Halfway ’round the lake

Running: I feel like starting out with some grumpy denials.

Foremost, I am not running because I like it, nor do I have any plans to like it, which is childish and self-defeating, but there you are. I will not spend a small fortune on shoes. Also no matter what else happens, even if it goes improbably well, I am never, ever going to run a marathon or half a marathon. (I don’t know if they come in other denominations.)

It’s pretty evenly 5K around Lake Merritt. This is a thing people know in Oakland, and it’s not important because I’m ever going to run a 5K as such but because it seems to be some reasonable distance to expect to be able to run without falling over in a heap.

Why I am running: I’m 40 and my metabolism quit and it’s too early to look like my dad. Also I’m a little nervous about what 40 years of not exercising has done to my health. I’m not kidding about this, by the way: I have never consistently exercised. I’ve started a couple of times, and it lasted three weeks. Not to jinx anything, it’s lasted longer than that this time, though I’m sporadic about it, and taking it very slowly.

I’m doing Couch to 5K, which everyone recommends, I think for good reason. It has an app, where a stewardessy voice tells you to run or walk in a tone of voice that sounds like she’s encouraging you, and would be a little disappointed if you didn’t, but she’s not going to make a big thing of it.

The first week, you will feel like quitting constantly, which is hard to explain to fit people. It’s not laziness. It feels terrible in a way your brain interprets as a threat to your health. The first time you run 90 seconds without stopping, it actually hurts your lungs. You feel like Sandra Bullock with nothing in her oxygen tank. It seems possible you will pass out or barf or hurtle off into space.

The second week is less bad. Less. Maybe you watch some videos on how to stretch before running. Maybe you realize how many things are going on when you run and get stressed out about them and watch videos on how to breathe when running that turn out to exist but not be very helpful. It should be natural, this breathing thing, but you give up and try to listen to your body, and then it turns out your body doesn’t know, and you and your body get into this whole “I thought YOU brought the map” routine.

Lake Merritt is pretty, and this helps. There are charming waterfowl. Also it almost always feels warmer outside than in the house, though I assume this is not the actual situation. You will hear snatches of interesting conversation and very definitely, at some point, smell marijuana and think about college. There are tiny distractions.

The right music helps, but it’s hard to guess what will be the right music. “Judy is a Punk” is a pretty good running song, but sometimes so are certain Scarlatti sonatas. It’s not worth making playlists, because novelty is especially important when the physical surround is the same each time.

There’s a process of getting out of your head, that helps, but the ideal state is neither being in your head, which is saying “we are running. What the fuck?” and your body, which is in pain, because running isn’t that great for you in some ways. I try to inhabit a place in the middle of my ribcage. That sentence doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what I try to do.

I try to keep a posture as if I were being pulled forward by a string tied to my solar plexus, which is something I think I read about in a book on Alexander Technique. Anyway I keep my shoulders up. And then during the walks, I try to do none of this. Just out for a casual stroll, I tell myself! I know it’s good to maintain a high heart rate but it feels like if I can pretend I wasn’t running by the time I have to start again, it will be easier.

Sometimes if I have gone too fast and my legs are hurting, I say to myself “FUCK YOUR PAIN” which is what they say in the Marines or maybe in improv comedy. I can never remember which. I think I may be repeating myself with that joke. I thought of this entry the other day while I was running, so it’s disjointed, because it’s impossible to have linear thoughts when you are running, because it is so awful.

    8 responses to “Halfway ’round the lake”

    1. Bryan says:

      I love this, even though I can’t totally relate as I’ve always taken refuge in running. BUT ” I say to myself “FUCK YOUR PAIN” which is what they say in the Marines or maybe in improv comedy” isn’t a joke you’ve ever shared with me before, and I laughed out loud, so thanks.

      Also, this goes down as the latest in a series of TGW posts about running, with mine and Brooke’s, both from the summer of 2007, and Farrell’s more recent one that comes with downloads. Maybe we should add a category label. Am I forgetting others? Anyway, glad for this addition.

    2. GF says:

      You know, I have the attention span of a gnat. I read and liked the most recent one of those, but wasn’t thinking of it at all when I wrote this. I will now read the ones that predate me on the blog!

    3. LP says:

      I hate running, so I Clintonesque-ly feel your pain. The app sounds like a helpful thing, but of course I found myself wondering, “Does the stewardess sound like Scarlett Johanssen? Will Greg fall in love with it?”

      And: I don’t think you need to spend a fortune on shoes, but for not-too-much money, you can get really lightweight running shoes, which greatly helps matters.

      Good luck and godspeed. Or buddha-speed, or whatever.

    4. Bryan says:

      I didn’t expect you to have seen the ones from 2007, of course — I just like the way things stack up here over time. Like little sedimentary layers of experience that shift and settle.

    5. Rachel says:

      Also this one.

    6. T-Mo says:

      I enjoyed this, and I encourage your exercise. I will say no more, for I am a naysayer when it comes to running. I will do almost anything before going on a run, and I won’t enumerate why, lest I reinforce your aversions and discourage you from continuing. Instead, yay verily, I say unto you, “Go, Smearcase! Go running! And keep writing about it!”

    7. Bryan says:

      Thanks, Rachel! I knew there was one more but I couldn’t find it.

    8. Farrell Fawcett says:

      Go GF! I loved reading this. Even a couple years into my running experiment, I still relate to everything you said. Misery loves company. Nice to have you!