Thursday, January 16, 2014

Light Exercise, Self-Loathing, and Me

So, I started running about eight months ago. In retrospect, it would be really nice to say that I had a revelation about health and wellness that led me to run, or perhaps there were some very dramatic happenings that sparked my interest. Like Forrest Gump in his movie, Forrest Gump, I might have been reflecting on lost love and shrimping boats before deciding to run as a way to express angst and insatiable desire.

But in truth, I started running because last spring I got a smart phone that came with a run-tracker app thingy. One day I opened it, said, “What the hell?” and strapped on some sneakers. The idea of satellites tracking my run and then showing me a little map of it afterwards appealed to me. I think it’s because it makes my life a little more like a video game, many of which track the stats of your character as you do certain things. Even eight months on, I’m not sure I’ve logged more miles in real life than I have as Link or Batman, but I do tend to value the real life accomplishment over the virtual one. If it’s any consolation to him, virtual Batman still has me beat in doling out justice. I have doled out very little in my life.

So, eight months ago I ran. And in that first run, I was introduced to what would become my longtime running companion: cursing. When you are as out of shape as I was eight months ago, running half a mile introduces you to new levels of physical and emotional pain. After only five minutes, my feet hurt, my chest hurt, my legs hurt, and even my back hurt, since for once it wasn’t bent laboriously over a computer screen. Worse than all that though, my pride hurt. Had it really come to this? I remembered being a kid on the playground, running for 45 minutes straight in games of tag and soccer, rocks in my shoes and scabs on my knees. Could I have imagined then doubling over in exhaustion after jogging, leisurely, two blocks? These days, I didn't even have the motivating factor of not catching cooties in a game of tag. So not only was I embarrassed now, my 8-year old self was embarrassed for me. And that was a kid who un-ironically loved 90s television, so his pity didn’t feel great.

Thus the cursing. Not out loud, mind you, but so loud in my head that I’m sometimes surprised others can’t hear it as they run or walk past me. Cursing at myself, the world, the tight feeling my chest as I try to draw more oxygen in than my weak lungs can handle. It usually sounded something like this, except with less family-friendly changes:

“Screw this, gosh darnit, screw this screwing stuff and screw screwlington too.”

My brain would blare these nonsensical obscenities over all else, and that was probably the hardest part. At the end of a run, when all pretense and energy had been stripped away, I had been diminished by something that I could not do, and those curses were all that was left. That was all I had to offer, at my core; they represented an exposed nerve of shame and frustration. It’s easier now, of course. At the beginning I was missing the most beautiful gift long-term runners have: perspective. I couldn’t look back and see improvement, and so I couldn’t look forward to more. My running journey had no narrative, and the only thing I could associate with running was this feeling, right now, that was so painful.

Maybe perspective is overrated, though, because as I look back now, eight months on, I went back the next day despite not having it. I'm not sure why I did. Again, I would love to say I was overcome with a noble sense of purpose, and that I really did enjoy the previous day's run, deep down. But I really did not. It took me a long time to start to enjoy running, and those first few weeks I hated it more than a social conservative talking about bootstraps.

But you know what? That was it. Spite. The hate I had for those first few runs was cathartic, and that’s why I kept going back. I was in the process of losing my job at the time, a job I didn’t really want anyway but was all I had but I should be doing something different…needless to say, it was a confusing time. So those runs gave me hate and self-loathing, but those were things I could own. They were self-generated. Every day, no matter how uncertain my future looked in the hands of other people, I could put my feet on the ground, and spit, and curse internally, and look at the run online afterwards and think that I’m running slower than Forrest was on the uptake, but god dammit this pain is mine

So that’s why I kept running. If I had been happier in my life, I probably wouldn’t have, and maybe that’s a bad reason to have started but I honestly don’t think it is. Progress should start from the bottom up. I thought of starting this blog because I want to share that perspective I mentioned earlier, and because when I run I keep thinking of funny things I could write about. Distance running is inherently graceless and awkward, and I am those things doubly-so. After eight months, I am still a baby in the running world, and it’s my ultimate goal to become moderately okay. Plus, I would love to read about someone as incompetent as me try to do anything.


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