I always hated to run. Some of you will remember…timed forties, perfect plays, home to first, home to second, etc., fitness tests in PE…. All my running was athletically related and involved sprinting. I was never very fast…never very athletic. Snail like but I never left a yucky trail. Football, baseball…I didn’t do basketball. Couldn’t get that huge ball in that tiny ring and there is a bunch of running in basketball…minute drills? No way.
Hundred-yard sprints to end the practice are not fun. They were never intended to be fun. Show me someone who enjoys hundred-yard sprints and I’ll show you a masochist…or someone who pulls wings off flies and plots murder.
I found myself coaching in addition to teaching in the early Seventies and learned that, deep down in my soul, I was a sadist. Marquis de Sade with a whistle and a clipboard. “Men, we’re going to do all the forty-yard sprints in the world…plus one.” “You’re going to run forever…too long? Subtract a minute.” I didn’t do it in a sadistic way per se, sadism was not the goal. I tried to apply reason, never running for the sake of running and interjecting humor into my expectations. Still, deep down…there was sadistic joy seeing my charges puke at my feet. “Look! Eggs! Anyone hungry?”
In the late Sixties, the jogging craze hit. By the mid-Seventies, I had joined it. Not that I was particularly interested in the health effects of jogging…I was in my mid-twenties and indestructible. I was more likely to get my exercise skipping “the light fandango” with a beer in my hand.
I jogged not to get into shape, I was more interested in the good looking, long-legged brunette, teaching peer who wore those minuscule Seventies running shorts over her tight and athletic…you get the idea. I tried to run just hard enough to keep her backside clearly in view. I chased her but I never caught her.
Despite her external motivation, I had no self-motivation and was sporadic with exercise until a heart attack dropped me in my tracks on my fifty-sixth birthday. Great birthday present. A blockage and a stent to correct it and save my life, three more stents a month later, six weeks of rehab and instructions on what to eat…cardboard slathered in cow poop. Nothing from the Southern-fried food groups. I learned to eliminate salt on everything except eggs and grits. I even learned to tolerate oatmeal…with enough fruit and yogurt covering it.
On my days off from rehab I walked. While I enjoyed walking, the effort just didn’t seem to be enough. I was from the “No Pain, No Gain” era. Exercise should have an element of pain involved. Walking was too easy, and I began to run, albeit slowly. Underused lungs and quads screaming, maybe I was a masochist. I don’t pull wings off flies and the only murders I plot are in the books I write.
Five months after my heart attack I ran my first 5K. After six months I had dropped sixty-plus pounds. I was my cardiologist’s dream patient.
Only Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles would ever look at me and say, “He looks like a runner.” Stockily built for comfort not speed, it is best to line me up with a stationary object to make sure I am moving. But I was a runner! I ran races to prove I was and to provide motivation. I needed goals other than beer and pizza after the race and fit women in athletic wear to run behind during it.
I still hated running but it became a mind over matter endeavor. I found it cleared my head and correctly put together the jigsaw puzzle that was my mind. I did it because I could. I did it because I was still alive.
5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons…I put a marathon on my bucket list and signed up for one in three months’ time. I didn’t win any races, but I always finished in the top half of my age group. I was proud. I was running against myself and the grim reaper in my rearview mirror.
Four years ago there was a misstep and the pain that came with it…physical and mental pain. For two years I ran, I limped, I quit running to walk…then started the process over only to be hobbled again. I finally went to the doctor. A torn meniscus and early-onset osteoarthritis. Bone rubs on bone in both knees and the orthopedic surgeon shook his head, “Not soon but if you live long enough there will be a knee replacement in your future.” I walked and I walked but I couldn’t jog. For two years I’ve walked or ridden my bike. I wouldn’t do the marathon.
As much as I hated running, I missed running…still miss it…but I don’t miss it as much as I did Monday. Why? Because on Tuesday…I ran. I blame it on the song “Domino” by Van Morrison. When I heard it over my earbuds, I wanted to dance but my dancing is worse than my running and I was on a public road. Rather than having people think I was having a Joe Cocker ‘fit’, I took off jogging. Slowly, smartly and with no pain on the following day. The day after, I ran again. Alternating jogging and walking from mailbox to mailbox or driveway to driveway my lungs screamed but my knees didn’t.
Probably a mile’s worth of jogging split up over three and a half miles. It is a start…it is running.
Both days, I argued with myself the whole time. I was careful but apprehensive, waiting for a familiar twinge of pain. Waiting for the throbbing ache when I finished. Promising myself that if I felt an odd twinge or the throb I would quit and chase the foolish thoughts from my head.
Why am I taking the chance? My “firetrucking” knees hurt when I don’t run. They hurt when I sit around for too long…but they didn’t hurt any worse than they did after a four-mile fitness walk. Still, why I wondered?
“Because I can,” I told myself. Because I want to. Because it allows an old man to dream a bit…to remember. There will be no marathon…maybe, not even a 5K. I may have to be satisfied with a mile jog, but it doesn’t matter. I run because I can. I run because it makes me happy.
I awoke this morning with a twinge…of sciatica. My knees are fine. ‘Iffin’ it ain’t one thing it is a thousand others. I’ll test myself with a short walk and stretch. If all feels good I run/walk a bit on a nice soft athletic field. I’ll be smart…maybe.
The line ‘skipping the light fandango’ comes from the Poco Harum song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. The complete lyric was, “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.”
…And since I’m on music and running kicks, get up, dance and enjoy the day.
Don Miller is a multi-genre writer and can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
The image is from Canva
5 thoughts on “Because I Can”
At 55 I am struggling to get my running legs back. My love for running started in high school. Love your story.
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Thank you. When I first started I used a site “Go from couch to 5K” If I survive this I will use it again. I found it doable. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/
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I have never been a runner. I was on the track team in high school and ran on the relay team but my specialty was the high jump. As for various body parts letting you down that is something that affects many of us. I’m always taking supplements to ward off arthritis. And so far it works fairly well!
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My kid’s are runners/joggers and even tho’ they’re nearing 40 years old, they are still doing good.
I say keep up whatever, while you can…and keep it up until you can’t. 😉
Definitely a dancin’ song!
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