The Struggle to Run

Running and I have a complicated relationship.

I started running sometime around age 10, probably because I grew up very close to the 1-mile mark of the Boston Marathon. The mid-1970s were also the start of the running boom that brought Paul Newman to my hometown, Hopkinton, to make a movie about running.

But it’s been an on-again, off-again affair. It took me more than 25 years to finally run the marathon. I’ve gone from an enthusiastic racer interested in topping my personal best times to someone who’s sworn off the sport completely, blaming the future deterioration of my knees and ankles. That cycle of pleasure and disgust has been repeated more times than I can remember.

Sometimes my ability to overcome obstacles to running depended a lot on where we lived. In Alabama, I’d run early in the morning, before the stifling humidity set in — but I had to wear a bandana over my mouth to keep from sucking in the clouds of bugs I encountered. In Texas, anyone outside in the heat was considered crazy and in need of help, so I had to stop frequently to turn down offers of rides. And in Nevada they followed the lead of California where you just don’t go to places that you can’t drive to. I don’t remember seeing any runners there.

Yet what was instilled in me as a kid persists, particularly in early spring when the urge to run makes my muscles twitch. I’ve had so much time to enjoy outdoor activities since being laid off last spring that I’ve come full-circle back to running. Last year, when I was working more than 40 hours a week and dealing with kids and making dinner and a husband in Australia, I couldn’t imagine finding time for running. But now that I’m putting in a scant 18 hours a week at a job, I’m looking to anything to fill my days and provide some sense of accomplishment. Running reaps the most reward because it requires so much mental energy just to get out the door.

The battle already started today. One part of my brain says, “it’s been four days since you ran! you need to get back out there!” The other side of my brain responds, “but it’s raining and it’s going to be difficult to layer comfortably and the route I like to take is going to be muddy.” Round and round they go.

New sneakers help with the motivation for a little while (at least until they go from glowing, brand-new white to dingy and dirty). It’s also great that I’m not starting from a very low point of fitness. I did a lot of long walks last summer and fall, interspersed with hours of biking (on- and off-road). Since December I’ve been on cross country skis as frequently as possible. My legs are strong, so running is more a matter of regulating my breathing and staying focused.

My routine for getting out the door has changed a LOT in the last few years, which certainly adds to the likelihood I’ll procrastinate. In years past, I was a minimalist. I even ran in shorts during the winter in high school. But when I started training for the marathon back around 2002 (I ran it in 2003), I started to need “stuff.” First was a hat to shade my eyes. Then sunglasses. And I’ve been known to turn around and come home if I’ve forgotten to apply chapstick, no joke! Now I’m pretty hooked on carrying my phone to listen to Pandora radio. Gawd, I’m like Manny at bat, having to spit three times and redo the velcro on the batting gloves between pitches. If my socks are wrinkled or one shoe is tied more tightly than the other it just about ruins the whole thing.

I sound like a psycho, don’t I? Well, I think you have to be a little psycho to be a runner.

You have to crave the runner’s high. You have to enjoy finding the right rhythm, then trying to stay there. You have to endure a lot of aches and pains and the voice in your head that says “why are you doing this??” right up until the moment when the endorphins start flowing. And you have to turn tomorrow’s sore muscles into something to be proud of.

Will I do that today? I’m thinking about it.

* movie made by Newman was “See How She Runs,” featuring his wife, Joanne Woodward.

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