We’ve all heard about ‘the zone’. That mythical place where you attain equilibrium when you run. That moment where everything is working a it should, when you feel like you can run forever.
I get into the zone on pretty much every run now. But as soon as I notice it, it’s gone. I’ve got to find a way to trick my brain; to be aware that I’m in the zone, but also stay there.
It comes with a feeling that I’m almost weightless, that I’m barely touching the ground and my stride seems longer than ever. I check my breathing, my heart rate. I sense for discomfort in my legs, my feet. I lift my chin, and I run. Sometimes, the music go off. Sometimes, it gets louder.
But then, just a few seconds later, as I’m settling into this, I crash. I become all to aware and I fall back to Earth with a thud.
When I first started out running again, I found it hard to ignore the voice in my head that said ‘stop’. I defeated him, and I’ll find a way to get into the zone and stay there. Distance is a mental battle, not a physical one.
I never had a problem when I was young. I remember a day at the park a couple of streets away from where I lived the first time I discovered I was good at running.
The local park had a path that ran around the edge. It wasn’t a huge park; one of those inner city playgrounds with a tennis court and patch of grass that the bigger kids played football on. It was probably shy of 400m around the perimeter.
I was about nine years old, and I watched in awe as a couple of joggers ran around and around, were joined by a couple more and then went on their way.
I thought to myself I can do that, and so I did. I got up from where my brother’s and I were playing and I started running, just like the joggers, around and around.
“Wow, he’s pretty fast,” I overheard this guy say to his girlfriend as I passed them. I smiled to myself, and resolved to go even faster.
It was only some two hours later, when the same couple were returning from wherever they had been stopped me.
“Hey kid, have you been running this whole time?”
“That’s incredible. Keep it up, son.”
Nobody had called me incredible before. Especially not for doing something so ordinary as running.
My older brother came bounding over.
“Why were you talking to strangers?”
“They told me I was incredible.”
“Well, you’re not.” And then I got a punch and a telling off for talking to people I didn’t know.
But the seed was sown. After that day, I ran everywhere. Need a loaf of bread, Mum? I’ll get it. Time me. Distance was no object. I never thought of not running anywhere.
I spent my lunch times and break times at school running around and around the edges of the playground, for no reason other than because running was fun. It was what I wanted to do.
As I got older, I ran less. Life gets in the way. But for years, night after night, I dreamed that I was in the zone, floating weightless inches above the ground, but still running, never tiring.
And every time I run, I get back there. However fleetingly.