Recently, I started running. Well, let’s be honest, I’ve been jogging with extended periods of walking in between. It’s hard. I’ve never been a runner. I can run. I can hike all day. I can keep going for hours on any number of tasks, even when I know I am close to exhaustion, but running for running’s sake, marathoner-type running, well, I’m not a fan. My dad somehow knew that I had stamina, one of the most important runner traits, but I never exploited it. Not for running, at least.
My entire life, countless times, I have been involved in projects, music rehearsals, performances, work…, and I’ve been prescient enough to know when my colleagues and band mates and friends or family were ready for a break. I accepted it, even as my internal drive screamed at me not to stop. (And there have been plenty of times when I have stopped working on something because I wasn’t feeling it. I’m human, you know?) When I’m in the zone I can keep going on something even as my body is becoming weak, my head swims with fatigue and my hands shake uncontrollably with hunger. I will push myself, like the time I decided to hike up & over the steepest and highest peak near my California town so that I could see the ocean.
I left with nary a water bottle, departing at around 10 in the morning. I walked down into the canyon trail and then up the other side. Straight up. A trailblazer, if not an ecological menace. I kept going, even when my head knew that I was in danger. No one knew where I was. I was 24 and invincible. I remember nearing the peak, savoring the feeling of accomplishment, ready for my reward of an easy descent to the Pacific. I remember the feeling of defeat as I viewed the gently sloping hills that went on for miles, down and down toward the ocean, filled with construction equipment and multi-million dollar homes. Sometimes you don’t get what you want. The hike down and back was an exercise in survival.
In retrospect, I realize that my geographical ineptitude was a blessing. In the days before cellphones, how in the world would I have gotten home?
Maybe I’m feeling the weight of my approaching 43rd birthday. Maybe I just realize that I’m in need of a little more activity. Maybe this is my little version of midlife spin out. Maybe I am running to honor that belief that my dad had in my own abilities that I never explored, that he certainly never explored himself. Maybe I am running to flee from his non-example of the effects of what was his life of bodily abuse and inactivity. Whatever the reasons, I started running.
I’ve been keeping track of my progress. (Thanks Smartphone app!) I’ve raced through a number of running books in the last few weeks. These have been inspiring reads of men and women, much like myself in their late 30s and early 40s, looking to find something, anything, in the mystical realm of running. I’ve gone through one author’s pursuit of running with the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. I read of a man possessed, a man obsessed, with recreating his own father’s miraculous Boston Marathon goal after 40, only to come up short. I suppose a common theme is these books and in the pursuit of running is determination. There are elements of redemption as well, but drive, determination, NOT quitting are paramount to the endeavor.
So, I’ve taken to the quiet streets around my house, sometimes running in labored circles around a nearby athletic field as my children glide nearby on their scooters wondering what on Earth I am doing. They watch me from the junior high school basketball courts and I can see in their eyes that they think I’m crazy. To them, running is just something you do. As a number of scientists and researchers have theorized, running is something we, as humans, were born to do. But my children don’t know that I have accumulated bad habits and developed an intimate relationship with the most enticing of modern conveniences: the couch. So, in my own way, I am seeking a midlife redemption. I know I need to do more. So, now I AM doing more. Even though it sucks.
Even though my lungs burn.
Even though my knees hurt.
Even though my calf muscles are screaming at me to cease & desist, for Christ’s sake!
But I’ve kept at it. I have accepted the hardest truth: bit by bit you improve. There are no shortcuts. All you gotta do is get out there and do it. So, I have and I will keep going, because that’s how you improve. I can sing and play guitar effortlessly, but I forget how long I struggled just to play the 3 chords of Wild Thing or Louie, Louie. Bit by bit I got better. So, now with running I will keep at it. I won’t quit. I’ve been able to walk/run just over two miles in 25 minutes, not a stellar time, but better than sitting all day. Every day. Today, I reached a new milestone. I ran, without stopping, 1.08 miles. I was suffering. I wanted to stop. I was waiting for my body to rebel. But a funny thing happened, I realized it wasn’t so bad. And I made it. I had to do some walking after that stretch, but I ran a mile. For the first time, ever. Even in my state mandated high school PE classes I never actually ran a mile. Ever. There is more to come. I have goals, not marathon goals, but goals nonetheless. I will run two miles without stopping. Then it will be three or four. Meager goals, but my goals. Why? Because I can.
Even if I hate it.
I will keep at it, because like the author’s of my recent reads, I have locked onto another important truth: running teaches us about life, you can’t give up. Quitting is not an option. Sometimes, a lot of times, it sucks, but you keep going because there is really no other feasible option.