“Live Like A Clock”

I recently picked up Again to Carthage, the 2010 follow-up to John L. Parker Jr.’s 1978 novel Once a Runner.

(Are you a runner who likes reading? A runner but not a reader? A reader but not a runner? Neither a runner nor a reader {okay but then what do you do? I’m confused}? NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, stop what you are doing, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, go get your grubby paws on these books, read them, and then come back to Pokey so we can obsess together. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)

I’m only forty pages into Carthage, but just like I was when I read its predecessor, I.am.hooked. And I was already so struck by one passage that I want to share it here. I’m not even going to be nice and set you up with context. Just READ:

[Bruce Denton]: “And remember what Jumbo Elliot used to tell the Villanova guys.”

[Quenton Cassidy]: “What was that?”

BD: “Live like a clock.”

QC: “Live like a clock.”

“Right.”

“Live like a clock.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Okay, I give up. I find Jumbo opaque at best. Where did you get this anyway?”

“Liquori. What Jumbo meant was to keep your schedule. If your morning run was always at eight A.M., you go out and do a token run at eight A.M., even if you’re tapering for a big race or on summer break. You’re not really training, you’re just keeping your body on the same routine. Eat at the same time, sleep at the same time. Live like a clock.”

“Like Mussolini’s widow.”

“How’s that?”

“After the war she’d go work in the fields from sunup to sundown. People would say, Why do you do that? She’d say, It’s good hard work and when you do it all day you can sleep at night.”

“I guess.”

“So this is like I’ve just seen my spouse strung up upside down with his mistress by an angry mob after losing a world war? That what you’re saying?”

“No, I’m saying live like a clock.”

The passage goes on for another page before closing the chapter with a thump:

[QC:] “I lived like a clock for nearly four years in college, through quitting school and racing Walton, through the buildup for the trials, and then right to the finals of the goddamn Olympic 1500 meters.”

[BD:] “Right.”

“And you’re telling me–”

“To keep doing it.”

Thump.

This passage made me ponder the value of routine. (Oh yes, Pokey ponders, my dear readers — this big dome under all my hair? Not just a hat rack.)

Honestly, the exact same sequence of thoughts occurs to me before every single run. It’s quite literally a routine:

  1. Yay, I get to run later! I can’t wait to run later!!!
  2. [Later] Woof, I don’t actually want to do this.
  3. Okay, just go, and if it really sucks you can stop.
  4. Yeah right, you know you won’t actually let yourself stop.
  5. Okay, go anyway, and if it really sucks, you can really stop this time.
  6. No you can’t.
  7. Yes you can
  8. Noyoucan’tyesyoucan
  9. UGH FINE WHATEVER WHO CARES I’M GOING THIS ISN’T THE OLYMPICS
  10. [Hours pass]
  11. F&$*ing Garmin. “Locating satellites,” my ass.

And, generally speaking, the same thoughts occur to me on every run. I get the same sensations in my legs and feet, the same irregular, then regular, then irregular patterns of breath. I listen to the same playlists, the same big questions tumble around in my head, and I think about the same things: Friends. Family. Work. Races. The future. Plans. Problems.  Things I Want To Eat For Dinner. Things I Need To Sift Through. Things That Are Stressing Me The F$#% Out.

It’s good, but if you’re a runner, you know this already. This routine of thinking through my shit is one of the biggest reasons I always return to running. Running is, metaphorically speaking, an empty place that I get to fill with whatever I want. And that is holy.

I want, and need, to continue to build my running life into my routine life.

And If I get distracted, I’ll tattoo Bruce Denton’s advice on my forehead, and be a clock.

Tawk to me: Do you live like a clock? What is your running routine like? HAVE YOU READ THESE BOOKS (so good, right?)?

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