reality.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.