When I am starting, I tell myself that I only have to run for thirty-five minutes, and I don't have to run fast. Thirty-five minutes is twenty-one hundred seconds. I count seconds when I run, and footfalls and hundredths of miles, and divide them by various numbers and count them again, to give my mind something to do. To distract myself from how out of shape I am; from how even going to the gym four times a week I have gotten so out of shape that running for thirty-five minutes is hard. But I am kidding myself, because even when I was in shape to run a marathon, running for thirty-five minutes was a little bit hard; the training just meant that it stayed only a little bit hard for two or three hours.
I try to find a place of zen. When I would run outside, I'd find it in songs I liked or hills I was used to. Right now it's too cold outside, and New York is dark half the time and crowded the other half, so I'm on a treadmill at the gym. I don't have a choice of music. I find pieces of zen in the shifting patterns of numbers on the clock and the pedometer and the calorie meter. Seven minutes have gone by and then twelve, nineteen, twenty-four.
I've come to the gym at the tail end of the morning rush, and people are starting to clear out. My breathing is loud at the back of my throat. My footfalls sound faster than they can possibly be. And then the last treadmill next to me rolls to a stop, and it's much quieter. A song begins about a man who would do anything for the woman he is in love with, who does not look at him. I feel a flutter like wings in my chest, and suddenly my whole body seems to lift. My stride lengthens and my footfalls slow, my shoulders drop, it is as if I am made of one body and I inhabit myself, as if my legs are creatures I can command. My mind has settled down into my body and is silent. For a collection of footfalls and mile-hundredths and seconds, I belong to myself.
And then it has been thirty-two minutes and my breath is in my throat again, and there is not enough oxygen. My footfalls are louder, my mind claws frantically at the remaining time and how long it is, my legs and shoulders and back resume their individual rebellions. I finish the run, and afterwards I find that my heart rate returns to normal faster than previously, which means I am making progress.
I will not tell you much about the movie Avatar, but if you don't want to know anything, stop reading and go see it.
I am intrigued by how Jake only becomes fully himself by becoming something else entirely. By how the scientists can link human minds to Na'vi bodies and the Na'vi can link Na'vi minds to the bodies of their animals. By how, in the end, Jake communes with the soul of Mother Nature and the whole planet rises to his will, the alien rhinos and dragons massing to destroy the enemies of Pandora. This is what it feels like, I think, when you finally inhabit yourself fully: you are so much more than you thought you were, and strengths you never imagined present themselves. You are not just one man with wasted, useless legs; you are the galloping beasts and the flying banshees and all the trees of the forest. You can destroy your enemies with sheer endless force, and you can run as fast as you want without losing your breath.