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Posted: July 30, 2008 in running
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A nimbus of gloom hovers in the dark sky above me. It is the wee hours of the morning long before the crack of dawn. The asphalt surface glistens with slick puddles left by the early morning downpour. And here, in the middle of this wet, dark and deserted street, I find myself standing irresolute and bewildered, wrestling with the idea of heading out for a run this early, this dark, alone.

It is three am and I have been tossing and turning in bed for hours. I am feeling trapped and a bit suffocated within the dark walls of my cold bedroom. With a sigh and a grunt I give up on my futile struggle with sleep, get out of bed and step outside for some of what passes for fresh air in Manila. I am grumpy, irritable, jett-lagged and slightly dehydrated. 

As soon as I step outside my balcony, my eye is immediately drawn to the village park that my unit overlooks. The park glimmers with amber points of light. Except for one or two cars that pass by, the streets surrounding it are quiet and empty. Without further conscious thought, I walk back into my bedroom and long before my jet-lagged brain could register a complaint, I am in my running gear and on my way out the door after already having pushed the elevator buttons to make the rapid descent to street level. I have no real plan except for a burning need to pound the dark streets hard and heavy with my iron shoes.

I had lost an entire day and then some flying back to Manila. The long route back from Europe had taken me through three cities… first Paris then Munich then Seoul. The last leg of this trip had been especially trying. Soon after I had taken my seat inside the crowded plane that would deliver me back to Manila, I scanned the seats around me and my eyes glazed in horror as I found myself sitting right smack in the middle of 60 extremely enthusiastic and hyper Korean school children! This, after an already 18 hour ordeal of airport-plane-airport-plane-airport plane transfers, was simply too much to bear! I am sure they had reason to be excited. After all they were at the beginning of their vacation. Unfortunately, I was at the tail end of mine and I was just tired. I started hearing brass cymbals crashing combined with the dissonant cries of shrieking furies inside my head! The flight attendant must have noticed my distress because she came rushing forward as soon as I raised my hand like a schoolgirl in a classroom. “Get me out of here…PLEASE!!” I begged. Thankfully, she found a seat closer to the bulkhead. I was slightly appeased. But, as is bound to be my luck, I ended up sitting right in front of the star kicker of the flight. A feisty 8 year old who understood no English and who seemed destined for a glowing career in football judging from all the direct hits my backrest was getting from his restless foot! 

Very soon after I walked out of the airplane’s door and felt the hot humid weather envelope me, a feeling of heaviness descended over me. A full day on and I am still unable to shake it. Sometimes, though not so often now, I find myself questioning my decision to come back to live once more in Manila. Living in this city has required me to make peace with a lot things. Not least of which is the seeming haphazard way life can sometimes unfold in this part of the world.  I know there are many good points about living here. I must have figured out what some of them are because I am still here. But Manila’s streets have a way of assailing and assaulting the senses. There are some things that don’t actually work as they are supposed to. And sometimes, even when they do, they don’t really work all that well. Mostly, I am simply not ready to be back. Not to the stress that I know the next few weeks will bring. I guess that is the problem with long vacations. You are just giving work more time to pile up! The brat in me simply refused to accept that I was already here. I wanted, no, still needed to be somewhere else!

As I venture out of our building’s door I am hounded by second thoughts about this run. The doorman of our building is clearly surprised to see me this early. He is also a little puzzled when I refuse the umbrella he is offering me as I walk out the door. It is drizzling outside now. Apparently, even the sky shares the dark mood I am in. My head is riddled with static and my feet feel heavy. I start off with hesitant strides and almost immediately, before I can even truly accelerate, I come to a grinding and abrupt halt as I stop to avoid crashing into a pile of garbage yet uncollected in the streets. Once again frustration sets in and I simply turn around in a huff and just start walking away from the rubble. I have no definite direction in mind. I am simply heading out. Away from my building towards a distant corner light. Every time I hear the rumble of an oncoming vehicle, I edge away from the asphalt surface and go deeper into the sidewalk afraid that the car would end up splashing me with the accumulated pools of water on the road. Eventually, I find myself in front of the small village park. It’s too short a circuit to run. Not even 300m.  I look around and there is still no one in sight. I decide to pound the streets. “Now or never,” I whisper as a gruff challenge to myself and even as I am feeling half-hearted about this whole thing I turn my polar watch on and start running away from the park. A taxi careens through the corner and although I give it a wide enough berth, it still honks its horn at me. I glare angrily at the cab driver through his car’s dew misted windshield. “What the hell?” I ask as I gesture expansively with my arms. “The streets are empty! It’s just you and me!” I am annoyed even more! This run certainly has not gotten off to a good start.

