Back then, I would have scoffed at the notion of running every day. Killed myself laughing at the idea of rising in the wee hours of the morning, while my family snoozed in their warm cozy beds. Chuckled at the thought of running alone through the eery dark streets of the big city. Looking back, it seems like the craziest decision I ever made. And also the best.
I’ve never been horribly athletic but have always loved to walk. Especially with Ma, my babies and my dogs. Running was always far too vigorous and strenuous for my tastes. During track and field season, I was one of the laggers in gym class. I was in the group that faltered to the finish line. There was no cheering from the sidelines.
You could say I went on that first run unintentionally. Certainly without expectations. Or perhaps there was one. If I survived, I would never do it again. My first, last, and only run with my ex-husband was that night. It was his idea. I just followed him out the door. The things we do for love.
Flash forward a few decades and I’m still running. I use that term loosely. I’m not sure what to call it these days. Jogging. Slow motion running. I sometimes shuffle and drag my feet. Many people could walk faster than I run. Hell, on a good day I could walk faster than I run. I’m a laggard once more.
Running is painful. Exhausting. Tiring. Grueling. Hot. Sweaty. Cold. Achy. Smelly. Frustrating. Frightening. Punishing. And enslaving.
So why do I do it?
Because running is also satisfying. Energizing. Empowering. Relaxing. Meditative. Quiet. Solitary. Spiritual. Peaceful. Calming. Rewarding. And freeing.
Running is also a metaphor my marvelously messy life.
Seven years ago I stopped running. I didn’t want to. I had to. Just after the Labor Day weekend I woke up to discover that my right knee was swollen. Because it didn’t hurt, just looked fat, I carried on with my regular morning routine. Donned my running shorts, stinky T-shirt, my Nike Frees and hit the streets. At the time, I was experimenting with barefoot running. It was magnificent. There was a new spring in my step. I felt ten pounds lighter. Twenty years younger. And swifter than a Cheetah.
I was a fool.
I have no idea if it was the new shoes, the misguided confidence, the delusions of renewed youth, or the dime-store vanity that was the cause of my swollen knee. I just know that I didn’t get much past the first block before I was hobbling. Groaning. And limping all the way home. The next day both of my knees were swollen. That was it. Over. Done like last night’s dinner. Finito Bandito Dorito.
Close to three decades of daily running. Stopped. Cold.
For the next seven years I walked my run route with a feisty Terrier in tow. Hopped on an elliptical machine every day for two years, and bored myself crazy with all the effort and movement, that essentially took me nowhere. Amped up my yoga practice, focusing on the muscles – I also use this term loosely – around my knees. I prayed for healing and kept a watchful eye for signs of improvement. The swelling eventually receded but my right knee is permanently pudgy. It would be cute if it were the knee of a ten-month old baby.
Occasionally I tested the waters. Ran a block to see how the old knees were performing. If they felt okay I’d go for a second. Sometimes a third. Once and awhile I managed to jog the entire route. This would go on for a few days, a few weeks even. But eventually the stabbing pain would return and literally bring me to my knees. It was a drag. A drag made worse, by my weakening cardiovascular system. My lungs couldn’t hack it anymore. I was running out of air. (Some people may have considered this a good thing.) First knee rebellion. Then lung unrest. I feared a full-on body assault. A revolution like no other. Body parts crashing and burning. Leaving behind a wake of rotting emotions and a decaying runner’s spirit.
After these little running forays I would return to the safety of walking the dog. One of us also had their tail between their legs. I abandoned the elliptical with not so much as a backward glance. I practiced yoga faithfully, and continue to do so. I tried Zumba twice. And sometimes I skipped to my Lou, my darlin’.
This has been my daily workout routine – and again I use this term loosely – for the past few years. Until this spring.
Around the time that E was having his surgery I had an epiphany. An awakening of sorts. It was a regular morning. Same old same old. I was walking up the road with the dog and everything was copacetic. Until I had this thought. A quivering notion. Flight of fancy. The quiet small voice inside my head whispered, run. Run like the wind.
One of the things that my 40-year practice of yoga has taught me is to listen to that quiet small voice. It is the voice of wisdom. My inner knowing. Higher self speaking. So I listened and started to run. Not like the wind. More like a lazy summer breeze. But it didn’t matter. I heeded the call. Summoned my runner’s soul. And took off.
The remarkable thing was. Nothing hurt. My lumpy bumpy old saggy knees felt fine. They hung in there. Rock steady. Solid. Reliable.
And continue do so. Even up the steep hill at the end of the run.
Read this part carefully because this is the really good stuff. The point of this moving story. The big metaphor I mentioned earlier.
You can’t get to my house without climbing a hill. The neighborhood is aptly name Rock Heights. And believe me, you have to climb to get here. When I first starting running in this neck of the woods, even long before my knees blew out, I would walk up the last hill just before home. I called it my cool-down; thus justifying the leisurely end to the run. But not any more.
For the past two months I have been challenging myself to run up the hill. At first it was impossible. Then I gave myself small daily challenges that I was confident I could achieve. Today, just make it to the red fire hydrant, for example. Once that became easy, it was, make it to the telephone pole past the hydrant. Then a few days later, it was the next pole, then after that, the bus stop, then the mustard colored house at the corner, then up past the entrance to the park, and then finally make it to our driveway. Within weeks I was running up the hill nonstop.
Now I run up the hill without even thinking, without the markers, the little goals to achieve. I no longer notice them. Instead I keep my head down and focused on the small piece of sidewalk directly in front of me. No further. It’s a steep hill. Part of the Big Picture, I know. Yet I don’t look up. I focus only on what I need to do. The small task at hand. Nothing more. That little square of cement is all that matters. It’s manageable. It doesn’t daunt. Deter. Dismay. Nor dishearten. This much I can do.
I haven’t ever counted the number of squares in the sidewalk, from the bottom of the hill to our driveway, but let’s just say there are many. Too numerous to count. Besides it isn’t about that.
It’s about getting to the top of the hill. Bit by bit.