When someone talks about “the arts,” the first thing that comes to mind is usually some form of self-expression, like painting or photography. Very rarely do we talk about art in the same breath as running, but why not? We’re exploring this question with “Daily Arts Runs a Marathon” and opening with an exploration of what “running” is. Fortunately, The Ann Arbor Marathon happens at the end of March and offers a relay that four writers will be running, in the hopes of figuring out their (maybe artistic) relationship with running. In the meantime, we’re training, we’re writing and we’re eating our bananas.
What exactly is running anyway? We all have our own preconceived notions — some people dread it, others embrace it and some only tolerate it. As one of the more accessible sports out there, it seems absurd that more people aren’t always just on a run. More often than not, though, discussing my running habits with others often results in dejected “I could never do that” statements or a vehement “God, I hate running.” And maybe these people have a point — running can be pretty awful, especially if someone does it solely as a means to work out.
But, subconsciously, I think we all love running. Maybe not the actual physical act of it, but the general theme is popular throughout art. Take “Lady Bird,” for example. The 2017 film follows Christine, or Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”), as she desperately tries to understand her role in her family and in the world as a whole. Though she never actually takes up track, Christine is running throughout the film — from her family, from her real friends and, eventually, from Sacramento. It’s an age-old story that proves just how much people, particularly teenagers, actually do like to run.
And while running away is an enticing thought, running to something, or someone, is just as popular of a theme. Romantic comedies and the Valentine’s Day movie industry wouldn’t be the same without it. The endings of these films always feature some sort of sprint through a train station to a character’s true love and, honestly, some would have way happier endings if they just went on a run. Not only would that sprint through the airport be just that much easier, but running is a really nice time to reflect and, most likely, that sprint wouldn’t happen in the first place because the protagonists would have had time to grapple with their emotions. But where’s the drama in that?
Running has relationships with art beyond film, though. What a person chooses to listen to while on a run can tell you a lot about them. Curating a good playlist is an art in and of itself, but add in the extra layer of needing to maintain motivation throughout a run and you have a dynamic connection that is just as flexible as your relationship with running. So, what makes a good running playlist? Spotify offers flexible playlists that match the song speed to the pace of your run, an interesting feature and a good place to start if a blank playlist is intimidating. I enjoy starting with a little Beyoncé, something I can sing along to that’s just distracting enough that I’m able to enjoy the burning in my lungs but ignore the ache in my knees.
Greek sculpture is another format in which we see an obsession with running. Though the closest these sculptures ever get to actually depicting someone running is a man throwing a disc (“Discobulus”), it’s more a fixation on the human form that connects these two mediums. Greek sculpture is notorious for its detailed depictions of the human body — from the soft curves of Nike’s thighs to David’s hardened jawline, the ancient Greeks did not shy away from trying to understand the human form. Similarly, running forces us to become more familiar with our bodies than we already are; we come to understand how a fast mile might affect our knees and what a strong stride looks like once we’re in a groove. Running isn’t about your pace, much like Greek sculpture isn’t about the marble. It’s about how we take these starting materials and turn them into something beautiful.
So, is it even possible to really, truly, unironically like to run? Obviously yes, otherwise there wouldn’t be such a huge market for the sport. But when you get down to it, running is a tool we can use to connect with ourselves and the world around us. And if that’s too much of a clichéd explanation of what running can mean for people, then consider this: Running is an art. Whether we’re looking at the sport itself or its presence in film and music, it’s impossible to avoid it. And, honestly, why would you want to?