It’s early, but not ridiculously so - 6:15ish. There’s light in the sky, but not much. I’ve been up for a while - had a cup of coffee, checked the weather, facebook, and the news. Brushed my teeth. Looked out the window. Watched a video on my Vimeo feed. Dinked around on the internet. Fed the cats. Looked out a different window. Checked the weather again. I’m stalling. I’m telling myself that I’m taking time to prepare, but really I’m stalling. It’s time to run.
After an autumn of high hopes, and a winter of good intentions, it is time to be honest about my failure to continue running through the cold, dark months. I took a week off to recover from the Tough Mudder last October and just never got started again. It was always a next-week thing. Now spring is here, and I’ve run out of next weeks.
Running isn’t my sport and I don’t intend to become serious about it, but it seems like the ability to run a modest distance is a basic piece of fitness. If a guy is going to say he’s in good shape, he ought to be able to run a mile without crying or swearing. It’s not an overwhelming goal - just sort of a basic benchmark, like 10 pushups or pullups. By the middle of summer I’d like to be able to knock off a quick 5k without it being a big deal.
I’m still stalling. At this time of year and this time of day, it will be chilly out there - hard to dress for. I’ll be all wrapped up in Spandex which makes me feel even more awkward and uncoordinated than I already am. Even at my best I’m not a pretty runner, and out in the cold at this early hour my joints will feel dry, muscles rigid, and bones brittle. I do not spring lightly from foot to foot, in long, elegant strides. Rather, I land every step with a heavy thud - like stomping, only faster. Exacerbating my gracelessness, the cold, pre-dawn air will cause my eyes and nose to run freely. It’s inevitable that I’ll aspirate some snot which will add hacking and choking to my gasping and lurching. Others on the trail will wonder if I’m OK.
I love the idea of running much more than I love running, itself. I love the simplicity and the purity of a sport that requires no equipment, no venue, no complicated scoring. I love that running is portable - shoes fit into a suitcase better than a bicycles does. I love the benefits of cross-training - working different muscles makes me stronger. I love that runners are trim, outdoorsy, healthy-looking folks, and that’s what I want to be, too … that’s why I’m now dressed and laced and headed out into the dark.
It is embarrassing to admit that I get into my car and drive to a park where I run. I live in a neighborhood that is perfectly good for running, and lots of other people do it right here on my street. We have hills and flats and not much traffic to contend with. The high school track is a block away - I could go there to run. But the park where I go has a nice trail around a pond. It’s a mile and a quarter around, has a decent climb and a nice descent, and the thing that draws me to this particular park are the four fitness stations - adult monkey bars - located at intervals around the trail. Two or three times per lap I jog up to the monkey bars and do a few pull-ups or dips to add another dimension to the workout. Doing so interrupts the flow of the run, but then “flow” isn’t something I ever really develop, and it feels good to get the arms and shoulders involved.
As spring turns into summer, the early morning regulars will become familiar to each other. We won’t really gel as a community, but we’ll become accustomed to each other’s presence and we’ll notice when one is missing. We’ll learn which car in the parking lot belongs to whom, and we’ll be able to identify each other from across the lake. There’s the older guy with the new Chevy Colorado and flattop haircut who always wears Hi Vis shirts and runs faster than me. There’s the younger woman in the Ford Fusion who carries water in a Camelbak like she’s going to be out here all day. She’s faster than me, too. The beat-up Ranger pickup (which I covet) belongs to the decrepit black guy who, I imagine, must have another set of teeth that he keeps at home. He’s a fisherman, not a runner, but he’s out here with us every day. They all probably know me as the guy in the cheap Jeep who can’t run in a straight line and always has boogers on his face.
I expect the next six weeks to be painful - that’s about how long it will take to get acclimated to this activity. Running provides a whole-body pounding and my whole body is fifty years old. My feet and knees and hips will hurt. Calves and hamstrings will cramp. My flabby chest will ache from all the jiggling.
Remember as a kid - how we’d run everywhere? We had to be told to slow down - to walk. Running was natural, it was the way we moved. I remember wondering why adults moved so slowly, and then I became an adult and I lost the run, too. The run just atrophied away like playing the piano and remembering grocery lists and other things I used to be able to do. For years the closest I came to running was that little hustle we use to get across the street when the Don’t Walk sign is flashing.
Turning fifty changes things. It’s the birthday that tells you that another chance is not guaranteed. Use it now, or lose it forever. This spring start-up, which isn’t easy, will never be easier than it is right now. It only gets harder from here. Warmups take longer. Injuries heal slower. There are fewer strong days ahead than there are behind. I don’t know how many more years I’ll want to, or be able to do this, but I know damn sure I don’t want to look back with regret at not having run one more time. So, with the car parked, one final swig from the water bottle, I gotta run.