Probably written in late 1994. “Thwicka” is the sound of a running
shoe on pavement. I submitted it to “Runner’s World” but never heard
back. Re-reading it now, 10 years later, there are some parts that are
bit grandiloquent, but I think I still like it…—-

Thwicka… thwicka… thwicka…  I am a runner. On Sunday morning, my
slowly slogging steps trace the broken concrete and cobblestones to
the path by the river. I make the pilgrimmage three times a week, in
the morning, when the air is still.

The sleep has just barely left my eyes, and the pressures of the day
have not yet pressed down upon my shoulders. Inertia tells me to walk,
or even sit on that beckoning park bench, but the faint voice barks
from the depths of my brain to keep on.  Thwicka…  thwicka…
thwicka… My steps find their measured pace and my muscles whine like
spoiled children. That pain below the left knee, the soreness of my
thigh. Patience, patience, they will pass.

A deep breath gulps the still-cool morning air. The fog has not yet
lifted, and my eyes take in the riverscape like an impressionist
sketch.  Deep green, blue and gray — Monet without waterlilies, in
3D, with sensurround. A single boat skates by silently like a giant
fiberglass waterbug; the path is still empty.

Thwicka… thwicka… thwicka…  By the first bridge, I know all is
well.  My limbs are still leaden, but the pleading of my aches has
quieted.  Though I have run this path so many times, it seems that
each day I must realize anew that I *can* run the distance. Heading
out this morning I had told my wife “I’m going to run the river path
to the end, so I may be out for a while.”  She knew it, and I knew it,
but only now do my mind and body truly believe it.

Finally the pace feels right, and the rhythm kneads its way into my
thoughts like the rumble of a railway car.  I pull my mind back from
the daydream, measure my stride and glance at my watch. A mental note:
too heavy on the heel, *roll* onto the foot.  Head level, and hold the
pace.  Thwicka…thwicka…thwicka …  and I’m an engineer. Pushing
my body, the locomotive, along its track.  Second bridge at 8:17,
right on time.  Mentally reach for the steam whistle to blow as I pass
the stalled morning traffic at the light.  Stoke the fire at a bend in
the path, building steam for the hill that waits beyond. I can no
longer distinguish my steps — they are a slow blur in the dance of
steam and iron, pumping their way through my mind. The rhythm of the
tracks, the rhythm of the road. It goes on and on, beyond the horizon,
to the place where we are always going and where dreams come true. We
are always going, and we never arrive, because it’s the journey that
matters. Life, like the road stretching beyond the horizon, exists to
be run, and so we run it.

The path levels after a small hill. The track is rougher here, but the
machine is warm.  Thwicka…thwicka…thwicka… Back off on the steam
a little now — no need to fret the watchman. Legs pump like smooth
metal pistons, brass gauges tell a tale to the eyes that watch and the
ears that listen. Oxygen? Good — out a little more on each breath.
Knees? Keep ’em up — can’t scuff on the forward step, and let them
down easy, but fast.

A brief downhill as the pavement ends and the path lunges into the
carpet of trees at water’s edge. Keep it in, keep it close, and keep
it fast. Thwicka..thwicka..thwicka… and I’m a fighter pilot. The now
unstoppable push at my back hurtles me forward along the steeplechase
path beyond Beacon Street. I lean into the turn, pull it close, and
roll into my next step. Wasting no action, no space, no time — speed
is life. I know the path, and I know the turns.  Following the forest
floor, my feet pound their rhythm somewhere far away. There is no time
to take steps, no time to decide how to take the next step. No time to
think, only time to do. I move by instinct, a blur along the path.
Left, down, left again, then hard right and up past the rock. Physics,
aerodynamics, and the principles of turbine engines, long since
distilled into reflex: for each action, an equal and opposite
reaction.  Two short steps, then a long one by the broken asphalt over
the rogue creek.  The gallows humor of a fighter pilot rises,
evanescent amid the motion: “ooh, now *that* would hurt!”

I run past, beyond, under and over.  I now realize that I am in a
race, but with what? It lurks in the periphery of my thought, just out
of sight.  Pursued, or pursuing, I can not tell, and it no longer
matters.  At each instant I am a step closer, yet always just a step
away.  Thwicka thwicka thwicka… and I’m an animal. A cheetah, an
antelope, a lone wolf running for its life.  There is no longer any
point in thinking, reasoning, or weighing the cause and effect. There
is only the pounding in my ears and the sure knowledge that survival
depends on running.  There is no finish line, only the next step, and
the next one after it. My existence — past, present, and hope of the
future is bound up in the promise that this next step will not be my
last.  Countless generations of evolution and natural selection gave
me these long legs. Years of training toned them to carry me now, at
this instant, in my race to survive against what lies only a stumble

Suddenly, the race is no longer about me. It is about life, a mere
reflection of that epic dance of nature. I find myself watching the
motion from afar: me, the runner, now flying effortlessly in the
distance.  Careening along the footpath, I realize that must no longer
try, I must simply *be*, and nature will move me.
Thwickathwickathwicka…  and I am the wind.  The leaves rustle at my
approach and scatter as I pass.  A whippoorwill turns to me and braces
for flight. I touch the trees, the grass and concrete, and the ancient
brick of the old city as they turn me, shape me, give me direction and
drive me on. Crows, and two small children steady themselves against
the squall that barrels down this quiet trail. I am the wind, and
exist only so long as I move.  Motion is what defines me.

The old willow sways as I pass and then, without realizing it, I am
home again. Beyond the old footbridge in a shower of fallen leaves, I
slow and turn. I eddy past the sleeping oaks, ruffle the long grass,
and finally settle to the ground, sheltered at water’s edge. I am
almost surprised to find myself there, muscles aching and breathing
hard. I think back: how did I come to this spot?  As the stillness of
the morning wraps around me again, I remember: I am a runner.


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