It takes me a while to find any sort of rhythm. There is neither lift nor lightness to my footfalls. I am simply going as fast as my legs will carry me over the uneven, slippery road. My head feels like it is suspended in some sort of fugue. It is both light and heavy at the same time.

I have started the run and have not even bothered to set a distance. I do not care to even check my pace. I am simply out to run. I am going to run myself ragged and tired. I have no illusions. This is in no way going to be a training run. I am not running towards something as much as I am running away from something. My shoulders are tight and hunched and my breathing is heavy and labored. And yet, because I was born with an excess of stubborn genes, I simply push myself forward and away. This is a run hatched with the single-minded purpose of outpacing my demons. Easy was never meant to define it.

I run a circuitous route around the village. I wake up a snoozing guard and startle a black cat. “Go home!” I shout after the cat as it scampers to hide under a parked car! Can’t you see it’s bad luck to cross my path?”  I run even as the drizzle starts threatening to become a full-fledged downpour. Before I know it I am once again in front of the village park and I barely give it a glance. I simply plod on with my head down. One heavy step after another. Pushing forward. Pushing on…

And then… It happens…

I am running and I feel the cool wind on my face and find myself breathing in air bursting with the promise of rain. Soon enough I look up and above the silhouette of the still dark buildings the sky now glows with a hushed pale light. The buildings lining my route prevent me from seeing the dawn’s first purple, then pink-red light that has started its slow spread in the horizon to the east. And yet, it does not matter. I know it is there and that is enough. I sense a growing hum in the distance and recognize the sound as the early cacophony of roaring, honking jeepneys starting to fill the streets. Dawn has finally broken through. A new day is now off to its full throttle start.  It is in this brief, elusive moment that I am somehow reminded of the reasons why I choose to live, work and play in this part of the world. For despite all its faults, it is that part of the world I still feel most comfortable in. As my iron shoes now lightly pound the pavement, i recognize my intimate familiarity with the street’s hum and bustle. Its noise, its traffic, its fumes,  its passions, its excesses, its people, its discords, its harmony,  its innate rhythm. Once again I accept that I belong to this city in as much as it belongs to me. I am part of this city’s tempo. I share its rhythm

There are places and sights outside these shores that I go to now and again to satisfy my wanderlust but none have ever enticed me enough to stay as much as the little idiosyncracies of living in this city does. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the whole scene around me are at once familiar and reassuring. Yes, today, I am running without the backdrop of the majestic Pyrenees Mountains. And yes, the serene sanctuary offered by the gritty sandstone lanes in Madrid’s Retiro park are a thousand miles away! Here there are no wide tree-lined paths to run in. There are only uneven sidewalks and haphazardly laid out lampposts and street signs in the stretch ahead of me.  Around the corner a peanut vendor is already claiming his part of the sidewalk.  I will have to share it with him on my next round. This no longer bothers me. I have not only made peace with my surroundings, I am content.  And pretty soon I find myself embracing the street’s tempo as it meshes with my own. 

Soon enough my breathing becomes less labored. The suffocating shell that has wrapped around me slowly melts away. My heart lifts. I slow down and look around  at a city that is now fully awake and I realize that  finally I am ready to go home. 

Sometimes it takes running a  long and circuitous route to finally find the short but magical path home…

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Comments
  1. DATC says:

    You write so beautifully, describing your run had such a poetic quality to it. It was such a pleasure to read even though I could feel your pain and discomfort on your plane ride home.

  2. myironshoes says:

    Thanks Dong! Ganyan talaga kapag jet-lagged. Kahit ano ano naiisip! Apparently this blog is now my playground too!

    And don’t worry. No child or black cat was harmed in the writing of this piece! Mabait na ako! Haha! 🙂

    Will we see you at the Milo Run this Sunday?

  3. DATC says:

    I initially didn’t plan to Milo because I didn’t know when my wife would give birth. Now that I know I can join, registration already closed. Too bad you didn’t get to join the Cebu Milo half.

    I’ll probably join the Men’s Health on Aug 17 instead.

  4. Why the melancholy state? Even with the way it’s been poetically narrated, despondency seems to seep through it. Not over that German guy? 🙂

    Welcome back 🙂

  5. myironshoes says:

    DATC, Well, you have 5 sundays to look forward to this August so I’m sure you will have lots of chances to run races this month! Fun!

    BarracudaRun, Thanks!;-) Melancholy is never any match to a scoop (or two) of cherry garcia ice cream!! Yum!

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