Tag Archives: runners are crazy

Hiatus Interruptus

After my operation about a month ago, I was instructed not to run.

I guess that’s an instruction that your average human might be only too happy to receive, but for me, it was a little like telling a duck not to waddle, or a cat not to chase little red laser-pointer dots, or a leftover lasagna not to go bad in the fridge. Goes completely against nature. But I made the mistake of asking if, after the surgery, I could run, and was told “not until you’re recovered.”

“What’s that mean? How long is that?”

“Well, you’re a healthy guy. So anywhere from 2-4 weeks until you’re up to your full range of normal activities. But don’t overdo it too early or you could end up back in here.”

“When’s too early?”

“You’ll know if you do something you shouldn’t.”

I will?

How will I know? Will I immediately be in terrible pain? Or will it start sore and become awful? Maybe there will be a tearing sound with no pain at all? Can anybody ever really know anything?

So I’ve been in a state of supreme doubt ever since, and out of an abundance of caution, I haven’t run. Jogged a little. Chased my kids around the yard a few times. But no miles.

In six years, I’ve never taken such a long hiatus. Partly that’s out of fear: momentum matters, I know, and when you stop for a long time, like that hulk of an automobile growing weeds through its engine block, it’s hard to start up again. Partly it’s because I never had cause to think I needed to take such a break. And partly it’s because runners seem to be, by rule, dumb and willing to pigheadedly push through pain even when they should stop. And I, as one of my students taught me to say, am sick with that germ.

But I gave it a month. And then I gave it a few more days. Abundance of caution. I’m hardly the picture of youth anymore; I have to play smart, not hard. The goal is not to be the best, it’s to be the best I can be without blowing myself up in the process.

This morning, though, I laced up again. Beautiful morning for it — sixty-five degrees or so. Cloudy. No meteors, but I guess you can’t win ’em all. In what now seems like a sign from the running gods, my GPS watch died within the first minute (of course I could have predicted this; it hadn’t been charged in a month because I hadn’t had to plug it in for a month!). As a result, I wasn’t harried in the least by thoughts of pace or distance for their own sakes.

I just ran, stopping here and there to let the dog sniff in the high grass or to catch my breath and look out for meteors. (Sadly, there were no meteors. I may have mentioned this. I always seem to miss these celestial events. Still sad, hours later.)

I didn’t go as far as I usually do. And I probably didn’t go as fast as usual, either. But heading out this morning was more like knocking a little dust off than it was like pulling weeds out of a carburetor. The month off maybe cost me a few steps, but it didn’t put out the fire.

Better still? Tracing the outline of a shape I already knew, I find myself wanting to write more today than I have in a while. The running helps the writing, and when the running helps the writing, the writing makes me want to run.

Positive feedback loops, not negative ones.

More miles await.

And maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, meteors.

The A-Hole Runner

A couple of times a week, I see this runner.

It’s kinda funny seeing runners when I’m out driving; once upon a time they got on my nerves (look at this guy/girl, out flaunting the fact that they’re BEING SO HEALTHY, why don’t you get on a treadmill or better yet go watch some TV and eat some chips). These days it makes me a little jealous. I could get one of those awful bumper stickers — you know, I’d rather be running or some other obsequious crap — and it wouldn’t be a lie. I see other people running, and I really do think, dang, I wish I was going for a run. Even when it’s 80+ degrees out. Something, as I may have pondered before, is wrong with me.

But not this runner.

This runner is an a-hole.

I say that knowing full well that I’m guilty of many a-hole runner behaviors myself. Holier-than-thou minimalist apologetics. Tree-huggery every-run-is-a-good-run fawning. Interminable gear-heading with all the electronics. Smug humblebrags about waking up while the rest of the world is asleep. Endless talking about all things running.

Jeez, I’m an a-hole runner.

But not as big an a-hole as this a-hole.

Because this a-hole runs in the street when there’s a sidewalk right the fargo there.

