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Only in Dreams

When sleepless nights turn into restless days the solution is... more cardio?

By: Adam Edwards + Save to a List

I’ve always loved moving my body. I began trail running in high school and kept it up through college and into my post academic life. Then other activities like climbing, kayaking and exploring came into my sphere of interest. They changed the destination of my runs, but the intent, human locomotion human-powered adventure stayed the same. Many years, many trails later I still enjoy the rhythm of one foot in front of the other. My heart has gone wherever my feet will take me.

But lately something's changed. It has taken on an obsessive bent. A frame of mind where it is the only escape from what may ails me. The walls of work commitments, pandemic concerns, and just not having enough time in a day have been closing in. I’m all for working hard, burning the wick at both ends for a just reward. The reward as such has been that - just. More than enough and empowering. But it stands to reason something has been missing, or amiss. I feel my body rebelling. Trying to reclaim the freedom that this movement first brought, before I made it about fitting it into what little free time I’ve scheduled, making distance, or training goals.

That something different has manifested as insomnia running. I wake up at 2 or 3 am and can’t go back to sleep with the overpowering thought that I need to - move. There is no reason backing this thought. No rhyme. I just wake up and can’t return to the land of dreams.

I spring up from my bed and wander into the kitchen to start some coffee and smoothie. The before dawn sounds of the blender and electric kettle surely must perplex my neighbors sometimes. These mornings happen so often that the coffee is pre ground and my smoothie fixings are generally ready to go. The sounds of the blender spinning up jars me into wakefulness much more quickly than the soothing smell of my favorite Cxffee Black roast - Guji Mane.

It’s dark in the house. I live alone and I keep an open floor space. Coffee and smoothie are set out next to my stretching mat and a pre run routine begins. An internal alarm tells me it's time to move... more. Whatever disquiet that awoke me isn’t stilled by a tethered meditation.

I sigh and move to the chair by the front door. I gaze at my shoe rack and try to see what will draw me - trail or road. I look out the window, there is still frost on the cars out front. The hills will be especially chilly this time of morning... well... night. I decided on the road. The neighborhood is beautiful by streetlight.

Lacing up my Challenger ATR 6 shoes slowly I wonder where I’ll end up. How long will it take to quiet my mind. 1 mile... 3... 5...10. Will I see the sunrise from some new vista or the warmth and coziness of my kitchen? I let these thoughts fall away as I finish tying my shoes and don a hoodie and light jacket. A joke my friend flicked at me a few days back rises to the surface - “you're the only person I know for whom “exercise” might be a toxic behavior.”

Photo by Adam Edwards

I laugh to myself and head out the door. I decide to play the left//right game. I run in one direction till the song I’m listening to ends then I turn left. I continue till that song ends then turn right. And on and on till I’m deep in my playlist and far from the moment that spurred this night mission. I turn the music off and continue to play turning left and right whenever something piques my interest. A well lit street, leftover Christmas lights, foggy vistas. I just wander, sometimes running in the road, down an alley, or on the sidewalk.

After a few miles I begin to think. Is this toxic behavior. What am I running from? Am I running from something? Why am I here at 4-something in the morning wandering around my city when I have to be at work at 7? This isn’t training. This is... something else. But what?

The beat of my feet picks up as the lack of an answer rekindles the stress just under the surface of my sleepy mind. I’m back in that disquiet that brought me here in the first place. Still no answer but the vague feeling that the solution to the insomnia is cardio. More cardio.

I pick up the pace. My heart thunders in my chest as I sprint down the street. Everything comes to a head as my lungs heave like bellows and my legs burn with exertion. I stumble to a stop. I’m not a sprinter by any means. But the moment is formative.

All the anxiety and the disquiet was built up into that. The full exertion. That was the release. A release from the stress of a job that requires near athlete level endurance and focus at times but can be as banal as licking envelopes at others. Stress from missing social interactions and relationships. Questions of self efficacy, actualization and self doubt. The mistakes. The deadlines. The pandemic. The ever dizzying spiral of policy and politicking. What to eat for fucking dinner. Missing friends. Stress for coming goals. The pain of over training.

I realize I’ve been standing in the street for some time now. I shuffle onto the sidewalk and begin to walk back towards my apartment. I’ve been so lost in my ramblings and wanderings that I have not realized I’ve only run a few blocks from my home in actuality. Using every side street, alley, and through way to increase mileage. I’ve been running every street as though I’m in a maze. A song from my youth springs unwelcome into my head solidifying the toxicity of my endeavour, “despite all the rage I’m still just a rat in a cage.”

