Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Running

I’m not what you would call a graceful runner.

I’m one of those that breathe heavily, like that creepy guy who calls in the middle of the night and does nothing but breathe on the line except multiply that by ten. Add to that the sound of someone alternately shuffling and stomping their feet hard against the pavement and you’ve got me in a nutshell.

People I pass on the street can hear me coming a block away. People who are running look twice, as if to ask themselves if they look as uncoordinated as me. Because I’m so loud and clumsy I prefer running on the streets as opposed to a treadmill; running on a treadmill stresses me out. For me, there is a very good chance of stepping on the sides and falling over or punching the wrong buttons so that the belt speeds up instead of slowing down, or forgetting that the conveyer belt won’t stop just because I decide it’s time for my workout to end. Because of this I am a disaster in the gym, and my biggest fear is embarrassment from falling off the treadmill. Forget about any injuries sustained – the shame is waaaay worse. I am always hesitant to join a gym because of this, and in the event that I do embarrass myself I may have to forfeit any pre-paid membership fees.

It’s always awkward starting a running program. In the beginning it’s all about making it to the end of your workout no matter what. At first the runs are slow and halting; you have doubts about making it to the end of the block, let alone surviving three miles. Your clothing bothers you – your sports bra is too loose or too tight, your t-shirt feels like it shrunk in the dryer (yeah right), your shoes are too tight around your ankles and too loose around your toes. All these things distract you as you soldier on, hoping the pain in your side would just go away already. Eventually, if you train consistently, the runs become smoother. The heavy steps morph into graceful footwork. The ragged, tired breathing becomes more controlled and disciplined. At its best, running is your body in perfect sync: endurance with speed, getting faster as the miles keep coming, the clock slowing as you complete yet another mile.

I tell myself this as I will my slow and heavy body to run. I always envision another sleek and graceful runner ahead of me, my future self if you will. My hope is that my initial suffering makes my future self stronger and faster. And this motivation works every time.

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