Now, look. I understand. I’ve read the scientific-sounding articles about how running on asphalt is better for your feet than running on concrete. (Apparently, asphalt will compress underfoot, while concrete won’t. Though how much it actually compacts under the paltry weight of a human is probably less than negligible.) And yeah, okay, he’s doing what you should do when you run on a road, which is to say, he runs against traffic, so that you can see him coming and he can see you coming. And yes, I will admit and can even attest that running on a sidewalk can be more hazardous than you might expect.

But all that goes out the window when you’re running down a main drag during rush hour in the dusky dawn light, where shadows are long, eyes are droopy, and everybody and their mother is texting and driving on their way to the daily grind.

This is a two-lane road serving virtually all the traffic going from our little Atlanta suburb to the next little Atlanta suburb over. Not exactly the artery of I-20, but certainly a capillary of substantial size. And too many times, I see this dude trucking along the edge of the road, head down, shuffling blithely into the oncoming traffic with all the concern my dog has for the screen she doesn’t know I closed behind the sliding glass door.

I don’t understand it. There’s no rational explanation I can find for it. The cars going North have to dodge into the oncoming South lane to avoid splattering this poor bastard, and the cars coming South have to slow down to avoid hitting the cars dodging into their lane to avoid splattering this poor bastard. The man is literally a slow-moving roadblock. He backs up traffic in both directions. I’ve seen him at various points along a 1-mile stretch, which means that mile is part of his regular routine, which means he’s putting his own desire to run in the street above the desire of possibly hundreds of drivers to use the road as intended every morning he goes for a run.

AND THE SIDEWALK IS RIGHT THERE. Literally less than five feet to his left. A quick little hop and he’d be on it, happily out of everybody’s way. Happily not endangering his own life and limb. Happily not being a total a-hole.

And yet, on he plods. With his high socks. And his fargoing white headband. And his blatant disregard for anything approaching common sense or decency.

So plod on, a-hole. But know that, even though you’re running, I’m glad as fargo I’m not you.

And that’s saying a lot. From one a-hole to another.


We Must Be Crazy

It struck me this morning, watching my breath rise in wispy, ghostlike puffs as I was wrapped in a long-sleeved insulated shirt and a vibrant insulated hoodie (I call this color please-don’t-hit-me-with-your-car-orange), to say nothing of the track pants, thick gloves, and knit cap.

You have to be a little bit crazy to do this.

Sport, Moon, Moon Phase, Mood, Run, Silhouette, Runners

Even a casual runner like myself will have to deal with a lot in the pursuit of a bit of exercise. Here in Atlanta, that includes some truly punishing hills just about anywhere you try to go, not to mention wickedly schizophrenic weather (it was 72 degrees on Christmas day, and in the upcoming five days we’ll go from 20 degrees to 60 and back again if the weather outlets are to be believed). But wherever you do this running thing, many struggles are the same. If you run in the cities or the suburbs, there’s traffic to dodge. If you run in the country or on trails, you’ve got ticks and snakes and mosquitoes and spiderwebs to avoid.

Today it’s cold weather, and while I know that calling 22 degrees “cold” earns a snort and a snigger from some of you folks up north, it’s about as cold as the bones of this fragile Georgian can stand. I’ve got almost a dozen pieces of cold-weather gear for running, and none of it seems to put me in any sort of comfort zone. Fleece-lined gloves. Moisture-wicking hats. Shirts in all thicknesses and weights. I permutate the system, layer up, and try to adjust for the slightest fluctuation in temperature, wind, and precipitation, but it’s impossible to get it right. When I start out, the cold slices through all that and chills the bones, but once the engine gets running, suddenly I’m sweltering in all these layers and running around with the jacket undone, the sleeves rolled up, the gloves in a pocket.

And the summer. God.

When you’re a not-in-the-best-shape-of-your-life dude like me, there’s only so many layers of clothing you’re comfortable removing, even if you run in the wee hours of the morning. Then the temperature creeps up into the nineties and every step feels like stepping forward into warm Jello, the air positively gelatinous with humidity. The clothes smell of sweat even after coming through the wash. Even your feet perspire.

