Running Away

StL marathon
14th Annual Saint Louis Marathon (1985)

I’ve been quitting for years.

I started more than thirty years ago and have been going more or less since then. Not every day. But never more than a couple days away.

Although accurate overall accounts aren’t readily available, Running USA suggests that 10.7 million women and more than 8 million men finished running events in 2014, which is more or less consistent with a 300% increase from 1990 to 2013. 

When I started, I knew no one else who ran. My Catholic grade school was allowed to participate in a local junior high track invitational, and I was assigned to the long distance race. After the meet, I continued running.

I got books from the library and counted the miles and recorded my resting heart rate and learned a stretching routine, and I ran. I occasionally joined cross country and track teams and competed in 10Ks and marathons, but I eventually settled into thirty minutes six days a week.

Research suggests that runners might be smarter and sexier and make better partners with better genes, but I increasingly find satisfaction in the thought of quitting.

The first time I considered this possibility was graduate school. Although I realized that running had been my redemption, I wondered if it also established an exhausting inner pace. I tried walking, which I found too slow, so I continued running.

I only once couldn’t finish. I couldn’t catch my breath and learned later in an Emergency Room that both of my lungs had started to collapse and that one of my ribs had been broken. After follow up tests, I was told that I also had pleurisy and osteopenia, which was a betrayal after so many years of high-impact exercise that reinforced my resolve to quit.

Running certainly is efficient and even some days entertaining. It’s also exhausting and endless. The concrete pounding persists in my chest and street tensions stay in my shoulders even after stopping and showering and starting the rest of the day.

Although I’m more confident that I can manage the day, I never seem to rest, not even on my walks to the train station or my campus office or my next class or after dinner. My feet ache. My ankles ache. My knees and back ache.

And I resolve once again to quit. I invoke another recent study suggesting that the majority of exercise benefits come from reaching a threshold, which can be achieved with moderate walking, and are mostly mental anyway.

Maybe today was, or will be, the last time. Or maybe it will be the day I reduce my runs to three this week, two the next, and the one or even none the following, which means I could be finished in a month.

Then I think, one more time can’t hurt, right? My body aches for my shoes and the streets where I’m peaceful and powerful and, if only for a moment, pleased to be alive.

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