Still running (after all these years)

i do it for the sunsets

I’ve been a runner for about 5 years. I still feel funny calling myself one, but read an article a few years ago that said if you accumulate piles of sweaty clothes on the floor, you get to call yourself a runner. And so I am a runner.

I started running when I was about 6 months sober. I’d gained about 10 pounds when I quit drinking. How could this have happened when I’d cut out easily 1,000 calories a day? Witchcraft possibly, though more likely dessert even if I still can’t get the math to come out right.

Most of us feel the octopus effect when we give up drinking, that sly tentacle reach for another substance once we manage to get one in check. For many it’s food because food is delicious and comforting and we need it to survive so there’s always plenty around.

Running became a way for me to lose that extra weight but it turned into its own reward. Here is why it continues to work for me.

It costs nothing to run. 

This of course is not strictly true. We must invest in a pair of good running shoes. I buy my $100 pair for half-price when our local running store holds a sidewalk sale on last year’s models. I get running clothes on the cheap because I’ve found all brands trap the stink. Race fees add up if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of my running is done on roads where I live, which costs me absolutely nothing.

Then a funny thing happens a couple times a year and takes me by surprise every time: daylight fucking savings. I go from the freedom of being able to run safely outside before work or after dinner to not at all. So I join Planet Fitness because it’s $10 a month and I can run on treadmills and occasionally get hit on by old men. One guy said “I want you for Christmas” only I had earbuds in and took them out because I thought he was trying to tell me something less disturbing. Christmas had just passed like a month ago.  Then he talked about his wife for a few minutes and continued making the rounds to the other ladies on his super early Christmas list. His wife was not going to have a good Christmas.

There are also too many TVs at the gym. Bad news and infomercials splayed like gutted fish. I take my glasses off at the gym so everything is fuzzy and leave my earbuds in. I do this because it’s only temporary and in order to be a runner I have to keep generating sweaty piles of clothes.

I get to do it by myself. 

This is notwithstanding awkward social encounters at the gym, i.e. see above or that time an attendant had to ask me to switch machines because mine was making a funny noise, me red-faced thinking I broke it with cloddish heft though maybe it was furious effort or the fact that a hundred people use it per day.

For some, running is a social activity. I see lots of women chat side-by-side on treadmills. My sister belongs to a running group that meets on Sundays to run 10 miles over hills on purpose. Somehow it still sounds fun, but I’m a solo runner. The first time I slipped out the front door in sneakers and earbuds, I looked back for the spotlight and prison guards. I was really getting away with something, a working mother of two with this delicious hour to myself with no questions or demands.

Running also gives me time to think. I’ve pre-written almost as many blog posts on a run as I have in the car, and I spend way more time there. I love being in my own head, listening to favorite songs. I love spending time in nature. One morning I saw 2 doe, 2 fawns (still with polka dots), a heron, a fox, a half-dozen squirrels and at least a dozen bunnies, plus a guy walking a dog. This was all in the span of a half hour.

I don’t have to be the best, which is really fortunate. 

I used to feel embarrassed by my pace. Others made the point that at least I was getting out there or that it wasn’t a race, though sometimes it literally was. In five years of running, I haven’t gotten a whole lot faster. The longest distance I’ve run is about 8 miles, which is a far cry from a marathon. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to run a marathon. I also don’t want to put the work in to get a lot faster. I stopped tracking pace and distance in spring so I literally don’t know how fast or far I’m running.  I do feel stronger and leaner the more I run. I get to eat 5 cookies and still fit into my pants. Those are the numbers I care about.

Running makes me feel good. 

Let me be clear that I do not feel good while running. Around the 15 minute mark I usually feel better than I did at the 5 minute mark, but it isn’t like getting a massage or taking a nap. Running, like any strenuous activity, is really hard. What feels great is being done with the run. I literally get an endorphin boost so that I feel a little high for about an hour afterwards. (There is no subsequent crash either.) Mostly I suspect it feels good because I know I got out there and did it.

