To express how much I enjoy running, I’m letting you know up front that I have been hobbling around my apartment and the Indy’s offices with injured Achilles tendons, one leg after the other (that’s the one along the back of your heel), which makes anything faster than a slow walk a struggle. It’s a familiar injury from a familiar hobby and learning to deal with it, treat it, and more importantly, not run on it has been a fun result of experiential wisdom. I mean, you know what fun is.
When we had to run the mile for our presidential fitness tests as kids (thank you George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger), I thought running was sprinting. And so within the first third of our five-lap haul, I was huffing and puffing and struggling after putting in all of my strength and effort. When I tell people I run and they respond with “I’d only run if <existential threat> were after me,” I’m reminded of those trials at Belleaire Elementary School catching my breath in the laps around our playground. I was a wiry kid, but I was never athletic and I didn’t play any sports, so whatever fitness or exercise I got was the byproduct of running around outside, playing with the neighborhood kids.
As an adult, I didn’t have that incentive or motivation. Whenever I didn’t need to walk to work, I was sedentary to the point where I was way overweight and weak to the point where standing up for an extended period of time was a painful nightmare. So, I did what anyone else would probably do: I decided to lose a bunch of weight and run a marathon in 18 months.
I’ve been running on and off in the decade since for a variety of reasons. I have seven running medals hanging from my wall (six from 13.1-mile half-marathons, one from the full 26.2-mile ordeal) and they’re the only trophies that I’ve ever won. Starting up again a few weeks ago — right after I wrote in this space about the merit in accomplishing nothing — I’m reminded that there are few things more uplifting than being able to run a 5K (3.1 miles) continuously without stopping. I’m not fast, which is how I’m able to go far.
There’s a joy in the consistency of getting up in the morning, putting on some loose clothing, slipping in my running shoes and hitting “Start” on my Runkeeper app several times a week. That first mile is always the worst, but then it becomes an achievement every single time I do it. There’s a joy in finding my pace, that balance of effort where you’re still running, but you’re not huffing, puffing and struggling. It’s hard to avoid that when you’re coming to it new or new again, but after a few runs, that threshold moves. It’s like a game where your sword does more damage against enemies even though your input wasn’t any different. You go faster and you go further and it gets easier. Finding my pace for the very first time in 2013 meant being able to conquer the distances I thought were impossible in fourth grade. And yes, I do typically note distances by whether I’ve run that far before.
I’m hoping to hop into a running event soon to earn my first medal in years and then, afterward, struggle to walk it off like I’m made of broken glass. Sssss, ouch, yeah…
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