Forget the inspiration, the challenges, the training techniques, the goals.
Forget researching neurology for scientific support. Forget constantly recalculating the odds, feeling like they get worse every day, wondering how much life this experiment has left in it.
Forget all that. This morning, just be that 12-year old racing a friend home after a Friday night small town football game, suddenly noticing that his feet aren’t even touching the ground and he’s leaving the fastest kid in town far behind.
Or just be that 17-year old running wind sprints on the football field and coming in just a few yards behind the fastest kid ever to play running back in your town, the holder of three conference championship records as a sophomore, and all the coaches are looking at their stopwatches and saying, “Who’s that kid in second place?”
Or just be the kid the varsity track coach pulls aside one day and says, “You’re built just like Jim Ryan — we should make a miler out of you.”
That conversation never went any further. Every now and then I wonder what might have happened if it had, and I always end up being glad it didn’t, because like Jim Ryan I might have walked off the track in the middle of a race one day.
But never mind any of that, not now. Just be who you are, right here, right now: a kid’s soul living in an adult’s body. Step on the machine and you’re out of that body, running like your younger self, running for the pure joy of it. All the struggle and trying to figure things out fade and fall far behind, like the fastest kid in town who couldn’t keep up with you. There’s nothing but the movement, nothing but the stride, over and over, churning up the invisible ground under your feet. Machine metrics? Who cares? Moving is all that matters.
Your heart swells, you’re just so grateful you can do this.
Jim Ryan had the perfect stride. I’ve studied it frame by frame. I visualize it when I run on the machine, patterning my brain, telling it, “Make me look like that.”
This past Sunday, I looked like that for two hours and ten minutes. It was only during those last ten minutes that I noticed the machine was telling me my heartbeat was up in the “high performance” category, that my right foot was starting to spaz out and turn sideways, that I was feeling tired.
It didn’t matter. I was running. My long legs were put on this planet to run; there’s no other explanation for them.
And so, this past Sunday, that’s what I did.