When did this become work, this thing I love? Why is my heart waking me up to just be? As I make it back to my house intermittently running and walking, I reach my front stoop. It's early enough that while I want to just sit and stare off into space outside I know I should go inside. 4 am is not a time to just perch on an apartment stoop as a Black man in Portland. I open the door and step inside.

Photo by Adam Edwards

I wander past the pile of gear strewn by the door and into the kitchen and start another pot of coffee. My calendar catches the glow of the electric kettle. A red tick mark tells me this is my first full weekend off in a month. Maybe more if I tally up all of my varied pursuits. The oven clock tells me its 4:30am... my usual wake up time. I sit down to draw and drink coffee. Exploring the edges of spilt coffee on my sketch pad. After a few minutes of this meditation, I pause and remember I still have several hours before I’m meeting my friends to go kayaking and several more before I need to be on the road for my next shoot. I should sleep, the river we are paddling demands the utmost respect. But there is no returning to the land of dreams yet. It’s 5am now and we’re meeting at 9:30. I quietly begin packing my gear. Trying to be careful not to slam bins or closets as I find the various base layers and gear I’ll need for a few laps on the river and a mountain photo shoot for the next few days.

Photo by Adam Edwards

River time is different. People show up early or late but rarely on time unless you've explicitly expressed you're on a time crunch or goal. I spend a few minutes waiting in my van for my friends to arrive. Punctuality is a hill I die on regularly. But my distortion of time from being awake so long has tempered it this day. I simply stare off over the water enjoying the Columbia River Gorge. Eventually everyone arrives and we begin to load gear and figure out our shuttle plans. Many of us have not seen each other in weeks, months... a year. It feels as though it's been just days for some friends and it feels like a decade for others. My heart seesaws between so many emotions. Many I’d already experienced in those early morning hours. It’s all I can do to stay focused on kayaking.

Photo by Adam Edwards

Over two laps on the river my Arkali boots make short work of the approach and few rapids I find the need to walk around. I scramble up and down the river banks shooting photos but more often just watching my friends and cheering them on. Forgetting I have images to create, concepts to make a reality. Forgetting I’ve been up since 2am. I’m living and breathing and enjoying every second of it. The disquiet is tempered. I’ve needed this, this is what the 2am run wants to be but has scuttled by my ruminations and pressure. This blissful distance from... everything. This is what I’ve been craving. For just a moment. To breathe, deeply, lungs and muscles burning with exertion, joy, distemper and certainty. This is where I’m to be. This must be the place.

Photo of HOKA ONE ONE boots by Adam Edwards

After a full day of play I begin to tune back into my work mindset. I've a shoot to be at and I say goodbye to my river friends to return to the daily hustle and bustle. But I continue to wonder what it is that has driving these mornings and evenings. Regardless of the level of fatigue work brings me to my body demands that we get out and continue moving after. I don’t have an answer. But I've begun to know the feeling I’m looking for. Those moments of returning to self without agenda, no training schedule, without form or function. Just wandering, existentially and physically, seeing where my feet will take me before the music stops. To see where my heart takes me before it needs to return to the land of dreams.

I’ve been running because I can’t do other things. Because time is fleeting and cramped with all the good things that have been happening. Because I’ve been afraid to do some of the other things I love. Running has been the stop gap. The fill in. An activity once used to explore my limits through novel pursuit and challenge has become a worn path. A well used trope instead of a muse. And while it is still a vehicle for me to explore my body and mind, it was never meant to be everything. The only thing. My body and spirit rebel against the thought. Waking me up at 2am to run. For no reason. To just be.

Photo by Thomas Franco

And so I check into my hotel, finish up what work needs to be done for the start of the week and attempt to sleep. Like clockwork another restless night passes and I find myself sitting here finishing putting my mind to digital paper. I scrunch my toes in my ATR6’s and prepare to go run. Just a little ways. Just enough to reset, to forget that I’m on the road again, that this isn’t my beautiful house, or bed, that motel coffee tastes the same as the home brew when you desperately need it to, that masks live in every pocket of every pair of running shorts, jackets, and pants I own. Just enough distance to remember that I’m actually living in dreamlands and “waking up” is not necessary all the time. And while it may be another morning, or night, of pavement my heart and mind are, for a moment, still in dreamland.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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