Julie came up this past weekend for our 20-miler. We’ve been training for London together, long distance, and like our last marathon, deemed ourselves incapable of running the massive 20 alone. So she flew up and we had a wonderful weekend of running and catching up. On Sunday, we finished off our final pre-tapering run with the Scotland 10k, and added Nadje into the mix. It was such a great weekend of running and friendship, that I found myself happily blogging about it on the the Races In Places myspace.
Originally a lot more friends were going to join us on the 10k. Laura, Kate and Sara had all expressed interest, but Kate and Laura were preoccupied with big auditions, and Sara had a gig (that I unfortunately missed) the day of the race. As I mused in my Carrie Bradshaw way about the race and my friends who are runners, I couldn’t help but think that there was something about running that complimented music. (Now if only I had an outdated Apple laptop and Upper East Side apartment!)
But it’s true! I think there is a lot about running that is attractive to musicians. Just ask P. Diddy and Eric Alexander. Initially, there is the kinship of excelling individually within a group. We practice all day long (well… so I’ve heard) so that we can be our best, but most often we display our shiny selves within a group, an ensemble. Running our best, within fields of thousands of runners feels comfortable, normal.
That comfort is a nice reward to what I think attracts most musicians: the seemingly masochistic nature of training. It’s not much different than practicing, or in my case, writing. Somewhere in you, you want to do it, but given the choice between practicing/writing/running or eating pie… mmm, lemon meringue pie… No need to state the obvious. As musicians, we value and relish the extraction of greatness from sheer, hard work. It’s like getting water from a rock, or turning metal into gold. The high from performing, when completely prepared and honestly intentioned, is the sweetest tasting water, the shiniest gold. Finishing a race is no different. In some ways, its better.
Running is concrete. Music is not. To run, you stand, run, stop. You cross the finish line and there is no question of success. No interpretation. No some like it, some don’t, we all hear different things. You crossed the finish line. You are a success. Two people cross the finish line an hour apart, they both get finisher medals. Out of a field of 25,000 runners, only 15 or so actually run to win, and then another 85 maybe to place. That leaves 24,900 runners who are content with not being the best. What a relief to a musician who has to be so competitive to be successful! And substituting for the critics, are the thousands of anonymous spectators, cheering for you, whom they’ve never met and only need to know one thing about you: you are a runner. It has literally brought tears to my eyes in race to hear people telling me that I can do it, I can finish, complete strangers giving me their energy. Such a stark contrast to the music world, where we desperately check our mypace music page for confirmation of our musical existence.
Not to say that running is simple, because it is a quite complex sport. Sort of the way good music on first listen sounds effortless and simply beautiful, but on analysis complex chord structures, shifting time signatures, and challenging instrumental techniques are found. Good form, pacing, preparation, nutrition, discipline, strength, strong recovery, and patience are only a few of the aspects of good running. These facets I try to apply to my musical training. In running, with out them, it’s not so much that you fail, you just make your life suck, really, really bad. What’s worse than being 4 miles into a 12 miler (a distance which should be a breeze if you are in marathon training) and finding your muscles fatigued, dehydrated, you’re freezing, you’re tired, you want to be back in your warm bed, and you’ve still got 8 miles left and because of the route you chose, you can’t quit where you are- you have to finish the run? How about sitting at your computer at 1:13 am, for the 6th hour, sick off coffee, the caffeine conflicting with your massive fatigue, trying to finish your jazz phil piece which is due the next day by noon, complete with bound scores and taped parts, consulting your Adler AGAIN for a double stop because you are not a damn violinist, craving your warm bed, but knowing you will not feel its comfort because you only have 10 measures and even slowing the tempo drastically does not meet your 3 minute minimum- you have to finish the piece. I can say with the confidence of personal experience that that sucks more than the 12 miler.
This marathon’s training started with runs like the afore mentioned 12 miler. It’s amazing how quickly I learned to not go out drinking the night before a long run, to get more sleep during the week, eat better, drink more water, etc so that my Sunday afternoon runs would not suck. I’m not sure I’ve learned my lesson with the writing procrastination, though those experiences are far worse. But being in marathon training, and having to be constantly aware of my lifestyle and how it will affect my back of the pack running, is forming habits that will hopefully be easily transferred to my composition training.
I think that’s the relief we musicians find in running. The lack of the frustrating abstract. While it’s that very abstract and interpretation that gives music, and all arts for that matter, that sparkle, the mysticism, it can also drown the artist in the very cup of coffee she is clinging to. Running is the Baywatch lifeguard that saves you and refills your inspiration. No matter how dark my day, how eaten away by egotistic depression, running pulls me back out. Every time. Because it’s a concrete chemical reaction that I don’t really understand but am extremely grateful for. Often that runner’s high only lasts the bus ride back from the gym, and dissolves as I ascend the 6 flights of stairs to my dark cavern of an apartment. But those 20 minutes are mastercard priceless. I cling to them as my rested mind can better battle the feverish you’re-not-good-enoughs that pepper every musician’s existence.
Running has become my stability. I’m not fast, I don’t excel at it, I half the time don’t even want to run, but it has become a passion parallel to coffee drinking. And like my eagerly anticipated bringer of spring double tall iced caramel macchiato, running is one more giver of strength, stabilizer, and bringer of good habits that will support my efforts to excel as a composer.