'Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction …' -- Fight Club
The tricky thing about demons is the hesitance with which they leave (and the ease with which they return). Restless nights often bleed into restless early-morning runs -- runs that serve as a mechanism for expunging said demons. The reckless abandon stoked by a sleepless night often times helps catalyze their exit, one strained footfall at a time. Running serves as a sort of flagellation, a penance for past sins. If I'm not careful, running becomes my most reckless and masochistic outlet. (I'm far beyond the late-teen days of driving recklessly and playing tag with Roman candles for a rush.)
An angry run is our version of a heavy bag workout -- a method of projecting and displacing, of gathering emotions, focusing them, and subsequently obliterating them. Just like a heavy bag workout (or if we're being totally honest, any impulsive angry act -- sex, for instance) an angry run -- if not treated with diligence -- can cut itself short and end with an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. When managed correctly the end result is a sort of open-ended catharsis, a physical and emotional exhaustion that leaves a lingering sense of relief-tinged completion.
There are very few philanthropic facets to running. We can encourage and impress all we want; at the end of the day, nobody else has gained as much from our running as we have (save charitable contributions and efforts like Back On My Feet). More often than not, running is a solo effort, engaged to find something that's proven elusive: health, peace, pain, clarity, or one's particular God (or, in far more desperate times, whatever god is willing to surface).
Our efforts to get out and run aren't insignificant, but are often viewed through the lens of self-approval; we spend a lot of our time convincing ourselves that the effort that we're exerting is somehow worthwhile. After all, what's the point in beating the shit out of myself if there's no net gain, right? Objectively, waking up at 5 AM to get a run in before a 9-6 work day is not a Herculean effort. It's certainly tougher when your sheets are soft, your bed is warm, and every fiber of your being is screaming at you to go back to sleep -- but it's a simple act that's not really worthy of praise (I've spent the past few weeks reminding myself of this, as it's finally starting to take as a habit). More cynically, we spend a whole lot of time and effort to end up right back where we start.
Perhaps it's that particular notion -- that we set out into the world on foot, finding our way through the world one neighborhood or field at a time -- that's so grippingly romantic about it all. That thing Hemingway said about bicycling? It holds pretty true viewed through the lens of a runner -- it's remarkable how emotionally-tied memories in specific locations can have permanence. There are far worse places in this world to end up exhausted than one's front door. (Sure, DIY masochist, we could just stay at home and beat ourselves up, but what the f*** would one accomplish then other than creeping out the neighbors?)
So what do we do? We go out and beat the shit out of ourselves -- be it emotionally, existentially, or physically. We keep pushing, keep suffering, and keep learning. C'est la vie.