Then there are the injuries, and a runner without injuries is like a politician without a closet full of skeletons. The past two years, I’ve fought off nagging injuries in the calves, heels, and ankles of both feet. My wife gets horrible blisters and knee issues and, through running, discovered she actually had a broken bone in her spine (probably from gymnastics earlier in life, but unearthed by running).

Point is, running, as a whole, tends toward the unpleasant. For the most part, it isn’t a lot of fun.

Yet, pounding the pavement in the relative stillness of the early morning, watching those puffs of misty breath rise and scatter before my face, feeling the cold leaking into the soles of my feet, the tips of my fingers, the bulb of my nose, it hit me.

Despite all that the run sucked (and it did suck: I was slower than I’ve been in weeks, I felt short of breath, and my left heel was acting up again), I was still undeniably enjoying myself. I was glad I’d hauled myself out of bed, despite not having to work today. The run felt right, like an old Def Leppard t-shirt from high school or your memory-foam pillow at the end of a particularly long day.

I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve embraced such a masochistic form of exercise: you have to be maybe more than a little bit crazy to decide in your thirties that you want to be a writer, and start committing hours every day toward what most people think of as a pipe dream. Putting down your words and thoughts and the bizarre worlds that exist in your mind for others to see. Thinking about stories and narratives and conflicts and subplots when you could just as easily veg out and watch a House marathon on the weekends (man, I miss that show). Choosing that mental torture when I could just as easily not seems as indicative as anything that there’s something wrong with me.

Writer, Shadow, Man

Running and writing, two great forms of torture that taste great together!

Is this a universal truth — that the things you love cause you pain and discomfort like this? Frankly, it’s kind of bullshit. I wish I enjoyed other forms of exercise, or even better, that I didn’t care about exercise at all, but I just can’t. Nothing else floats my boat. And writing … well, maybe all this will come to nothing, but I decided two years ago that not trying was no longer acceptable, so come hell or hot Atlanta summers (which are practically synonymous, but whatever), I’m going to keep going.

We must be crazy to choose this running life, this writing life.

But upon further reflection, we’d be even crazier not to.

Running is Magic

Running is nothing if not a constant dialogue with yourself about the things you never thought you’d do.

I never thought I’d take up running.

Then I never thought I’d enjoy running.

I never thought I’d run in a race.  (Pay money to run?  Run with other people?  Do I look like a fool?)

Then I never thought I’d run multiple races in a year.

I never thought I’d run more than three or four miles at a stretch.

Then I never thought I’d run more than six.  Or eight.  Or ten.  Or thirteen.

Oh, that’s half of a marathon.  I never thought I’d run a half marathon.

I never thought I could appreciate any activity completed outdoors in the summer in the deep south.

Or in the winter for that matter.

I never thought I’d look forward to getting up while most of the world is asleep to “exercise”.

I never thought I’d ever be grumpy about not going for a run.

I never thought I’d ever have anything to say about running that was worth writing down.  (Okay, that’s probably still debatable.)

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for the moment.  Anyway, I say all that to say this.  Running is magic.

I don’t say that lightly.  Writing is magical.  My son is magical.  My wife is magical.  (No, seriously.  She once cast a spell on me and it WORKED.  She also convinced me that getting married was a good idea, so clearly she has magical powers of persuasion.)  But that’s about where the magic ends in my life.  Just for the record, I set the bar pretty high when it comes to declaring things magical.  A decent magician can pull a rabbit out of a hat or tell you what card he forced you to pick.  Real magic is when a piece of lead turns into a piece of gold right before your unblinking eyes.  Real magic is when something that WASN’T suddenly IS.  Real magic is when the work and the time you put into something gets magnified and transmogrified and turned into rainbows and kittens and sunshine and all the good things.

