I hate running. I mean, not like…people who run. I know lots of great people that run. And as a form of exercise I respect it. It’s environmentally friendly, encourages people to go outside (I realllly hate treadmills), provides good cardio, and requires very limited equipment. What I hate is when I am running, the sensations of it. I hate running out of air. I hate the burning feeling in my lungs after the first 3 minutes or 30 seconds depending on the weather. I hate jostling my brain around and knees that aren’t as reliable as they once were. I hate the constant internal comparisons between my speed and say…the bike that just passed me, or the car, or the train, or the dog, or my clock, or an old telephone-base modem. I hate my utter inability to gage distance or time while running.
I went running yesterday. Because maybe I could learn to love it, lots of people have, and it would be good for me! Okay, actually, I went running so I could justify not going to the gym, which I find even less pleasant than running. I made it down one hill and few blocks before I felt the burning, the fire down my throat and into my lungs. But I had a goal, so I pressed on.
My dislike of running was so intense that when I was 15 my scout leader asked my brother in disbelief if I had ever run before. We were at the local track so I could run a mile for some rank requirement and he was utterly disgusted by my lack of form. I think I cut the remarkably generous time limit precariously close. I think it had something to do with my arms but I still have no idea what I did wrong.
In a freshman physical education class I found myself once more on a track with a mile and a half goal. A sympathetic neighbor basically dragged me to the track (at my request) and pushed me around it for however many minutes it took. In spite of all his talk about starting an exercise regime that was the last time we tried running.
In one college apartment we posted the famed Garfield comic on the fridge that decried why one would ever run just for the sake of running. Surely there must be some barbarian with a spear looming behind or else why would one run? It’s still my first thought when someone mentions the idea.
Although to be fair I always told myself I would run for a girl. I think I was jealous of the couples I saw running together. I think I even tried it once although my lack of memory of the event suggests a certain degree of suppression has occurred. It certainly only happened once.
Yesterday I made it maybe half of mile (downhill) before I justified shifting to a walk. It hurt. It raged. My blood pounded through me like a constricted hose scouring itself free of 9 months of grit and grim. Walking. Walking I could handle.
I love hiking. Long walks by rivers or through forests or parks. I could walk for hours. Walking was surely good exercise, a chance to let the nature brush through your hair and thoughts and put you back on the sunny side. Preferred was up some steep mountain trail where you crossed altitudinal zones and were met with vista after perspective crushing vista. I could walk forever.
Okay, maybe not true. But I have done 26 miles in a day. Marathon? Not a chance. But give me 11 hours and I’ll finish the route. Didn’t I walk from France to the western coast of Spain that one time? (okay, I did hitch a 200 mile ride during that trip but shhh). Isn’t walking enough? Doesn’t it get you where you want to go?
I walked over the rail bridge and tried to jog again to the dog park. Some construction project left a backlog of semi trucks waiting in the road and I carefully pretended they didn’t see me wobble pass them.
Reaching my rain-drenched dog park goal I gloried in my imperfection. My body, while not the perfect peak of health, still appeared functional. I was breathless and horribly late to whatever writing project I was avoiding that day. I could pretend whatever water soaked me was due to the rain and not my body’s desperate attempts at climate control. I turned around and started a slow jog/walk back home.
I learned something. I mean. I already knew it, but sometimes I need forcible reminders. It’s okay to walk sometimes. Indeed, it’s better to walk then to sit down and give up. How many times have I sat on a mountain trail, deprived of water, energy,hope, and oxygen to find that the only way to keep going was to slow down. Yes, sometimes you can run, sometimes you should run and you will be the better for it. But when you can’t run, when everything inside burns with guilt or lactic acid or despair or whatever it is. You can slow down. Keep your goal in mind, but catch your breath. Don’t stop. Walk.
And its amazing what mountains you can climb just by walking.