On being a slacker runner

I couldn't run a hundred yards when I started high school--but I remember watching other people run from my dad's car window, and admiring that autonomy of motion. I loved the idea of running to work, or school, or the store, or to meet friends, just because I could. I loved the idea of being my own vehicle, of getting around without relying on a car or even a bike. 

Then I had to run a mile for P.E. my junior year, and I thought I was going to die. It took me about forty minutes. I started trying to run by myself after school, despite opposition from my well-intentioned parents, who worried a lot--about my being kidnapped, about the impact "over-exercising" would have on my fertility, about my catching a cold from washing my hair too late in the day, about my being late to dinner because I was running and then washing my hair too late in the day, about whether I was psychologically unbalanced because I was perspiring on purpose, and about my obsessing too much about my weight. (That last worry, in fairness, was legit. I won't lie and say vanity wasn't a motivator; I was a sixteen-year-old with all the body-image drama being that age brings).

The first time I finished a mile-long run without stopping, I sat down on the sidewalk because I thought I might pass out. Literally everything hurt, even my teeth. Now, twenty years later, I regularly use my body as a vehicle, to get to the store, to pick up Kamal at preschool, to get the car I left the night before at a designated driver's house, to pick up my bike after its tune-up at the bike shop, to get to work (where I am lucky enough to have a shower!). And those are the runs I always want to brag about--not the farthest ones, not the fastest ones, but the ones where I could have used a car or a bike and didn't.

I'm not interested in running races; I am interested in commuting by legs. I'm just so tickled that this is something I am able to do. I'm the runner I used to watch out the car window. I'm frankly really proud of that.

And here's the thing: running is not for everyone. It's just not. But I think there are people out there that could be loving running who don't, because they tried it one way or another and it hurt them, or exhausted them, or bored them. I kind of want those people to try it my way. Which is: moderately. 

You don't meet a lot of moderate runners. You don't meet a lot of runners who've never been injured running, either. Those two facts are related.  

I've never suffered a running injury, but that's probably because I don't race, or run for speed at all. I also rarely run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time, and rarely more than a few times a week. I do a lot of looking and listening while I run, and get interested in my surroundings in a way I can't safely do while biking or driving. I don't listen to music, because I enjoy how much quieter my brain gets when I run and I don't like to clutter it up. I stop if there's a gorgeous plant or bird or wandering neighborhood cat that I want to get a closer look at or photograph. I don't really have a lot of rules around it. 

Running can feel hard, no doubt. I mean, you're propelling yourself into the air and forward at the same time, over and over again, with a lot of impact and sweatiness. But it can also feel transcendent, rhythmically meditative, downright pleasant. It clears my head--literally (if I have any sinus congestion before a run, it's way gone afterwards) and figuratively. Often, I'll find the solution to a problem while running. It's been the single most reliable mood stabilizer and neurosis manager I've found for myself, and the fact that it lets me eat more of Adam's unbelievable chocolate-mint cookies and miraculously tender biscuits without having to size up my clothes is just a nice little bonus. 

So I guess I'm kind of a slacker runner. But I'm a runner nonetheless, and I plan to keep being a runner until I'm at least 90 or so. What I'm hoping is that you might be a person who's resisted running because all the runners you know are so intense about it, and hearing that it's possible to be a slacker runner will lower that resistance. 

Look, if it's not for you, it's not for you, and I am all about helping you find the exercise that is for you. But if you're curious? It's just lacing up your sneaks, maybe making sure you have a comfortable sports bra, and putting one foot in front of the other. Walk when you're tired, and run again when you're ready. And then do it again a couple days later. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you love the way you feel after you're done running, chances are in just a few weeks you'll love the way you feel while running. 

If you're looking for more direction as you try out running, I always recommend to patients the Couch to 5K running plan. I'm going to start a Couch to 10k running group here for patients and friends, and I'm so excited for more people to find out how calming and lovely and straight-up delicious running can be. 

June 2014: Kamal and I right after a nice stroller run around Spring Lake.