I get to share it with others. 

This goes against what I said about it being a solo activity, but both of my daughters run too. I wonder sometimes if I’m like a pageant mom who strong armed them into it, but I don’t think so. Or maybe I made running look good, though I’ve seen myself in the mirror afterwards and don’t think that’s it.

My oldest is in her second year of high school cross country. Those girls are hard core. They got up at 6:30 am six days a week all summer long and ran 3-5 miles in some of the hottest, muggiest weather I can recall. My daughter did this despite the very real fear she would not make the team. In fact, she fell short in the timed trial, but the coach let her stay on and she’s well aware what it feels like to be the caboose. She’s the kid who crosses the finish line after some spectators move on because they assume the race is over. Each time she gets close to the finish line, I cheer loud and tear up because I know it’s fucking hard not only to run but to be the very last one. I’m beyond proud of her.

My youngest is about to start a running program at her elementary school. We got her new running shoes and gave a pep talk about how it takes time and practice to get better and stronger. She is not brand new to running so she knows this already. In December, her and I and maybe her sister too will run a 5K race to celebrate end of season. Three miles is almost a cake walk once you’ve done it a few dozen times, so I’m looking forward to being there for her.

Teenaged me, who couldn’t even run a mile in high school, would be in awe of both of them. Adult me knows running beats booze and boys. Every parent wants a better life for their kids and I hope mine will choose to channel stress into something positive and rewarding.

Running works right now for me, but it won’t forever and it isn’t the only way. There’s also walking or biking or maybe knitting, all of which are easier on joints. The key seems to be finding something that is equal parts torture, er, challenge and reward. Taking the healthier routes seems to naturally lead to the next right path.

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38 thoughts on “Still running (after all these years)

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  1. ditto everything for me with biking. i have learned not to talk about it too much because inevitably folks will say “we should go biking sometime” and i am too concerned about offending to say “no we should’t” so i have to just be busy until they get it. biking for me is the time to not engage with anything external but the road.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is wonderful.
    I am a yogi and do not run, but like your running, or Robert’s biking, it is my space….and while I mostly do it in public spaces something happens, some switch gets turned, and I feel like it’s just me. So grateful for that feeling and love hearing about others paths….
    it does sure beat booze and boys!
    xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this! Great post. As a newer runner (jolker in reality (jogger-walker combo)), I love that the qualifier is a pile of sweaty clothes. Ha. Good for you and good for your girls! Just cool stuff a-happenin’ all around.* -HM.

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  4. Yes, on the pre-write in your head, that’s good, get that. Once you start that action it keeps going. Better to be wanted for Christmas than Thanksgiving, perhaps — or Easter. It’s all dark and weird. Good on him for putting his intentions out to the world, however despicable. More reason for the fuzzy vision and the earbuds.

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  5. If I had my preference, cycling would be my preferred form of exercise. You cover more mileage and can see more of the world. It’s also not has hard on the body. But, it costs a lot more, takes a lot more time and puts you out there on roads with these things called cars steered by people who may or may not be paying attention.

    I’m with you, running is the simplest and cheapest form of exercise. And I bought into it about ten years ago, shortly after I turned 40. I spent a few years absorbed in it, running several half marathons. And then I tore a groin muscle. And tore it again. And tore it again. It’s not fully healed. The only thing that would likely produce that result is surgery.

    I still try to run. Still think it’s the best way to try to stay in shape. To stay fit and healthy. But somewhere along the way, over the last few years as I have struggled with the after effects of the groin tear, I have lost the motivation to do it. I want to. I need to. I know that it needs to be a part of my regular routine, but there’s a block. So I don’t run nearly as often as I need to, which then makes it harder to keep running. It’s a vicious, no-win cycle.

    thank you for your post. Maybe it’ll motivate me to get out and run tomorrow! Cause you’re right. On pretty much every level.