Writing?  Magical.  I feel smarter every day that I write, and given the esteem that I hold my intelligence in (again, I will reference my wife), that’s a pretty big deal.  But in addition to getting my story down in literal, tangible words that another human could read, consider, and then (hopefully) enjoy, it’s filling me with a sense of purpose and accomplishment and a sort of general sense of being a little bit awesome.  My son?  Magical.  I put in a fun weekend in Florida and a few sleepless nights and I’m rewarded with a TINY FARGOING HUMAN that’s basically me on a thirty-year delay.  Incredible.  My wife?  Magical.  I know of no other person on earth who would put up with and call me on the stupid things that I do and still allow me to have happy fun times with her.  (She might kill me tonight for writing that.  That would be less magical.)

Running, to return to the point, requires a bit more explanation.  I’ve sunk a metric sharknadoload of time (not to be confused with the imperial sharknadoload) into running, and what have I got to show?  I lost some weight.  I “feel” healthier.  The endorphins that follow an individual run are nice.  But that seems like a balanced equation; there’s no magic there.

No, the magic of running is not like the magic of a rainbow suddenly appearing.  It’s more like the magic of a sculpture emerging from a raw hunk of marble under the practiced hands of Michaelangelo.  (He made sculptures, right?  I don’t know Art.)  You work at it, and you work at it, and you chip away day after day after day, knowing that there’s something good under those layers of stone and sweat and tears and exhaustion, and then one day it just appears.  Like Batman out of the dark.  He was there all along, saving your asgard, looking out for you, protecting your city and your whole way of life, but he only just now revealed himself to you because you only just now stopped to look.

Running gives you patience.  Not right away.  When you first dip your toes in the shallow end of the pool, you barely have the patience to slog it out for twenty minutes.  But you can’t embark on a thirteen mile run, or a twenty-six mile run, or a fifty mile run without the patience not to get bored, not to get distracted, not to quit halfway through because you just can’t stand the tedium for another minute.  Running teaches you to accept the tedium of the long miles and, eventually, to appreciate it.

Running gives you resilience.  It hurts.  It’s exhausting.  Especially at first.  But the more you do it, the less it hurts, the less it exhausts you, and finally you realize that running wasn’t the problem, the old you was the problem.  The more you learn to get up off the mat when running knocks you down (and running WILL knock you down), the easier it gets to keep standing up for another helping.

Running gives you confidence.  You start small.  If I can run for a minute, maybe I can run for two.  If I can run for two, maybe I can run for three.  If I can run for a half-mile, maaaaybe I can run an entire mile.  And then you get there.  Sooner than you think.  And what was once impossible becomes routine, and you start getting crazy with confidence.  If I can run fivemiles, maybe I can run ten.  If I can run a half-marathon, maybe I can write a fargoing book.

Sidenote: it’s foolish and stupid that half-marathons are called half-marathons.  You have a 5k, then a 10k, and those sound awesome.  Then there’s a half-marathon, which sounds like, “well, that’s nice I suppose, but why not a whole marathon?”  To which runners who have just accomplished their first run at that distance might, rightly so, kick you in the sack.  And yeah, I know, some people call them Pikermis, and that’s nice and all, but nobody knows how to pronounce Pikermi and it sounds a little ridiculous besides.  Call it a Salvador or something, or surely there is some other Greek city with a nice name we could appropriate.

Finally, Running gives you a sense of community.  I don’t know if I could name a social situation I’ve been in where the collective vibe was more uplifting than at any race I’ve attended.  Runners support one another, because we’re not running against one another, we’re running with one another.  And if you’ve never raced, then at the very least you know the deep-seated connection you have with every other runner you pass on the road.  Whether you wave or not, whether they wave or not, you see each other, and you know that they know, and they know that you know, and both of you are going through it together.  Through what?  Through it all.

Why am I still writing this?  I’m going for a run.  (Okay, fine, I’m going for a run in the morning.  I just… god.  Why you gotta ruin it?)

(EDIT:  My wife would like for me to point out that there is in fact nothing magical about blisters.)

Run in the Rain, or don’t, it’s only the Awesomest Thing Ever

Runners are strange birds.  Not only do we enjoy an activity which most people in the world really, really hate and, in fact, avoid at every opportunity, but we find some of the most painful and most bizarre aspects of the activity to latch onto.

