I hate running.
I like the idea of running. When I visualize myself running, I have a mental image of me gliding effortlessly around a track. Not as fast as, say, Roger Bannister or Billy Mills or anyone like that, but not like some horribly out of shape weirdo at a fat camp, either.
But when I get my running gear on and head out on a trail or road or track, somehow that Runner Jay I had such a clear picture of is replaced by a “oh god, oh god, how many more laps before I can stop?” Jay.
Somehow I make it through to the end of my run each time without having a coronary or barfing on the track. I don’t generally go “oh, Christ, I hope no one was watching.” But I’m acutely aware each time of how far I still have to go before I feel like I’m where I want to be.
My preferred place to run is on a nice flat track. When the weather is nice, there’s a standard-length high school track about ten miles from my house (I drive ten miles to run three; yay, I’m an American!) and when it’s cold and icy and snowy out, I can go run at the indoor track at the gym Carole and I belong to; it’s a half-size track so I have to run 25 laps to get in a 5K distance.
I’ve run along trails and I’ve run along roads, but frankly, I really hate road running. Here in Vermont there are hardly ever sidewalks and the shoulders aren’t super-wide either, and the last thing someone who’s already pretty sheepish about running needs is cars honking dismissively as they go by. Road running has the other disadvantage of, well, hills. I don’t mind running down them but I absolutely hate running up them. Which just goes to show that I’ve got a long ways to go as a runner. I doubt that very many people love hills, but I doubt that most people hate them as much as I do. I know that ultimately I need to run on hills if I want to avoid total embarrassment when I’m running in an actual 5K road race, but … I hates them, I does.
I also hate running on a treadmill. I’ve done quite a bit of fast walking on a treadmill, but when I start a “run” on a treadmill, the words “oh, jeez, I must look like a total idiot compared to everyone else in here” come unbidden to mind every time. And that’s too bad, because as much as I travel, I’ve got little choice but to run on treadmills if I want to stay in shape and stay trained. I can’t run just on the weekends at home and then do nothing all week. When I go down to the hotel fitness center after work, I generally find two or three women running on treadmills with that effortless stride that says that if they didn’t get in a run they’d just feel lousy all evening. And I hate the idea of running next to them; even if they never even look at me, I just know that they’re mentally going “check out the lame-o on Treadmill 3.”
Do you have the idea that the mental game is where I’m really hurting myself? Because, yeah, that’s occurred to me as well. I need to avoid tearing myself down mentally and do a better job psyching myself up. The truth is, while I’ll never be in contention for top finisher in my age and sex classification at any real road race, I can generally expect to come in around 30 minutes, and that’s not awful. The more I train, the better my time gets; last year I had one race in the 28 minute range. Then life got ugly and complicated, and I stopped doing much running, and, of course, my time suffered.
This year I’m trying to run more. I ran twice this weekend and I plan to go running at the track each day this week… and I’m working hard on thinking positive, happy thoughts. If I can keep building up my stamina and my speed, I might actually be able to get down to the 27-minute range sometime late this winter and maybe even start competing in 10K distances instead of forever shackling myself to the 5K.
Why am I doing any of this? Well, even though the world doesn’t really need one more marginally-competent 45-year-old white male runner, I need something to challenge myself with, or I just get listless and depressed. I’ve shown that I can walk long, long distances with little or no difficulty, so running seems like the obvious next step. It’s something I can work on year-round, generally, and with any luck, it’ll help with my mood, my blood pressure, and my cholesterol.