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    1. See, I can totally understand why you wouldn’t be able to get back into it. Groin injury sounds pretty unpleasant. With biking, there is the upfront cost and riding with cars does seem scary. Do you have biking trails where you live? How about swimming, tennis, power-walking? I kid at the latter but it’s where I’m headed. One of the reasons I keep mileage low is I’m afraid of injury because then I won’t be able to run at all. That and laziness but I prefer to call it self-preservation.

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      1. We do have a wonderful 32-mile trail that winds along the American River. But riding the same thing over and over can get boring and I have to drive 15-20 minutes to get to it. Part of the allure of running is the ease of it. Throw on shoes, step out front door, run.

        The groin injury doesn’t prevent me from running. It just keeps me from longer distances. I’m not sure why, to be honest, I can’t get back into a regular routine.

        Swimming … while I know how to swim, I never mastered the breathing needed to swim for distance.

        Tennis … love it, played it a lot in my earlier years. But the groin tear pretty much eliminates anything with the kind of lateral movement needed for tennis.

        Walking … it’s weird. If I have a nice place to walk (along a river, to a lake, near the ocean, in the woods), I can walk. But just walking in the neighborhood? I just can’t do it. I can still run 3-5 miles. That’s what I prefer. Just finding the motivation difficult.

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      2. A friend wisely says lacing up is the hardest part. I never regret a run but don’t always go into it thrilled. Change of scenery is important. Having a Fitbit helps because I’m always chasing 10k steps.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Also love the laundry heap as status qualifier! That was a good article you linked to, thanks. And good to read of our mutual subject of affection/obsession.

    My running career began a couple of years before I got sober, so it was 5 years ago this summer that I ran my first 5k. I drove to and ran that race alone, so I also took my first ever selfie afterwards. I cherish that photograph – flushed, dishevelled, and eyes alight with the discovery that perhaps change is possible after all….

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  7. You have captured everything I love about running – the alone time, the cost and for me…the simplicity. Even when I travel, I can pack shoes, shorts and a tee shirt. My hubby says he can tell if I’ve had a good week or not by how many pairs of running shorts are in the laundry.

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time – I HATE the treadmill and only run out doors. It’s the change in season that often provides a lame excuse. Thanks to you, I know I won’t be hitting the snooze button tomorrow.

    PS: I love LOVE that you’ve been writing more. I read everything even if I don’t always get the chance to comment.

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    1. Hey Michelle! This change of season thing gets me every time. I don’t hate the treadmill though. Weekends will be ok for outdoor runs. I like the observation your husband made about the number of shorts and a good week.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ok, you’ve convinced me. But, I think I’ve told you that about 200 times. I watched two little girls chasing each other at our campground last night, I want that back. I want to be able to run and not be afraid my uterus will fall out and be pulled along after me like a Mama duck and ugly duckling pull toy.

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    1. Haha! Well I started with walking and did that until I got sick of it taking so long to get back. There’s always hiking. Sitting on the couch is fun too. Hope you’re enjoying the quiet after releasing your new book. I am looking forward to reading 🙂

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  9. I can’t run, but I can walk!
    And it is such a beautiful thing to walk by oneself.
    It’s a bit like mediating!
    I need to step up my walking b myself, as I seem to think I need someone to talk to.
    But, some of my best photos have been taken when I am by myself!
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am glad I found your post. You are a great writer! and funny. I gather you are sober now for a few years? Congratulations. What a feat! My dad is sober 37 years and it is inspiring to see commitment. You have inspired me to get back into running. I miss it. I will be following your blog too, you are entertaining. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is great. Have you ever tried trail running? I too have a slower pace and fell in love with trails about 5 years ago. I find the views and being off the road to be absolute therapy for my soul! I was always afraid of running alone but made a deal with myself to get out there this year. I’m so proud and thankful I did it. There’s nothing like disappearing in a run and not having to worry about anyone but yourself for the moment. Happy running! 🙂

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