On running and things

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

Actually, it’s a love-hate relationship.

A decade ago, I most definitely did not have a love-hate relationship with running. It was a hate-hate relationship – more like a chore, one that I was eager to escape when I grew up and could do whatever I darn-well pleased.

Trouble is, I was already grown up – and out. I was overweight and needed to run, or at least to do something that would burn lots of calories and whip my sorry behind into shape. I needed to run.

But, like many of the non-running people I talk to nowadays – now that the hate-hate has turned to love-hate – I didn’t think of myself as a runner. To be a runner means you’re fast. It means you endure, you suffer, you look good in athletic shorts and tank tops and you wear an expensive GPS thingie strapped to your arm.

I wasn’t any of those.

Running was a chore. And, after a season or two, I gave up.

My very fast husband thinks he was born to be fast. (Being sidelined by a crummy, gut-wrenching disease for five years never once dampened his longing to be out there, being fast, even when he couldn’t walk from the bed to the toilet without assistance.) I would go running with him, but only when he was going to the high school track down the hill from our house, because that’s the only place he wouldn’t lose me. We’d “jog” down there, where I could keep up with him because we weren’t going off into the wild blue yonder, we were only going around and around a never-ending oval. When he was finished with his workout, I could finally take my sweaty self home – up the hill. Bleh.

The entire thing was a chore – something I “had” to do, some penance for letting myself get overweight, I suppose.

That was then. This is now.

Now we live in a new town. (Well, not so new to me, but sort of new because until 2010 I hadn’t lived here in 25 years.)

And something has changed.

The hate-hate running is now love-hate running.

Or maybe instead of love-hate it’s hate-love, because I always joke that I love it when I’m done (but not until). Bruce always gives me a funny look when I say that.

My crowd understands.

My crowd – the Crazy Ladies of Running [my strictly unofficial nickname for us] – is Bruce’s crowd, too, but most of us are female and haven’t been running for nearly four decades (in fact, one of the Crazy Ladies is just 6 years old). Bruce is male and has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years.

Some of us Crazy Ladies developed our running addiction together. We met at the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year. As with everything like that, some participants fell away early and some stuck with it. Those who stuck with it have become a small hard-core crowd of Crazy Ladies, who’ve been together through two clinics and feel we’re not complete without a group run at least two or three times a week. (It’s like crack – I told you we’re addicted.) Along the way, we’ve picked up extra Crazy Ladies – those we didn’t know in last year’s clinic but who moved into the crack house this year.

Bruce is our coach/mother-hen/enabler. We’re his baby chicks, his Brupies, his co-dependents – at least some of us. A few of the ladies have been running long enough that they don’t need a mother hen, but we all take advice from Coach Bruce. He’s fun to have around. And frequently useful. He’ll jog back and give me a drink of Gatorade sometimes because he knows I don’t like to be overloaded with stuff when I run (hey, it’s hard enough just doing it).

Bruce is always checking on his chicks. He wants to make sure we’re all OK. I love him for that.

When I think about why I now love running, I realize that there are lots of reasons, and many of them have to do with the other Crazy Ladies, Plus Bruce.

And there are crazy guys, too, but mostly I see them at races or the monthly roadrunners club meetings. They’re my crowd, too, but a different crowd with a different dynamic. We don’t run together much – just on race days, and usually then I’m eating their dust and congratulating them on their trophies.

I love to win, but I certainly don’t run for the trophies. I can count my running awards on one hand. And none of them had anything to do with being fast, but merely showing up. Once, early last year, I took second place in my age group in a 5k. (How many women were in my age group that day? Two. But I got a medal because I showed up.)

My two other top honors have nothing to do with being fast but with guessing. Our local race-timing masters, Ken and Michelle, came up with a New Year’s Day prediction run, and since I’ve had nothing better to do on the two New Year’s mornings that I’ve lived here, I entered.

(Actually, the first time it was a fluke. I took Bruce to the event, book in hand, prepared to sit in the car and read while he ran, and, 10 minutes before the race, a couple of ladies I knew talked me into entering. I had just taken up running again about six weeks earlier and knew I wasn’t going to be fast, but I entered. And won the women’s title. How? By guessing within 17 seconds how long it would take me to “run” nearly 4 miles. The second time, I was coming off knee surgery and hadn’t run in five months, so I predicted the exact same time I had predicted last year – 50 minutes – and was off by 18 seconds. I am nothing if not consistent.)

I’m still slow, but I’m getting faster, slowly but surely.

In some areas of life, I’m impatient. In running, I have no choice but to be patient. There’s no magic wand, no flux capacitor to propel me forward in time, to a faster me.

I just have to keep showing up.

And, lest you discount just showing up, let me assure you that just showing up is 90 percent of the battle. At least for me.

For people like Bruce, who have a love-love-love relationship with running – for whom dying in a race would not be an unwelcome thing – just showing up isn’t a struggle. Showing up is life.

For people like me, it’s a struggle. I daily have to remind myself that I always – always – feel better once I’m out there. But that “always” doesn’t come until about the second mile. Every morning, when I look into the mirror and say, “I really don’t want to go out there,” I have to reply, “But you always feel this way, and you always feel better once you’ve started.”

And it’s true. Once I’m out there (after the first mile or two), I feel better. I can count on two fingers the times I’ve gone out there and not felt better once I started.

I don’t necessarily need a scientific answer for why running works for me now. Some days I search for a scientific answer, and some days I tell Bruce that I don’t need his scientific brain to help me come up with the answer. I just like running (when I’m finished). And Bruce is enough of a running freak that this is one of the rare instances for which he doesn’t have to have a scientific explanation. He just loves to run.

I don’t necessarily need a philosophical reason for why it works for me now. This hate-love relationship sometimes defies explanation, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. It depends on when you ask.

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

And sometimes I just go out and run.

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I’m running my first half-marathon on Sept. 22 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. My goal is $4,000, and I have to raise $800 of it by July 23. If you’d like to donate, click here or mail me a check. Write your check to “CCFA” or “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.” If you leave a comment, I’ll email you my address, or if you have my email address or phone number, feel free to contact me that way.

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