This week is the 5th annual Firefly Music Festival in Dover, DE – my favorite music festival and one I’ve managed to get to for the past four years – and I’m missing it. I won’t be as dramatic as to say I’m heartbroken, but I’m really super bummed. I love music. I sound like a overanxious camel when I sing and I haven’t played an instrument since I was in high school, but man can I jam to some Bob Segar and Meatloaf. I love music. And not just the hipster underground alt rock and hip hop music that I’m supposed to love. I love that crappy 90s rap and twangy country. I love the bouncy pop and knock-off punk. I love a song you can dance to, cry to, run to.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the connection between music and running. For most, myself included, music makes the miles go by so much faster. There comes a point in any race where I need to pop my headphones in and go. Even here, I listen to my audiobook until I can’t stand the view of the treadmill or the sand anymore. Then I go to my favorite playlist, close my eyes, and go somewhere else. I don’t focus on the strain of my lungs or the ache in my feet. I focus on the poetry in the lyrics or the passion in a beat.
Music is a drug, a safe and legal one, and when mixed with running it’s potent – in the very best ways. It’s a sound track to my high. Music has a way of punching me in the gut. It has the ability to accompany a mood, amplify it, calm it or even overcome it. Sometimes all at once. Just like running. Our whole lives have a soundtrack. And when a song from that soundtrack comes on midway through a run, that mile is dedicated to that memory. Because running takes so little brainpower, it’s hardwired in our bodies, you can devote your entire mind and spirit to that memory. You can reflect on it, relive it, and safely tuck it back into your memory. Music transports me to that first bus ride in Italy, to a long country road, to my front porch dancing, to that last 10 miles on the mountain. More than that, it gives me back my emotions. I don’t simply feel joy when I hear a song from a joyful occasion – I feel the same joy - with all its specific nuances and context. Amazing grace doesn’t just remind me of the sadness I feel at the death of a loved one, it uncovers the exact sadness and love I feel hearing my mother hum it.
Music and miles are portals, free of space and time, a break to the past, the future, and the true present. Running strips us down to the core, the very basics of the human body. One foot in front of the other. Breathe in and out. Drink water. Eat calories. Move forward. When that simplicity is coupled with the complexity of music, something magical happens. All of it can come rushing in, you lose yourself and find yourself all at once. It’s overwhelming to be sure, but what beauty you’ll find there. The capacity of the human spirt to feel all of those things, experience all those things, process all those things. The ability of the human body to cover those miles, to move that fast, to endure that suffering. To me this is the most terrifying and humbling experience. It’s how I feel when I stand on the bow of a ship. Like there is this incredibly complex, vast, and interconnected thing right in front of you that you know so little about. And the deeper you go the more you realize just how much you don’t know, can’t know. All you can do is appreciate what you don’t understand and wonder at the beauty of it all. Turn your music up, put one foot down, then the other. Be humbled. Be overcome. Be grateful.
"I ran to be free. I ran to avoid pain. I ran to fee pain. I ran out of love and hate and anger and joy." -Dagny Scott Barrios