Forest

I want to go all the way with this running thing I’ve been doing lately. In a recent blog I alluded to making it a major preoccupation of mine, but part of me hates to write or verbalize shit like that because so often I fail to follow through. Over various stretches in the last five years I’ve hopped on and off the carousel of diet and exercise, then invariably I quit when one day I look in the mirror and like what I see.

Running is literally the only form of exercise I like to do because it feels like actual work. People who (seem to) enjoy the process of running always mention the endorphins, or the “runner’s high,” but if those are actual things I have yet to experience it. My love of running has more to do with the tangible nature of it not being pleasant. In that sense it’s like getting a tattoo: it hurts like hell, but the end result is worthwhile.

I imagine another reason I like to run is due to the fact that I was never any good at it. Growing up I mean. Whenever I was in P.E. I felt like a legend whenever our class played softball, basketball, flag football, pickleball — you fucking name it. I was either one of the captains or I was a dude you wanted on your team. Facts: I was always short for my age and was far from physically imposing. But at that time all it took was a little bit of coordination and some know-how, and as it were I spent my whole childhood consuming and playing sports.

Running was never that way for me. I had a small frame and short, thick legs. I couldn’t run far, and I couldn’t run fast. I was average or below-average at running the mile, running a half-mile, or running a four-forty (which I guess is a quarter-mile). My enjoyment of running was directly correlated to how good I was at it, specifically in comparison to the team sports I already mentioned.

About four years ago I bought a treadmill. At that point I had recently been promoted from an on-call dealer to full-time, but it was conditional on switching from day shift (12-8 PM) to swing shift (8 PM-4 AM). I accepted, obviously, because I got thrown off my parents’ insurance when I was 26 and I “needed” the benefits.

Out of pure insecurity I wanted to start running to look better for all the women I didn’t know on swing shift. So that’s what I did. Every day before and after work I would run a mile or so, and the results were staggering. In roughly a month I went from 175 pounds down to around 150, and I think I plateaued somewhere around 135. I was as skinny as I have ever looked. I was arguably unhealthy looking. But then I found a girlfriend and got in a relationship that lasted like two and a half years and it didn’t take much time before my 135 was back at 180.

This is what happens when I get comfortable. I used to joke with my ex about how much weight I gained since we got together, but the truth wasn’t that she made me fat via the food I was eating or whatever. It all had to do with bringing in calories and not exercising, not burning any of it off. There’s a limit to the cardio sex provides.

Towards the end of our relationship I began walking and running (again), and by the time we broke up about 15 months ago I bought a new treadmill and had a new lease on the program I always wanted for myself. A real routine. There again I came to grips with my own nature. I would run nonstop for two weeks, then take a break for a month at a time. I would get back on for a few days and have a sore something or other, and I would stop.

Something changed a couple months ago, for whatever reason. I found this total cheeseball dude on iFIT named Casey Gilbert and completed his entire New England Running Series, which was probably the most challenging work I have ever accomplished as a runner. And it’s so weird, because I didn’t even like the guy. His wholesome style and incredibly positive attitude were the affectations of a person I would never associate with in real life, even though I look as wholesome as they come and actually do have a very positive attitude myself. It was almost as if the character he plays for iFIT is who I am in real life, even though I recognize him to be somewhat fake. Though I could be wrong.

Anyway, somewhere within that New England series I learned a lot of shit from him. It sounds so dumb, but up until that point I don’t think I ever truly learned how to run. Where my arms and elbows were supposed to be, where my shoulders were supposed to sit, what my general posture was supposed to look like.

And the work was real. It was challenging enough that I had to get “up” for every workout. I had to mentally prepare myself for the sweat and the heart rate explosion. Not to mention I had to put up with this Casey Gilbert goofball. Never before had a I dealt with so much incline running, so much distance without taking a break, and I had to listen to the generic radio pop in the background the whole time. It was a trying time.

But when I made it to the other side I realized that the challenge is what I’m in it for. I became a writer because growing up I was always good at math and really shitty and writing; I became a craps dealer as a profession because it’s the only game in the casino where I actually have to think; and now I’m a runner because it forces me to continually build and get better. There is no endpoint to this. It’s just me taking it one day at a time.

Two years ago at this time I was running out of breath after a minute of work. Last year I could probably run a mile or so before taking a break. Here I am now running four and a half miles at a steady pace, and I could honestly go for a lot longer if I wanted to. Just breathe in, breathe out. Arms at a 45 degree angle. Shoulders down and relaxed. There’s a rhythm to this all.

You can spare me the positive vibes and good energy. I bring those with me all the time regardless of venue. I think iFIT likes to attract a certain kind of person that needs those kinds of encouragement, but I have always responded better to people telling me I can’t, or that I’m not good enough, or that I need more. I need a chip on my shoulder. If I don’t have one, I’ll invent an imaginary enemy to get the most out of myself.

Running is great because it’s so personal. It’s me against myself the entire time. I know there is a lot of physical training that goes into this, getting your body to the point where it can handle the workload. But more than anything I think it’s brain training. It’s starting somewhere where your mind tells you that you’ve had enough, and so the next day you just want to do a little bit more. Then you continue that journey until you get to where I think I am now, where all my mind does is tell me to keep going.

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