For example: yesterday’s run.  Nothing special about the run itself, except for the fact that it was raining.

I love running in the rain.  I love it, love it, love it.  I don’t know why.  I shouldn’t.  I stink even worse after a rain run, my shoes have to be retired for a couple days until they dry out, there’s mud, it’s cold… It’s dumb as haberdashery that I love it so much, but I can’t help it.  I love it like a fat kid loves cake.  I love it like my dog loves to run under my feet when I walk down the stairs in the morning.  I love it like my son loves the goldfinger Tigger movie, and that’s a lot, probably an unhealthy amount.

Here are just a few reasons why running in the rain is awesome.

1.  Especially in the spring and summer, it feels brilliant.  The weather’s getting warmer here in Atlanta, and before we know it, it’ll be overnight lows of 70 or better for months at a time.  That sucks.  Running in the rain is like when you were a kid and hooked up the hose to a sprinkler — or, if you didn’t have a sprinkler, you just poked a bunch of holes in the hose — and ran through that thing for hours and hours and hours.  It feels like happiness.  It feels like bottled joy being poured over your head.

2.  It makes you feel bad-Asgard.  Know what non-bad-Asgards do?  They don’t run.  Know what non-bad-Asgard runners do?  They run when it’s convenient, when it works for them, when it’s easy.  Bad-Asgard runners run when they fargoing want to run, when they need to run, when they have to run.  Long run day and it’s 90 degrees out?  You’re running.  Speedwork day and you have a brick of fettucine alfredo in your stomach from the overindulgence of a dinner you ate last night because you totally deserved it?  You’re running.  The typhoon strikes?  El Nino is upon us?  Atlanta is buried under three inches of snow (horror of horrors!)?  You’re running.  Something about running in the worst of conditions brings out the inner bad-Asgard in all of us.  Well, all of us runners.  Well, maybe just me.

3.  Sense of Accomplishment. You’ve heard runners say that “every run is a good run.”  Well, you have if you frequent running sites.  If not, now you’re hearing it.  But some runs are better than others.  The tough runs make you feel like you did when you first started running, like when you first started breaking down those barriers that you didn’t think you could break.  Running in the rain is awesome because it’s something that even a lot of runners just won’t do.  But not you.  It was nasty and gross out there and you ran anyway.  High-five.

4.  It’s Primal.  Primitive man was probably a distance-runner because he had to be to survive.  You think primitive man, running to survive, took the day off because it was raining?  Fargo no, he didn’t.  He laced up (footed up?) and threw down because if he didn’t, he’d starve.  Or the lions would eat him.  Or something.

5.  You connect with nature.  On any run, you get to breathe deeply of the great bounty of our planet’s slightly toxic atmosphere.  Feel that burning in your lungs?  That’s nature, son.  That burning in your legs?  PAIN IS WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY.  That burning in your eyes?  That’s god peeing on you to cool your overheated loins.  Or it’s the acid rain.  Seriously, wear a hat, that stuff burns.

6.  The looks you get.  Know that look you get when you see a monkey waddle past, juggling kitchen knives while balancing on a bowling ball?  That look that says, “what the haberdashery did I just see?  It was crazy and probably ill-advised.”  That look on your face is hilarious, and I love it, love it, love it when you make it at me as you drive past in your warm-comfy SUV and I’m plodding through puddles.  Please make it again so that I can keep laughing for another mile.  (Whether I’m laughing at you or myself depends on how far I’ve run.)

7.  Steam.  Something about the moisture in the air and the heat of your body on and after a run creates a witchcraft of chemistry, and if you look closely, you can actually see the rain evaporating off your body in wisps of pale smoke.  That’s right.  You just worked out so hard you ALMOST BURST INTO FLAMES.

8.  Just kidding, running in the rain sucks.  Seriously, why would you want to do that?  Just stay inside where it’s warm.  You can get your miles in when it dries out.  Let those other lunatics get soaked.  They look almost happy out there – they must be crazy.

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