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How to Imagine Yourself Running (and Writing) in a Foreign Country

Step 1: You are writer, not a runner, and even the writer part is a stretch. But you are definitely not a runner—not yet. So this first step is crucial. You have to admit that the odds of actually going for a run in this foreign country are getting-struck-by-lightning-twice-and-surviving low. It’s already 1 p.m., so today is shot. As for tomorrow, well, who knows? Let’s say tomorrow is 70/30, even though we know it isn’t. But let’s say it is. Tomorrow isn’t that important at the moment. The important thing is that we’ve shifted the conversation from one with the potential for physical exercise (yikes) to one in which the exercise will only ever be purely mental (okay, this is better). And maybe a little emotional. Ready?

Step 2: Imagine how good you’ll feel after you go for that first run. Imagine how good you’ll feel after you’ve run several days in a row, your body tuning itself to this new, higher frequency. Imagine having run on the beach in Tel Aviv (which is where you are at the moment, doing god knows what). The Mediterranean sparkles and winks on your left as you head north and shimmers and sparkles on your right as you make your way back south. The sea never leaves your side; it holds your hand; it whispers words of affirmation in your ear. These words are largely garbled by the wind. Imagine being a person who runs on the beach in a foreign country.

Step 3: Think gear. Do you have shoes? Me neither. That’ll take a full day. Which is fine. You’ve got time. There is no rush. Go to one of those weird foreign shopping centers where they sell sacks of seeds and baby clothes and birds and light fixtures. Somewhere in there is a shoe store with brands you’ve heard of and actual prices on the tags. Your shoes need to inspire you, so it’s essential you get the right ones. But don’t buy anything yet. The last thing you want to do is to lug a pair of shoes around with you before you’re really ready to “do this.” Talk about dead weight.

Step 4: Head to the beach. Here you can watch other people run along the promenade. Marvel at the unfairness of those two beautiful, elongated humans striding in step with one another, smiling. Watch the way her calves pump and release with each footfall and lift. And how the sun throws shadows in the small valleys of his back muscles when he swings his arms. No wonder they are smiling—they are having some kind of telepathletic sex out here in broad daylight. And you better believe they’ll have actual sex after their run. It’s probably all they have planned for the day. You’d be smiling, too. Notice the way they sweat, too, literally like tall glasses of cold water, which is not at all like how you sweat (like an asshole).

Step 5: Do not get discouraged.

Step 6: Well, get a little discouraged. Discouragement is your friend, your faithful companion. You’ve got a long way to go. But there’s hope! There is always hope. Keep reading.

Step 7: Get outside. Go for a long walk. Walk three to five times as long as you think you’d run. Walk from your dark little rented flat just outside the Florentin district to the human-thronged Carmel market and to Rothschild Boulevard and all the way up to the quiet leafy blocks in the north part of the city. Walk until your feet hurt. Stop and grab a coffee and an almond croissant at one of the hip cafes on the way. Read a little bit. Chip away at that boring book you’ve been carrying around. One. God. Damn. Word. At. A. Time. (Talk about dead weight). Take your mind off things.

Step 8: Actually, start thinking of writing an essay about running in a foreign country. This is objectively harder than actually running so in a lot of ways it’s more valuable. Anyone can go for a run. Not everyone can sit down and write. There’s a really great essay you read once where the writer articulates this point really well. Try to remember who wrote it, where you read it, and what it was about, exactly.

Step 9: Don’t smoke a cigarette. Do not smok—

Step 10: Okay you smoked a cigarette. Not the end of the world. In the ‘70s, people are always saying, everyone smoked. Presumably, this included runners.

Step 11: Open a blank document. Don’t refresh Instagram. Don’t check Twitter. Not even a peek. Maybe check twitter, for the encouragement, or the company of other writers and runners—you’re not sure.

Step 12: Fuck me, writing is really hard! People do this for fun?

Step 13: Text your writer friend and ask her how she stays motivated.

Step 14: Text your runner friend and ask him how he stays motivated.

Step 15: Text your ex-girlfriend and ask if your being out of shape was an issue, a non-issue, or what.

Step 16: Yeah, Twitter.

Step 17: Christ, take a deep breath. Focus. Foccuss. Foooooccccocusssss. Pull yourself together.

Step 18: Make your essay a list—a guide!

Step 19: Plan your route. Route planning is the pre-writing of running. Route planning is the weeks you spend rolling an idea around in your head before you dare try and write it out. And route planning in a new city is an art, one that involves half a dozen apps, a dozen open browser tabs, topographical maps, and a lonely planet. The route is knife-edge hell-bent on cutting you off at the knees. You want a route that’s flat, that’s interesting, one that doesn’t get tangled up in tiny streets, crowds, and stop lights. You want a stretch. You want to fly.

Step 20: Get back to the writing because it’s only once you’re done with that that you can get back to thinking about running. Plus, you’ve done this before. You know how it goes. Or rather, how it doesn’t go, until it finally does.

Step 21: Start by googling quotes about running, a weird number of which are from the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. Like this one: “The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.” Wait, what?

Step 22: Make a playlist! Load it up with reliable oldies from college—Yo La Tengo, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem—some Pablo-era Kanye, The Ramones, a Foo Fighters song. Oh wait, a podcast! Every podcast is a podcast everyone is talking about. Pick one of those.

Step 23: There a sabich place people keep telling you about where the pita is just a little bit better, the eggplant is a little bit better, and the hummus is a little bit better. Go there and stuff yourself with all of these better things. You deserve it. And you’re going to need the energy when you go running. It won’t go to waste. Neither will the baklava you chase it down with.

Step 24: It’s late enough for a drink, right? Cue up that stupid podcast.

Step 25: Imagine yourself running in this foreign country, your home for the next however many days or weeks. Imagine you’re the kind of person who does such a thing, which you are. Sip your revolting Tubi 60, swallow it, and smile. The future is bright. The future is lean. The future is fast. The future is not yet written but also not unwriteable. The future, thank god, is tomorrow.

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