A single figure runs along a grey path, arms like the pistons of a locomotive. A chord progression on keyboards and pizzicato strings rises through the scales, the beat a persistent 4×4. Suddenly, the break – he spreads his arms and leaps into a bright robin’s egg sky, streaked with white clouds, and the song becomes a complex interplay of polyrhythms, layered chords, and instruments that have never been built outside of a silicon chip. Components of an enormous starship worthy of Iain M. Banks’s “Culture” begin to assemble around him, swept up and back like great wings of lights and matte black steel. Suddenly the music is background to this vision of a colony ship, of a fleet drifting through millennia in seconds of experience, finding new worlds and seeding new civilizations.
That is the sort of thing that I like to imagine when I go out running with the right music. This particular set of imagery came from listening to Illitheas’ “Last Forever (Intro Mix)” while pounding out a little over a mile and half. A lot of scientific and athletics articles talk about runners’ high, looking at the way that endorphins function on endogenous opioid receptors or pain management. Others are a set of hand-wringing posts concerning extreme athletes and the potential for exercise addiction. Still others become a documentary about a particular runner’s endurance, dedication, or general life story with regards to running.
To me, it’s all about the music videos. In high school, one of my cross country coaches foot-stomped the idea that running was 99% mental, and 1% physical. That is especially true for running long distances and endurance, but can be equally true of sprinting. There is even a much-ignored short film in the Animatrix compilation about a world-class sprinter who “escapes” the mental bonds of the simulated reality by becoming so fast, and so attuned to his craft, that he discovers the limits of the physical world are naught but illusion.
I do not think that there is really a coherent point to this post other than to describe that experience that I have had while running and listening to certain kinds of music. Coldplay’s “Clocks” can be just as powerful as Scooter’s “The Logical Song” or even a meditative piece from Enya or some other ethereal, downtempo artist. The key is to separate your mind from the repetitive motions of your body and embrace the intense, dynamic, and potent neurochemicals flooding your body while you run or do any sort of high-energy flow-style workout.
This can be a great source of inspiration for visual art, for writing, or even simply for getting into better physical condition without feeling that exercise is unrewarding drudgery. If you are reading this, I hope that maybe you can find the right music and the right running pace and course to experience some truly mind-blowing highs and flights of imagination out pounding the pavement or hitting the trails.