The R Word
I can remember a time, not too long ago, when, if I saw a scantily clad jogger pounding the pavement on a cold, rainy, miserable morning, I would smile at the person next to me and wisely say, “poor sucker”. It would be said with that condescending mixture of pity laced with just a hint of admiration. The admiration, obviously, comes from seeing a person who is so visibly dedicated to his physical fitness as to venture out into the nastiest of elements when the rest of us are curled up on the sofa with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate. Determination like that is superhuman, we agree. The touch of pity is a result of the empathy we feel as we imagine what that person’s body must be sensing at that moment: exhaustion, cold and wetness, aching muscles, pounding heart…. It must be awful. It must be excruciating. To be so driven by such a compulsion, to want something that badly, it must surely be beyond his own consciousness and power – poor sucker.
What could possibly drive people to do this to themselves…. repeatedly? That is a question that, even now that I am inarguably enlisted into the cult of running, I still ask myself several times a week (often during the same run). And even though it is incredulous to me still what some, obviously more insane runners, will submit themselves to, I am beginning to understand the addiction. It is an addiction that we wear with pride…. I am embarrassed to say.
I hate running. For a year I claimed this. I would say it repeatedly to non-runners, who are generally very critical and skeptical of my newfound lifestyle. I would deny being part of that sub-group. I like the benefits of running, is how I would excuse my behaviour. I only like the feeling after I’ve run, I would claim. And it is, in fact, a very bittersweet relationship I have with running. I remember being a teenager and deciding, for the first time, that I would jog resolutely every day. That lasted one frigid morning – I could still see my house when I turned around. I used to loathe the annual fitness test in gym class because we had to run for 12 minutes straight. It was the only thing I considered truly beyond my capacity to do (and I was a fairly athletic kid). And so, I paired with that loathing a kind of reverance for running. Anything that painful, must be really good for you. And those who did it must truly be gods.
I grew older and older and bigger and bigger. I began to feel apathetic and powerless to change the course of my own physical condition. Then in May of 2004, I was driving through Mississauga on a beautiful, sunny morning when I saw a few trailing runners from the first annual Mississauga Marathon. They were peaceful and eloquent, if a bit on the tired side. Majestic even. I was 26 and up until that moment, I had decided that 17 was my physical peak and always would be. When suddenly I saw people of all ages and sizes doing things I deemed miraculous. And I wanted to do it too. I told myself, “The longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be to start.”
So I began running. I ran 4 laps of the local high school track – very, very slowly. I bought a book and it said that running too fast was a big mistake (one I’d made before). So I let women pushing baby strollers pass me on the sidewalk. There was no hurry. I just wanted to survive the run of the moment. Going slowly seemed to enhance the chances of that.
Over the course of the past year and a half, I have run four races – a 10 k, three half marathons, and a 5 k. Of all the things I’ve done in my life (and I have accomplished many academic and artistic successes) my very proudest moment is still the September evening in 2004 when I finished my first race – the Little Lake Liftlock 10 k. Running a 10 k race was the first goal I’d set for myself that I truly wasn’t sure I could reach. And then I did. For months, I looked at the pictures of that race to re-live in my mind that feeling…. because it was exhilarating.
Two months ago, I had an epiphany as I sat in my very first Running Room Clinic lecture and the instructor asked, “How many of you have ever lost a toe nail?” and half of the room raised their hands. I’ve got enough awareness of the real world to know how ridiculous a moment it was, but I am officially a member of the running cult now. I can no longer deny it. I can no longer say that I always hate it (nor do I always love it). But it has become an unshakable part of my life.
Ed Whitlock is one of my greatest role models because I want to be able to run when I’m in my seventies, eighties or even nineties. For now, I run because I can. And that is enough.
Written by Melissa Loftus