I was a runner, once. I suppose that seems unlikely if you’ve only known me for the last decade or two. But go back thirty years or so and there I was, putting one foot in front of the other quickly without even being chased. Crazy, I know.
I started in the middle of my second year at college, in the second week of January, 1982, to be precise. In Marquette, Michigan, on the frozen shore of Lake Superior. Clearly I was insane. But I learned quickly that you don’t have to wear a lot if you’re running — you’ll warm up after the first quarter-mile. Unless it’s too cold; I had a rule of never running when the air temperature was −20°F or colder. I also learned that if you’re running nice and evenly, you can run on snow-packed or even icy sidewalks OK. Just don’t think about it too much. (But running on unpacked snow was better if it wasn’t deep.) I also learned about how, if you have a beard and moustache, your face gets icicles.
Of course it got warmer. It’s amazing how mild 40°F feels when spring finally starts chipping away at a long hard winter.
I kept with it through the rest of college. I ran too much, and discovered shin splints. Then I discovered how running in good shoes, as opposed to cheap sneakers from KMart, could improve everything. I moderated my running, stretching religiously first (because in the 1980s we were told we should stretch before working out). I geeked out over shoes and training techniques, and bought lightweight running clothes like what real racers wore. By my senior year, my weight finally got to where the height-weight charts said I should be.
I was never fast, and I never raced. I remember one evening where I ran the campus ring-road (no longer there) three times in 24 minutes, approximately 8 minute miles. That was my fastest. I was definitely a plodder. But I was a happy plodder. The best of it was running through the woods on the north side of Tourist Park’s lake (which is now promoted for recreation, but then was not open by order of the power company), then through the neighborhoods on the way to the bike path along Lake Superior. It was about three, three and a half miles. I would be lost in thoughts, or lost in not-thinking. At times, it was maybe as close to spiritual experience as I’ve ever had.
After I graduated and came home, I tried to keep running, but didn’t have the right environment for it. Eventually I moved to apartments in nicer settings for running, and I’d sporadically pick it up again for a while. The last sporadic attempt was about 20 years ago. I’ve done other workouts since then, but not running.
I keep seeing things on the Web lately that make me think how much I miss running. There’s The Oatmeal’s story about The Blerch. Just today I discovered Tumblr blogs about running, such as The Bearded Runner, which has stunning photos and motivational text for runners. I’ll still read issues of Runner’s World that I find in waiting rooms.
Running would be very hard to start again, since I’m so much heavier than I was the first time I started, and I’m older, and my knees complain already on a regular basis. But I do miss it, and I miss what it did for me. It’s one of those things that I kind of keep bargaining with, I dunno, myself I guess, in hopes of figuring out a way to do it again, even if there’s seemingly no way to make it work.