Confessions of a Reluctant Runner
I lace my green and pink shoes, then step out the sliding door of the meat shoppe onto the doorstep. I turn right, and start running up the icy sidewalk. Cars whiz by, drivers giving me surprised glances. With my bright “watermelon shoes” and long brown mop of hair, I’ve stopped trying to fit in when running in Japan. I turn up a snowy street, run past a steaming onsen and pass beneath the muddy slopes of the local ski hill. I can feel a month of travel – the days of sitting on trains, the chocolates from the convenience store, the eating-enough-to-last-until- dinner weighing on my bones. I keep running, until I lose my balance on the ice and fall hard onto the asphalt.
Something in me really, really hates running. As a fifth grader, I dreaded running the 600m in the Presidential Fitness Test. As a thirteen year old, I bought a pair of the newest Nike shock heeled kicks and signed up to be the runner on a sprint triathalon team. I walked half the course. My physical therapist mother once compared my running to “similar to running her with her post-cardiac surgery patients”. In high school I began cross country mountain biking, backcountry skiing and hiking uphill. I discovered the elliptical machine at the gym. I pushed myself, hard, in cardio excerise. But a two mile run still left me gasping for air, holding my side and feeling sluggish. My college roommate noted, as we ran along the Clark Fork on her warmup two-miler, “It’s not that you couldn’t be a good runner, Emerald. You just don’t seem to enjoy it that much”. When I run, I can’t quiet my mind or find a flow.
I can see the runner I want to be. I’ve pinned the photos of sleek women running through alpine meadows to my wall. I read Born to Run like everyone else. I applaud my friend’s half marathons and backcountry ultras. I just can’t find the motivation or movement to actually get good at this sport.
I keep running. I ran a couple 5ks in South Carolina, the smell of brunch bacon wafting out of windows and an enthusiastic race partner the only motivation to keep going. In Bozeman, after a long day of staring into the black soul of my computer screen, I lace on those same watermelon shoes (when you only run 1.5 miles, you get a good two years out of your shoes). I blast whatever hip hop music I can find, and run. It hurts, I hate it, I look terrible doing it… but I can’t stop lacing up those shoes. It’s so easy and so portable. I didn’t bring a bike or a rowing machine to Japan, but I brought my running shoes. Many days, it saved my sanity. It doesn’t cost anything to run up to Peet’s Hill and back (my friends in Bozeman realize this is a six block distance) and afterwards, I always feel better.
Running is maybe our most ancient form of outdoor exercise. I don’t want to give up on it all together. I don’t love it, but I also think that sometimes it’s okay to just be bad at something. I embrace my terrible minute/mile ratio, the wheezing and the short distances. Sometimes, during a run, I end up overlooking the Bridgers and the Spanish Peaks as rain drops pelt my bare thighs. It’s then that I decide just to be thankful for legs that can get me out the front door.