We are surrounded by them, rogue artists creating masterpieces before our very eyes. We see them and our eyes do not stop to contemplate their work, for they are many and familiar, and so they have also become invisible. It is the fate of the precious and plentiful, like sparrows or blades of grass. Routine is an adversary of wonder.
You cannot view their art in a museum or inspect each line and curve behind a velvet rope; their work does not hang on walls or stand enshrined in stone. Yes, the originals are on display for all to see, but only for a brief and uncelebrated moment. Their art is self-commissioned, owned solely by the creator and belonging to the whole of humanity. There are no replicas. There are no copies.
There is only time. And distance. And someone with a story.
“Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints,” legendary runner Steve Prefontaine once said. “I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I've never seen anyone run like that before.' It's more than just a race. It's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative.”
I don’t know why it took me so long to recognize the central truth of Pre’s words. If you would have asked me a week ago the meaning of the quote, I would have said, “Running is an art form. Racing was his art.” And while my interpretation wouldn’t have been entirely incorrect, it still would have missed the profound revelation undergirding the entire statement.
Pre’s point wasn’t that running is an art. Pre’s point was that runners are artists. The statement wasn’t passive; it was active. The sport is the medium. But the runner—he is the artist. He is the one creating. The paint is nothing until a painter spills his soul on the canvas. The stage is empty until a dancer bleeds across the stage. An instrument is silent until a musician holds it in his hands and bares his pain with every note.
Running, like art, is a form of catharsis. It is not an end in and of itself, nor does it fully encompass who we are as individuals. But it is a direct expression of ourselves, our personalities, our experiences—one that is unaffected and unencumbered by pretense. Running is personal, because running—like art—comes from someplace very, very deep within us.
With every step, our effort splashes onto the canvas. It soaks through our clothing. It is flung from our bodies in heavy, salty drops. Our emotions, our fears, our hurts, our joys, our limits, our breakthroughs, our heartaches, our celebrations, our challenges, our desire for something greater than ourselves.
We pass by one another in the morning, before the sun rises. We see each other at night, when the stars begin to pierce the dark sky. We don't know if we are witnessing the infant brushstrokes of a first attempt or the grand, glorious chorus of a final opus. For each runner is her own canvas, her own medium, her own muse, and the great prerogative of art is that context is not owed.
Mysterious yet exposed, the runner is both object and artist, illustrating the mortal experience in human form, creating masterpieces before our very eyes. Like music, there is a rhythm. Like painting, there is a vision. Like sculpture, there is depth. Like film, there is motion. Like writing, there is a story. Like any art, there is a struggle, an inner turmoil that must be released.
And with every step, every mile, it is.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.