Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 24 Jan 2003 08:16:53 -0500

Chasing Dreams

(Running Commentary 450)

Desmond O'Neill numbers himself among a rare species: runners whose beginnings date from the 1950s. Which is to say, with nearly 50 years of wear, their feet and legs don't work as smoothly as they once did -- or as the longtime runners would like.

When I made passing mention (in RC 448) of a shoe that made my running easier this past year, the Santa Barbara attorney asked what it was. When I named the Nike Pegasus 2000 (and lamented that it has given way to an "improved" model that feels inferior to me), he said, "You must be a light-stepping runner."

Des added, "I have to go to the big heavy clunkers-for-Clydesdales, usually Asics Kayanos. I would love to be able to get out in a pair of race shoes, or something a lot lighter than the Kayano anyway, and let 'er rip."

He called this "a good recurring running dream. The nightmare running dream is arriving at the start of a race either late, or without my shoes, or both. Do you ever have dreams/nightmares about running?"

Oh, do I! At the risk of exposing the darkest reaches of my mind, I'll confess to a few to see if they trigger any nods of recognition in you.

One dream turned into my only previous column on this subject. I wrote it in 1995 after running the Royal Victoria Marathon twice -- first in my sleeping mind and then for real.

The pre-race dream had me needing a ride to the starting line. We found all four of our car's tires flat.

I told my wife Barbara about the dream. Her instant interpretation: "You're worried about your feet giving out, or maybe just about feeling flat and tired."

My marathon wound down into a survival shuffle. I hoped to see Barbara at 25 miles, because I'd rehearsed a greeting for her. "I'm flat and tired," I would say, "but not REtired."

We missed connections, but it's just as well she didn't see me. Such shuffling isn't a pretty sight in a loved one.

Eventually I finished. The memories of that day are better than the dreams were the night before.

Many of my dreams deal with frustrations: can't find the starting line... can't get my shoes on... can't pin on my number... can't set my watch to 0:00... can't find my way on a course that passes through the maze-like corridors and closed doors of office buildings or hotels.

A student of dreams would have to tell me what this all means. It may have to do with fears of ambitions being blocked.

Rich Englehart, a professor of psychology as well as a running dreamer, says, "Most dreams are related to memories or to anticipation of impending events. I'd expect some of the 'can't find shoes' or 'missed connection' dreams have to do with anticipation and anxiety over an impending race, or over a task that seems race-like in your understanding."

He recalls "running" one entire Boston Marathon in his sleep, "waking up thrilled and satisfied with how well I'd done, only to be appalled to learn that it was Patriot's Day and that I still had to run the race. I ran it very poorly and attributed it to the fact that I was completely flat from the effort of the dream."

My oldest dreams go back to nights before high school and college races, when sleep came fitfully and made the dreamscape easier to replay. My legs turned to cooked spaghetti and wouldn't support me. I wound up "running" on all-fours.

The "crawling" dream rarely surfaces anymore. Now that I'm truly slow, I more often dream about being really fast.

I run with the leaders, way over my head, amazed at the split times. Finally realizing I don't belong there, I panic and never reach the finish before waking up. This may have to do with what I imagine to be potential never tapped.

Another old standby dream reappeared the night before I wrote these lines. While headed into a crowd of runners, I looked down to see that I'd forgotten to wear shorts. What does that tell you, Dr. Freud?


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