Taking up running
About a month ago, I decided it was finally time to try jogging.
At the time, I hadn’t gone for a run in about 15 years.
During my senior year of college, I vaguely remember walking out to the athletic fields and going for quiet jogs in the afternoon. But I’m not sure I did this very often, because I hate running. I probably did it a few times, remembered how much I hate running, and quit.
I had always assumed I would never run again.
Even now, I’m a little baffled as to what brought about my change of heart and whether it will last. I know a lot of runners. Is it possible that hearing about their triathlons and marathons and 5Ks and Iron Mans was starting to make me feel inadequate? Or that I sensed running would be a good thing to add to my repertoire of physical activities? After all, I go for a lot of long walks. Would I be in better shape if I spent some of that time running?
I didn’t want to be that person who goes running for the first time in more than a decade and immediately gets a cramp and pulls a muscle, and so I decided to start slowly and cautiously.
The first thing I did was stretch.
I’d never really understood the point of stretching when I played sports, but I am no longer as young and limber as I once was, and stretching seemed like an essential step. Then I walked down to Lincoln Park, and willed myself to start running.
My body began screaming in agony almost immediately.
Which came as a bit of a surprise. I had hiked over the weekend and gone for a couple bike rides — it’s not like I’d just been sitting on the couch eating potato chips and playing video games. And yet I felt like I was going to die. I was out of breath and sweaty after about 20 feet. I ran a little more, and then walked around the park.
This was always my plan: to run, then walk, run, then walk. I spent about 40 minutes doing this, then headed home to shower. Despite the general agony I’d felt while running, I actually felt pretty good.
One key difference between running and walking is that walking is boring and slow, and my mind tends to wander in all sorts of directions while I’m doing it: I worry, make lists of movies I want to see, ponder the news of the day, etc. When I walk, it often feels like there are multiple conversations going on in my head. But when I run, the chatter mostly vanishes and is replaced by a variety of physical sensations, such as fatigue. It’s all I can do to keep myself upright and moving forward; I don’t have the energy or wherewithal for thinking.
Though occasionally a thought does pop into my head.
For instance, every time I jog up the hill that winds around the Lincoln Park pool, I think: “Why am I doing this?”
That said, running definitely feels like a workout, in a way walking almost never does. It might be hard and unpleasant, but it’s also good for me, in both a physical and character-building sort of way.
I did suffer a minor setback on my third jog when my leg seized up midway through my run. It wasn’t a pulled muscle, exactly, but a tight little knot in my calf that forced me to abandon my run and limp home filled with feelings of failure and inadequacy. But when I told my landlord about my leg pain, she nodded and said, “That happens.” She suggested that I was dehydrated, a possibility I had not considered, and that the beginning of a run is always hard, even if you’re an experienced runner, as she is.
I found our conversation reassuring. All runners, I now understand, suffer aches and pains and setbacks. Rather than give up, I should get back out there and try again. After the tight little knot in my calf went away.
This week I ran again, and it was as difficult as ever.
But at certain points, I could feel myself hitting what you might call my stride. My breathing would normalize, and my arms and legs would move smoothly, in tandem, rather than flailing about uncertainly. At such moments, I could almost feel myself getting stronger and my mind was refreshingly blank. To say I had entered a meditative state would be an exaggeration, but my worries and problems had receded, and my only concern was the present.
By the end of my hour in the park, I felt strangely detached from the world, but in a good way. I was exhausted, but also calm and energized, and filled with an odd sense that anything is possible. My landlord described this feeling as one of freedom, although I’m not sure that’s what I would call it. All I know is that it passed, as all such feelings do.
But maybe I’ll grasp it again, the next time I go running.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at email@example.com.