A few years ago I ran my last race. I mean it might not be my last race EVER, and I didn’t know it was my last race at the time. But in early 2013, after having run a grueling but gratifying half-marathon in January, I ran a 10K at 11 weeks pregnant. The miles weren’t the issue, but I was right in that super fun part of pregnancy where you feel permanently hung over and all the smells and all the sounds are overwhelming and you are so tired you want to quit but you can’t quit because you are always kind of choking down a minor dry heave gag reflex. But I had signed up for the race before I was pregnant and felt committed or something so I went anyway. Dave, who hates running for various reasons but mostly I think because I’m far superior at it, ran too in solidarity. And when I crossed the finish line and after I puked in a public restroom, my appetite for racing was gone for a while.
So while I of course said ‘I’ll sign up for a race once the baby is born!’ I forgot about that soon after because I got one of those no-sleep-no-way babies. And I’d run as an outlet and as a metaphor, but I wasn’t keen to worry about my pace or a race.
Eventually, of course, the baby began to “sleep” (quotes used because it’s all still relative but whatever) and I began to enjoy my favorite hobby more again. I picked back up on my running app and tracked my miles and shaved time off my pace. And this carried on for quite some time. I tracked it joyfully and pridefully and off I went.
At some point early in the fall of 2016, however, I was on about mile 4 of a run when my app announced my distance and pace in my earphone. And I, in a reply to an APP that lives INSIDE MY PHONE, said out loud ‘mind your own fucking business!’
I knew instantly, of course, this was not something a person feeling balanced would do. Not only can the app not hear me because it is not sentient, but it’s also only doing what I directed it to do, and furthermore I don’t need to be so rude.
Later when I thought more about it, I realized that the habit that corresponds with my running is called listening-to-political-podcasts, and in fall of 2016 that habit started bringing on a certain amount of stress emphasized by the creeping rise of a certain “short-fingered vulgarian.” I thought about cutting back on the podcasts, and for a brief but profanity-free week I listened only to poppy peppy playlists instead. But I craved the information high of well-researched political conversation (because I’m very fun), so I decided to continue listening to them. The solution, I decided, was to silence the app. It continued to track my runs but I stopped it from telling me about the progress of each mile LIKE I DON’T ALREADY KNOW. But anyway.
One of the nearly instant results of this change was that my pace slowed. That app was, indeed, helping me run faster. Another nearly instantaneous shift was that I enjoyed the runs more. That app was, it turns out, stressing me out unnecessarily.
I continued using the app religiously but didn’t think about it as much since I had let go of the app as feedback. And in truth the entire reason I ever opened that app at all was to a) torment my sister who feels very strongly that she must WIN everything but who almost never ran more miles than me in a month and b) to compete with one pal with whom I was usually neck and neck with for mileage. Neither of these feel like the healthiest of reasons when I consider that my purpose in running is peace, release, and self-care.
Early last month, the running app died unexpectedly. I tried and tried to open it and fix it and uninstall it and reinstall it. But it would open only for a brief second, then crash. My phone is probably too old to support this app. Or the app was tired of me treating it unkindly. Either way, it was done.
At first, I’ll admit, I felt a mild sense of panic. How will I continue to drive my sister mad by beating her at the only thing I am better at than her besides Jeopardy at which I am also dominant? How will I maintain the years of records of all the miles I’ve run? How will I match miles with my friends?
This is the kind of panic a person who has become too addicted to the phone has. A person too tethered to the cloud.
I remembered that I felt the same way after I realized in 2014 it had been a year since my last race. And the way I justified to people ‘oh yes, I’m looking at a race to sign up for, it’s on my list’ when they asked. But eventually, I accepted that racing didn’t have to do with running for me right now. Racing didn’t prove that I run.
Similarly, tracking my runs in this app was fun and interesting and motivating at times, but that’s all. This app doesn’t prove that I run. My feet on the pavement prove that I run. My heart beating in my chest. My worn out shoes, my beautiful early morning silence. Those things are real. The app is just an idea.
As a result of the death of the app, I rest on days when I feel like I need a rest because the pressure of counting is gone.
Four-mile runs turn into six mile runs when I feel great that day, but not because I feel a need to reach a round number for the month.
I alter my route to follow the sun or to stop at a favorite resting point.
I run just as much, I think, but who knows.