born (again) to run

I have long thought that the act of running was pointless, stupid, and personally painful. As a kid I could play some sports and not always embarrass myself, but running never looked or felt natural for me. I could run the bases and do windsprints and even keep up, but it was more an act of fortitude than grace. In college, I tried to pick up running with a friend, but it only brought pain — real, literal pain in my shins, but also just a general physiological grimace. Beyond this, I never saw the point of running. Running for its own sake seemed to be a pointless exercise. Running to chase a ball down had more purpose than simply running into the horizon. Add the physical exertion and awkwardness to my imagery of running for no real reason, and that pretty much summarizes my attitude about running for most of my existence.

I realize that chasing a ball is also a pointless exercise in the great scheme of things, but this is something that has always made me happy. Playing catch with Dad or chasing down a crosscourt forehand had enough purpose for me. So too did, and still does, a walk in the woods. Wandering the five acres or so of property around my home growing up was probably where I first developed a fondness for seeing what was over the next rise. I also learned to recognize poison oak. This is all to say that there have always been plenty of pointless things that I’ve found fulfilling. Just not running. This is in spite of the fact that recent books stating we’re born with natural tendencies and abilities to sprint across the landscape, unburdened even by shoes. For me, though, this has always been nonsense.

Until this past year. It started when my glaucoma-diagnosed partner took up running, looking for something to replace yoga and the awkward positions that, as far as I understand it, would make her eyeballs pop out of their sockets, or burst, or both. As she began to enjoy running, I took notice. When she ran her first 5K, I realized that she was having fun. At the same time, there are all these trails above our house, and I had always known that if I was going to run anywhere, these places where I hiked were the paths that could draw me in. A few other things helped, too: Stress (mostly self-induced) that made me wonder sometimes if I was having a heart attack; a lack of regular bike commuting; and new shoes that were properly fitted. It turns out that: if you have a pain that actually goes away when you’re running, it’s not a heart attack; running for fun is more fun than biking in order to get to work or get home when already running late; and, figuring out the strange twist of my feet and finding the shoes that match these can make a huge difference. It also helps that running clears my head, provides a ritual that church never quite lived up to.

But, really, the biggest factor might be the routes I get to run, like this one:

runsmall-2011-07-17-22-29.png

This route is a longer one for me, about 10K. The image doesn’t exactly give the complete picture, but just throw in a few hundred feet of elevation loss out there on the left, gained again towards the top of the image, plus a few hundred more feet to get to that spot below the cliffs. Then, also imagine that most of it is between trees, over rocks, and overlooking creation. Mostly, it reminds me of being about eight years old, light on my feet and in my heart, running around through the mountains.

So, now, I can say that I’m a “runner,” perhaps not born that way, but perhaps born again as such. I’m not like some of those crazy people, but I get up in the morning and run voluntarily on many days. A few months ago I ran my first 10K race, on the trails, gaining about 1000 feet, all through the snow. Other more recent results are encouraging as well, and photos taken of me when I’m running usually show me smiling — though, to be fair, I’m usually aware of the camera as I’m approaching. I can touch my toes with straight legs for the first time, ever, that I can remember. There are muscles in my calves that never used to be apparent. I signed up to run a race that has both “hurt” and “dirt” in its title, and K and I talk about running our first half marathon next year. This is all a far cry from the person who always thought running was both painful and stupid.

There must be a moral in all of this. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m guessing it’s one (or more) of the following:

  • Running is a good idea.
  • Take advice from your wife more often.
  • People/things/abilities change.
  • I’m not having a heart attack, and when I think I am having one, I should go out on a run. (I’d find out soon enough if I were having one, I guess.)
  • I should do what makes me feel like and 8-year-old more often. Especially if I get the right shoes for it.

None of this is that complicated, but I think the real lesson is more simple still. It’s something like a Nike slogan, perhaps, but even more basic. See a hill; run up it. It’s amazing, and satisfying, to see what two feet can do.

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