I've started running again, or so I like to think. My idea of running is something that loosely resembles a sort of half-walk that, were they to hear it called "'running,' would offend those athletes that legitimately participate in the sport. This initiative came about after realizing that, while spending my summer focused on washing decks, dueling allergies, writing and general entrepreneurial dominance, I had all but completely forsaken "health," which took off on a road trip with "hygiene" sometime during June.
Additional inspiration arrived when I received word of a 5K fundraising run, which is part of Rochester's annual Ten Ugly Men festival. I deemed the race perfect opportunity for my return to the (in my case) humiliating and exhausting world of running a world to which I've understandably been dying to revisit. Since I've been as successful this summer in "raising funds" as I have been in "not getting fat," I also figured that by participating I would either become inspired to get into shape and raise funds, or I would keel over and die at the two-mile mark and thus relieve myself of both obligations.
Running is nothing new to me. Actually, it is, because even though I was on my high school cross-country team for three years, very little running occurred. Instead, I made an art form out of slacking. I found the road-swings and backwoods cliffs on which I could waste time and avoid the actual running that practice demanded. Why I never just quit the team to avoid those workouts is beyond me.
I did overachieve or just "reached my potential" on one notable occasion: the last race of my under-under-graduate career, in Albany's Suburban Council championships. Figuring that another sub-par finish would be an anticlimactic and thus, unacceptable end to my high school running days, I spent the week leading up to the event eating, training and sleeping as best I could. During the race I ran like the wind (the wind earned gold in the 400 at the Melbourne Olympics, before a failed drug test had it stripped of the medal), and ended up running forty seconds faster than I ever had. I was also disqualified by race officials at the finish line for having not removed my earring. My coach just gave me that look that my parents have likely patented; meanwhile, I felt pride swell up inside of me at the thought of combining a personal record with a rebellious bejeweled statement of nothing. Shortly thereafter I foreswore running and found sleeping, in which I lettered during the first two years of college.
It's not easy, just jumping back into running. I've tried a number of times throughout college, each of which dissolved into an episode of hysterical panting and twitching on the side of the road, fifteen meters from where I started. I've since been told that it takes roughly fourteen days of consistent working out to get "'into shape,' which conflicts with my previous philosophy of giving it fourteen minutes every fourteen months and assuming the best.
Now, nearly a week into this attempt, I've discovered that a great number of my muscles have fallen into disrepair. Muscles I didn't know I had ache in places I didn't know existed. After a recent run I found that my wrist hurt. It's as if my body has run out of reasonable places to ache, so it's trying to dissuade me from running with illogical ailments. Tomorrow, a toothache will likely result from my running; the day after, Ebola.
But anchoring my sustained motivation is the predictably skewed self-perception I have as I run. Each afternoon, as the soles of my worn Mizuno Wave Riders (the top running shoe in 1999, when I purchased them) begin to heat up, I see myself as a Greek god of running: an Achilles of sorts, who bests his opponents not with a spear but in the 200. I even laugh maniacally at the other runners I pass, as they bumble along with their awkward running form and labored breaths. This mockery, I'm soon reminded, is terribly ironic. All it takes is a reflective surface for me to realize that I myself more closely resemble an erect Dolphin trying to run. The only thing Achilles about me is the tendon at the back of my foot, which is making it painfully clear that it would rather stay in and watch a movie.
But there is a point to the agony I'm enduring as I run in circles, and that's to strengthen myself to the point of being able to run a slightly smaller circle while experiencing slightly less agony during the 5K. I've allowed myself exactly two weeks from the start of training until the race, meaning that according to the fourteen-day rule I should be flawlessly "in shape" come race time. I don't know what "in shape" entails; I like to think it represents the absolute pinnacle of human athleticism and fitness, all attainable within half a month. Common sense, checking in as it periodically does, tells me that I should be prepared for results more along the lines of "fitting into clothes so small that I shouldn't be wearing them anyway" and "flirting only with paralysis, not death, while running."
Nevertheless, I'll be there, churning away in the Ten Ugly Men fundraising 5K, doing my best to . . . finish . . . while my grunts and grimaces earn me the title of 11th Ugly Man. In my ill-fitting yellow singlet, Wyoming mesh shorts and worn Wave Riders, you can count on me to put either the "fun" or the "ai" into "'fundraising, depending on whether I'm smiling or screaming. If I finish, I'll know that I did my part for fundraising, for fitness and for boosting the morale of anyone who passed "'that kid having a seizure on the course.' If I don't finish, it means I died somewhere in Genesee Valley Park.
But at least then I won't have to run anymore.