A terrible thing happened to me last week. Because of a month-long Wednesday night commitment, I’ve been running our Wednesday distances all by lonesome on Thursdays. I’d gotten a late start, and I was running on the bike trail towards a killer Missoula sunset when suddenly, my whole world ground to a halt. My iPod shut off. Silence. No batteries. No music. No blinky blinky.
I can’t remember if I stopped or just slowed to a crawl — it’s all kind of blurry now. I don’t think I cried, but I began hyperventilating almost immediately. Oh my god oh my god oh my god, I thought. What do I do now? There’s no way I can keep running. Is it even physically possible for one to move one’s legs in a jogging motion without the Hold Steady blaring in one’s eardrums? Will a person’s footfalls actually coalesce into some kind of steady and predictable pattern without Yo La Tengo cranked up to eleven and setting the pace? I had heard these things were possible, but the reports always seemed to me about as credible as a Bigfoot sighting.
When I talk to friends and acquaintances about marathon training these past few months, I’m repeatedly asked, “What’s your pace? How fast are you running?” Answer: My pace is exactly as fast as the song currently playing on my iPod. When TV on the Radio pops up with an uptempo number, I speed up. When the shuffle gods give me Aimee Mann, I slow down. Once I accidentally dialed up a Bonnie Prince Billy ballad, and I almost had to sit down in the middle of the Kim Williams Trail.
Music is absolutely essential to running, as far as I’m concerned. Actually, one of the things I like most about our Sunday morning run is that it gives me a couple hours each week where I can really concentrate on listening to music. When everything’s clicking — when I hit the zone on mile seven or eight and things are going really great — then running feels less to me like an athletic pursuit and more like linear dancing. I sing along — mostly silently, I think. I play air drums. Shamelessly. Music, as far as I’m concerned, is as essential a fuel as carbohydrates, water, or that neon slime that comes in the tiny, bright envelopes.
What I learned last Thursday is that A) it is indeed technically possible to run without the Hold Steady, but it’s not much fun and I wouldn’t recommend it, and B) I make some terrible and disgusting noises while I’m running. My god. Never again do I want to hear all that panting and snorting and whatever the hell that was I was doing with my throat. I’m repulsive! So no more leaving the iPod in the car. No more forgetting to plug the dock in the night before. The French composer Claude Debussy said that music is actually the silence between the notes. Obviously, Debussy was not a runner.