My Irrational Love of Running

I love to run. I wasn’t built for it – short, muscly, a little knock-kneed and uncoordinated. canstockphoto1568459I started to run in high school track. I was slow, but I could finish the race. I got put on the 3000 meter run, because regardless of placing, you’d get points for the team at a meet if you finished. During the track award dinner my senior year, the coach said “Michelle gets an A+ for effort”. At the time I thought it was damning and faint praise. Now I think it sounds like a pretty good gravestone epitaph.

One year we were challenged by our coach to run 100 miles over the course of the winter. He called it the Arctic 100 challenge. My brother and I were going through our Rocky phase, swallowing raw eggs and bouncing around like we were fighters and then we’d run through snow, slip sliding on icy small town sidewalks, the snot freezing inside our noses.

In the Army, I ran a lot of hills because I had to and the Presidio of Monterey was nothing but hills. I could finish. And I was still young enough that the late night binge-drinking and that early morning cigarette before P.T. didn’t incapacitate me.

Afterwards, in college, I lived in an apartment building surrounded by prefab condos and hills. I was trying to quit smoking for the 492nd time and decided to start a regular running program. The very first stretch of the run was a steep uphill jaunt. I was usually sucking wind by the time I got to the top, but I knew if I made that hill, the rest of the run would be okay.

canstockphoto20579326In my 40s, I started training in taekwondo. With a lot of heavy footwork and kicking, running had to take a backseat to the many injuries I was getting. My sparring partners tended to be teenage boys about a foot taller than me. I ended up with a black eye, turf toe, pulled muscles, wrecked quads. Running just made it worse, since I was using many of the same muscle groups.

My dojo (school) closed and I decided after four years of having the crap kicked out of me, I was done as well. To compensate, I took some circuit training classes, which included a lot of jumping and knee work, until I could barely step off curbs or go down stairs without stabbing pain. The injuries to both knees took months to recover and I was depressed about the idea that I might not be able to run again. Again, this caught me by surprise.

It strikes me as odd, this running thing. I’ve never been fast. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t even have any competitive ambition except against my last time or distance. I sweat like crazy, my face turns all red and at nearly 50, there are parts of my body moving independently of any muscle. Still, as soon as I felt ready, I started to run again.

Today I finished an 8 week 5K training program. I did my last run slowly, steadily, and strongly. I’m starting a 10K program next week. It makes no sense to me – this love that I have for something I’m so incredibly unsuited for – it has become this touchstone that I return to again and again.

Perhaps it is my unsuitability, my lack of speed or grace, my inability to wear stretchy, breathable running clothes with aplomb, the lack of competitive drive, that makes it all appealing to me. It does not require much from me except that I show up and that I keep going. Sometimes that seems like a pretty good metaphor for life.

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Is there something you love to do that makes no sense to you?

26 Comments on “My Irrational Love of Running

  1. I like this mostly because I can almost relate. I started running in Feb did my first 8k and as soon as I was done I was training for the next run which is a 15k. No competition, no prizes, just running to run. Keep running lady and your quote does sound appropriate for daily life

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  2. I would love to be able to run again, even though I’m not really any more suited to it than you are. I can’t remember when I last had any regular aerobic exercise and there’s a slow grieving about that. I’m still hopeful that there will be solutions for healing for me over the next few months. The thing I’ve loved to do all my adult life has been exercise, even though God knows I’m no natural athlete – downhill and xcountry skiing, mountain biking, running, hiking, aerobics. I’ve loved it all. But what sustains me now is my other lifelong love and that’s creativity – painting, writing, drawing, crafts of all kinds, and photography. And yet I don’t consider myself that good of an artist, just lucky I was raised in a family that encouraged creativity. Mostly I think nothing much makes sense to me 🙂
    Have fun running. I well understand the pull of it!
    Alison

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    • I’ve tried all forms of exercise and running is the one that sticks – it seems less complicated. Whenever I’ve tried sports that require something to be attached or ridden on, from cross country skiing to biking, it has been with mixed to bad results. I just don’t enjoy them as much. I’m sure there will come a time when running won’t be an option, but I deal with it when the time comes.
      And hooray for creativity! It makes such an incredible difference in how we use our brains, regardless of skill level.

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      • I’m not sure why it struck so deeply, but it was the question, “Is there something you love to do that makes no sense to you?” I’ve thought and thought about it and find, in coming up blank, that I feel … horribly empty. Impoverished. There is so LITTLE that I do that I love. So much of my life is clutter and trying to ignore clutter. The things I love take energy I lack, or time and other resources that are eaten up by clutter. This isn’t news and it’s something I’m working on with renewed effort … but dang, coming at the issue from this angle really hit hard.

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  3. Resolve is one of the ten Paramis in Buddhism. Running is an act of generosity towards your body mind and spirit. Each time you run you strengthen your muscle memory – discipline, commitment, and resilience. All gifts, Michelle.

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    • I definitely believe in the benefits, not the least of which is the happy brain chemicals that get released to counter my less agreeable ones. After the knee injuries last fall, I’ve come to regard each day that I can run as a gift.

