For many, the first of January is a day of reflection, anticipation, planning, and taking stock. For runners, and athletes of all kinds, it can be a day to start a new logbook, make a race schedule, set goals, or reshape a training plan. In our different ways, we try to give some shape to the unfamiliar territory of the year ahead.
Part of the appeal, for me at least, is in the unknowing — the interval between this moment when the calendar turns and before the work of the new year begins in earnest. This interval is a lot like the first step of any run — and the moments between when my foot leaves the trail to arc through the air before it falls back to earth, revealing new ground with every stride. In the rhythmic movement of every forward step, I can feel the possibilities of the not-yet-known.
I’ve taken so many first steps over the years — literal ones at the start of a multi-day adventure run, 50 or 100-mile race, or a 5k morning jog; and some even bigger metaphoric ones — shifting a career path, moving across the Atlantic, and committing to and keeping pace with an intentionally adventurous life.
Philosopher and artist Erin Manning writes, “Movement revels in the potential of the interval precisely because it contains the magic of forgetting that assures that every movement will begin anew, despite and because of [its] endless potential.”
The trick, of course, is that every moment of every day reveals this potential of the interval — a thousand chances to shape what comes next — in a phrase Garth Stein wrote into our vernacular, to remind ourselves “that which we manifest is before us.” I restated these words in a piece I wrote for Teton Gravity Research back in 2014 when I recounted a conversation with one of my students when I’d said, This time we have is not to prepare for the next thing—this is it. This is life, right now. What are you doing with it?“
It may be that I’ve taken to endurance as a pursuit largely because of this — entering my first trail race in my 30s, and then ultramarathons in my 40s, and now, within a month of turning 50 years old, to remind myself every day of the mystical, curious, and wondrous interval of time between now and the future that isn’t yet.
I can decide to move actively into that interval to see what it will bring — knowing there’s another chance in this step, and the next, and the next again. And when I see the world laid out this way, as a choreography of movements as we engage with the world, the very act of perceiving and being in the world becomes active: “Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us,” writes philosopher Alva Noë, “It is something we do.”
So, if I resolve to do anything in 2021, it is to remember that action can indeed shape the future and to believe that our daily practice must be the manifestation of what we want our relationship with the world, and with one another, to be.