On the Run

As the sun sets over the city, the industrial buildings and smoke stacks take on a whole new light.

I hate running. Back in elementary school gym class, I was told I had flat feet and couldn’t make a 10-minute mile. Even then, later on, I tried out for the cross-country team in high school, despite not having run much at all, and was informed I would never be fast enough. When I tried running or jogging as a grown-up, it felt too physically hard to get started, or the weather seemed bad, or I just didn’t have the time.

Combine childhood rejection with adult discomfort and various learned avoidance strategies, and there you go. I have always been pretty active otherwise, so I continually asked myself, did I really need to bother about doing more?

But the notion of running kept coming up for me. I could never ignore the fact that, as a form of exercise, it was simple, easily accessible, and pretty much free to do. It’s hard to ask for more than that.

Plus I am getting older, and wanting to take good, if not better, care of myself as time passes. As a solitary sort of soul, I have never much liked gyms or group fitness classes. My memberships always lapsed, or I just stopped going. And the idea of personal accountability to a gym buddy was lost on me. Even in yoga, which resonated with me the first moment I tried it twenty years ago and that I still love, I inevitably prefer to practice alone.

Now that I am back in Glens Falls, I have a lovely park close by, a bike trail, and miles of city sidewalks that have been staring me in the face as I drive to and from work, or to the grocery store, or on other errands. Let’s try again, they seemed to say.

Remembering my discomfort– the overheated days when I did try running before, my pulse pounding in time with my shoes on the pavement, chest tight, my breath fast and shallow, sweat pouring into my eyes– I resisted. I don’t like it, I repeated to myself, I’ve tried it, many times.

And I remembered too, that, even more than I dislike running, what I truly hate is forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do. Like a stubborn horse, I want to either plant my feet down firm, or bolt altogether.

That’s when the light went on, as they say.

I recalled that, quite often in life, I’ve had to do things I didn’t like to do, didn’t want to feel or experience, whether that was by choice or by circumstance. And for the most part, it all came out okay. I am still here, anyway.

Although taking on the task of running might seem like small potatoes at first, in reality it was more akin to climbing a mountain.

Most of my life I struggled with self-discipline, the idea of routine, and fears of unmet expectations. If I wasn’t good at something right away, like with running, I stopped doing it, gave up, rolled over. And I have stopped and started so many things, things big and small, from learning to knit to being married, both of which I quit (although I do still have my knitting supplies, for you know, one day).

But if something took discipline, or training, or patience, I rarely found the fortitude or perseverance to stick with it.

Time, however, has schooled me, regardless of my own best efforts.

The last few years especially, have been a sort of trial by fire. In them I learned much about the depths of my own resilience, what I am capable of, both good and bad, what I can withstand and what I cannot (although I would have preferred to learn some of it quite differently, like from a book, maybe). I have stayed put and kept trying, persevered, even when that was, in hindsight, probably not the wisest course of action.

But I also learned to stay when it clearly was the right thing.

Eventually I came to understand more about the limits of my weaknesses as well as the boundaries of my strengths, having mapped out more of my own personal, interior terrain.

Learning the landscape makes it easier to move forward. So I began looking outwardly, too.

My dog, Hannah, is still a very energetic chocolate Lab at age eleven. If she does not run or retrieve something every day, she gets visibly pent up. She grows nervous and follows me around the house, flinging her toys at me or the cats, until one of us (usually me) breaks down and plays with her.

Out in the yard, I watch as she runs full steam after the ball I throw, diving and sliding like a professional baseball player, despite her bad knee and more limited endurance. In her mind she is still two, though her body disagrees. Her heart and her spirit run strong, though she tires easily.

What she is really chasing, I think now, is not so much the ball, but that simple feeling in her body of action, and of release.

It must be a good feeling, I suspected, to use the body as it was meant to be used, and not be afraid of falling, or getting hurt (which my dog has), or at least not being afraid enough to stop, or to do nothing in the first place. She rests so completely afterward, unburdened– it’s a state I envy.

Whenever I have tried something physically too far outside my comfort zone (those things I was already, or intrinsically, good at), I have almost always felt afraid. Of falling, getting hurt, being embarrassed or looking foolish, of not being able to (you can fill in the blank here). I reasoned it away as common sense, or the simple human fear of dying.

Give me some creative, practical, or existential problem to tackle, and I’m fearless, I’m all over it. Suggest I try sailing or downhill skiing, and I’m gone.

Lately I have begun to see how my fear, the old frustrations and discomforts, have held me back, and I wonder what more I could have accomplished without them, or if I had just continued, even for a little while, in spite of them.

I may be ready now to see what happens when I do.

And like my dog, I think I’m chasing that feeling in my body of action, of use and purposefulness, and then ultimate rest. To keep it healthy, yes, but also to soothe the restless moments I, too, have sometimes, when I do actually want to run away.

I have gotten pretty good at keeping everything inside balanced, giving it free rein and then giving it a rest. Time, I decided, to do the same for my physical being.

So I have started running. Not all-out, track and field running, but a mix of jogging and walking, working my way back and forth between the two, as I can tolerate. To me, it still counts.

And to my great surprise (despite the sore legs), I do feel good afterwards now. There is even a lingering sense of elation, a kind of mental clarity and peace, that comes with the expending of so much physical energy. That was unexpected. And I don’t notice the discomforts as much, or they don’t seem to have quite the same power anymore.

Most times instead, I feel like I’ve chased and finally caught that ball that flew under a bush– proud, happy, and spent, all at once.

So I should have started with, I used to hate running. Although I view it now equally as an exercise in continuing self-discipline, in making myself do something that is good for me, even though it is still kind of uncomfortable, even though, deep down, I still resist. Maybe eventually I will come to even enjoy it, once my endurance improves, and my body catches up with my mind’s intentions. That would be something truly amazing.

Regardless, I am willing to persevere, to continue despite my occasional aches, protests, and misgivings, to get comfortable with the sometimes uncomfortable, and hopefully stronger, once again, for it all.



4 comments on “On the Run”
  1. Kate says:

    Jackie, reading this post was like reading a page out of my own diary! Except for the “I used to hate running” part. I still hate running. And I don’t run. 😄 But kudos to you and I wish you great success – wherever the path may lead you.

  2. Eliabeth Heyenga says:

    I loved this on several levels. At 65 I am rehabbing my brain by learning new things and it is challenging. I’m pretty patient with myself and try not to feel too embarrassed when I’m a slow study. I’m learning pickleball and while everyone has improved faster than me in my group, I’ve improved a ton and I’m continuing at a fast pace so eventually we’ll all find our way to the same general area.

    One of my group mates said “we suck” and I said speak for yourself, I’m a beginner and I’m improving. At some point I believe it is ok to be kind and give ourselves a break.

    I didn’t keep my knitting needles but I’m getting ready to pick them up again too. Your description of your trajectory through life resonates!

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you found something in it to relate to!

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