Chuck Wendig posted yesterday about his effort to start running, and it got me thinking about my own love/hate relationship with running. When I was a young man I loved to run and had speed, but I suffered from the same ailment as Chuck, Osgood Schlatter’s disease. I had to quit playing soccer and football, which was a real bummer for me, as my life was centered on sports back then. My focus switched to academics, and it proved to be auspicious. If that hadn’t happened I likely wouldn’t have gone to the Air Force Academy or became a pilot. Sports wouldn’t have done that for me.
I did, however, start running again a few years after the onset of the disease, for therapy, once the pain stopped crippling me every time I ran. I had some bad days, where I could barely walk the following day, but eventually, I was able to run several miles without pain or any after effects. By the time I was a senior in high school I was running on the cross-country team. I wasn’t fast, like I was before the Osgood Schlatter’s disease, but I was able to compete.
Fast forward through college and running fell out of my routine, becoming a time waster and an annoyance. I was too busy playing video games. If I gained a few pounds, enough to notice, I would run a few days in a row and loose the weight. I weighed all of 142 pounds back then. I abused my body with lack of sleep, smoking at least a pack a day, and drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol through my 20s. At 27, I quit smoking (first kid,) and gained 20 pounds almost overnight. I was not running, or doing hardly any regular exercise, but I was still in the active Air Force and had to maintain a minimum level of fitness. So, I would ramp it up a few weeks prior to testing. Since then, I think I put on a little more than a pound a year until I hit 195 (I’m 5′ 8″), and inevitably failed a fitness test.
By this point I was unable to run even a quarter mile without stopping. I decided it was time to gather my shit into one sock, and start a fitness regimen. I got up early, 0530, and ran as far as I could the first few weeks — often only a mile or so, with a lot of walking. I stopped drinking alcohol and soft drinks, and resorted to water only. I went on a strict low carb, no sugar diet, and then added weight lifting and additional cardio. Within 6 weeks I lost a total of 25 pounds and was able to run 8 miles without stopping. I felt fantastic. I probably gained 10 pounds of muscle that was hidden in the weight loss. After achieving the 8 mile run I actually completed the entire 90 days of P90X. It was at this point that I declared victory and promptly stopped working out.
That was 4 years ago. Since then, I put most of the weight back on and reverted to my old eating habits. I’m not quite the blubbery glob I was before I failed the fitness test but I’m getting heavy again. The thing that keeps me doing anything physical is the damned fitness test I now have to take twice a year. I have to run. There is no choice in the matter. My training is sporadic at best. I try to get out 3 times a week and go at least 2 miles. Some weeks I do great and go 3 or 4 miles. When I’m good about going regularly I start to enjoy it again (almost.) I’ll be fifty next year and I want to maintain a certain level of … fitness isn’t the right word … health I guess, so, like an RC car with a bad signal, I start and stop my “regimen”, and attempt to exercise my carcass in fits and spasms. I tell myself that after I retire there will be lots of time to develop a workout routine that I can stick to. I can hope.
I will say this: it’s not wasted time. Even though I often wonder about the value of the exercise, because progress seems glacially slow at times, the benefit for the writer is tangible. Running is time spent thinking about the current scene in my novel, solving a plot issue, or maybe developing another piece I’ve worked on. It usually takes about a half mile to get into the rhythm and the fireflies of imagination wake up and start sparking. The ideas pop into existence like quarks and mesons, often times flitting out of existence almost as fast, and I have to chase them down. I follow threads and tie in new ones and develop dialogue. It can be wonderful, until I overheat and have to shut it down. I’ve learned to listen to my body. If I get too exhausted, I’m worthless after the run, and all the fresh ideas are for naught. They fade into irrelevance, vanishing into the tabula rasa from whence they came. But when I do it right, the run bears fruit, and when combined with the ultimately convincing health benefits, the endeavor is worth undertaking — even though it can require Herculean effort on some days and is merely difficult on others.