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  4. I’ve always been obsessed with gardening Michelle, even though, like you with your running, I don’t think I have a special affinity for it. People would use the term green thumb for me, and I would tell them absolutely not, I just have persistence. I think I had an artistic sense of design, but growing things is not my specialty, despite all the reading and study I’ve done. I still struggle with pruning a fruit tree properly or getting the soil just right for optimum performance. But, like you, I keep doing it, mostly out of necessity now, as I have five acres and way too much growing to let it go. But I find as I’m nearing sixty and my worn out shoulders and knees and neck complain just as loudly now after a couple of hours as they did when I was younger after a full day of gardening, that I am enjoying it less and resigning myself to the day that I will be a waterer of pots and mulcher of shrubs rather than a commando gardener like I have been. My advice would be to keep running as long as you can with this in mind: you still need your knees and shins to go up and down stairs, to get in and out of the car, and to carry you around where you need to go. Slowing down is hard but sometimes necessary. Walking is still good exercise and stopping to take in the view or the scent of the trees or the sound of the wind or waves is good for the soul and makes for good brain chemistry also. Take care Michelle, and congratulations on your training program!

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    • Having just spent a couple of hours on my knees in the garden, I know exactly what you are talking about. Every year I look at my gardens and I think “how can I make this a little less high maintenance?” knowing full well I won’t be able to continue as the years pass.

      As for my knees and running, I am doing everything right this time – slowly building up, taking recovery days, stretching and voila, no knee pain. If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that I can still do what I want, just not as quickly. So I’m optimistic that I have a few more years.

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  5. Running was wonderful until my knees, like yours, began to suffer. Now it’s swimming … tedious beyond belief but kinder on the constitution!

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    • I really tried to do swimming , but I so much loathe the smell of chlorine, swimsuits and not being able to see (I got prescription goggles that steam up after 5 minutes) that I gave it up. My husband swims regularly, but you’d never catch him running. I finally got some good resource guides on knees and feet, so I’m hoping to get a little more mileage out of them!

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  6. I sometimes think love of something is always balanced on the edge of hating it too. I love to write…and then I read what I wrote and cringe at the awkwardness I can spew. And then I write something that makes me dizzy with delight. Perhaps I’m just a rollercoaster with a thesaurus and a laptop.

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  7. I wish I liked running even just a little bit. I read articles about it, like yours, and it sounds like it ought to be my kind of thing, and then I try it again and I’m like, oh, right, I hate this and now I remember why. Unfortunately I dislike most exercise, except for walking and hiking. I was on the swim team in high school but the only stroke I swam was breaststroke. I can swim that faster than I can swim front crawl, and best of all, it’s the only stroke that doesn’t require flip turns (I hate flip turns). But I don’t swim much anymore, even breaststroke, because chlorine does bad stuff to my skin, hair, and eyes. I’ll probably just keep walking and riding a stationary bike (while reading, so that I can distract myself from the fact that I am exercising) for the rest of my life.

    As an adult, I think one of the things I love to do even though I am not particularly suited to it, is play the violin. I don’t have a good ear for pitch, and I don’t even enjoy concerts of famous violinists that much. I wasn’t a Suzuki student, started in public school with the rest of the 4th graders, and was a slacker with respect to practicing throughout most of my teens. I didn’t make the orchestra in college, and then quit playing altogether for years. But then after some other changes in my life, I got the instrument out again, found a teacher and took lessons, and nowadays I can’t imagine my life without playing the violin. I’ve also learned to play the viola, and I have been in 3 different orchestras and 2 chamber groups since moving to California. I could do more if I had the time and energy, and slowly, over the years, I’ve gotten better. Now I can play major repertoire and have been a concertmaster and a principal player in community orchestras. It means more to me at this point than what I got my AB or my PhD in. If I had to do it over again, though, I still don’t think I would have gone to a conservatory. I think that having to play and practice all the time, having to play music I didn’t like, having to be juried and judged, and to perform on cue, would have beaten the love of playing right out of me. It may be a little like the way you feel about running in that sense: the reasons I love it are entwined with the reasons I’m not particularly suited to it.

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    • There are generally three kinds of people when it comes to exercise. Those who love it, those who tolerate it, those who loathe it. I try to make sure I carve out time for it, but I’m equally conscious of functional exercise – gardening, housework, any kind of physical labor and walking. These days I have a timer when I write to ensure that I take “moving” breaks. Our bodies are meant for it.

      I don’t think I would have chosen a different path, but I am late in the game to really focusing on what I love to do. There’s been a lot of pruning that had to happen up to this point. Perhaps making those things a priority and realizing that they are important has imbued those activities with more meaning.

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  8. I also love to run. LOVE to run. What makes no sense to me is why I don’t make more time and space in my life to do just that?? Kudos on completing the C25K [I’m assuming you were talking about the C25K??] program!

    During my last (and, to date, ONLY) half-marathon, I saw a guy wearing a shirt that I covet still: on the front it said something akin to “I run slower than a turtle,” and on the back — “Still faster than you, though!” 😀

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    • I used an audio personal running trainer program, probably not unlike the Couch to 5K program. The program I used assumed you could run a solid mile, which I could at the time. I like the audio cues of when to run and what pace, so I don’t spend the whole time looking at my watch.

      The new program assumes you’re at a 5K distance and moves you up to 10K. That’s going to be it for me – an hour of my day running seems quite enough.

      I have a set of “inspirational” workout towels I’ve used for years and one of them says I run because I can. This is all well and fine until I go to the Y, where a wide range of differently-abled people work out. I stopped taking that towel so I wouldn’t look like an ableist jerk.

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