I heard this phrase at about 75 minutes into my run this morning. It’s from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I’ve read a half dozen times over the years. I decided to listen to it on my iPhone while training for an upcoming marathon, just to see what different things I’d pick up from listening to it read to me rather than reading it myself.
The actual paragraph is in the middle of Chapter 11 as the narrator is discussing Phaedrus’ lateral drift. He shifts back to the present time and talks with some trepidation about heading up over mountain beyond Red Lodge.
‘We walk past ski shops into a restaurant where we see on the walls huge photographs of the route we will take up. And up and up, over one of the highest paved roads in the world. I feel some anxiety about this, which I realize is irrational and try to get rid of by talking about the road to the others. There’s no way to fall off. No danger to the motorcycle. Just a memory of places where you could throw a stone and it would drop thousands of feet before coming to rest and somehow associating that stone with the cycle and rider.”
They finish their coffee and, after puttering around, get going.
“The asphalt of the road is much wider and safer than it occurred in memory. On a cycle you have all sorts of extra room. John and Sylvia take the hairpin turns up ahead and then come back above us, facing us, and have smiles. Soon we take the turn and see their backs again. Then another turn for them and we meet them again, laughing. It’s so hard when contemplated in advance, and so easy when you do it.”
At 75 minutes into my run, I was in a very happy groove. This was not the case 76 minutes earlier, nor was it the case 24 hours earlier. On Sunday, I had planned to do a 135 minute run. This is a medium long run for me (a really long run is 180 minutes) but nonetheless generated some pre-run anxiety. I’d had a busy week, travelled home on Saturday afternoon from Seattle, and was tired. I had a few beers on Saturday night which was probably a mistake, went to bed at about 11pm, and mentally prepared to go for my long run on Sunday. I woke up at about 5:30am to the sound of my condo vents rattling – I’m on the top floor and when the wind blows it’s noisy. I got up (earlier than I’d planned but I was wide awake). I did some email, had a cup of coffee, and then went outside to see what it was like. Cold, windy, gloomy, and dark. Whatever motivation I had to do my long run immediately vaporized and I convinced myself a better path was to go run on the treadmill at the health club down the block for 135 minutes. I eventually went to the club, grinded through an hour on the treadmill, and then bailed out of complete and total boredom.
I hadn’t done my run on Saturday (too tired) so I rationalized that my Sunday run was going to be my Saturday run and I’d do my long run early on Monday. To make this happen, I had to be out the door by 5:15am given some stuff I had to do Monday morning. I woke up this morning at 4:15am – wide awake – and geared up for my run. I was exactly the same cold, windy, gloomy, and dark that it was the previous morning. But this time I just decided to go do it.
About an hour into my run, as I was the shoulder of Highway 36 heading to Lyons after Broadway dead ends into Highway 36, I was totally blissed out. The wind was probably gusting up to 40 miles per hour, it was pitch black, but there were no people anywhere. A car would fly by every few minutes, but there were long dark stretches of nothing.
I heard the line “It’s So Hard When Contemplated In Advance And So Easy When You Do It” at about 75 minutes. I physically felt the smile break out on my face. I’ve continued to think about this line all morning long – not just with regard to running, but with regard to everything I do.