Yes, I have recently run for a bus or two, when I have been late to meet someone, after small children, or for other short bursts as necessary. But not so much for exercise.
Perhaps the last time I ran for an extended period (in short bursts) was sometime in 2006 or 2007, around a field a few times near the FDR memorial in Washington, DC. I was attempting to play with an intramural ultimate frisbee team, but the other players were too fast, and too smart — all union and lobbyist types with sharp tongues though friendly to the end, even when it became clear that I could not keep up in either physical or verbal sport.
The last time I ran competitively before that was also for ultimate frisbee, when I first learned the game as a freshman or sophomore in college, in the bucolic Midwest. I tried to play for the B team of my school’s official women’s frisbee team — I had quit swimming competitively after my freshman year and needed to do *something* competitive. But my knees were killing me, and I soon quit.
I first learned to run in high school. My trigonometry teacher was the cross country coach, and who knows how he persuaded me to join the team. (Or maybe it was because of Reef Younggreen? Did I have a crush on him and he was on the cross country team? Or is that junior high? Yes, this is more than two decades ago, folks — oh, Reef, where are you now, and why did your parents name you Reef?)
My math/running coach gave me the basics that I remember: lift your knees; hit the ground toes to heel; pull your heels up to your butt for speed; don’t move your torso, but use your biceps as you pump your arms to pull you along. Breathe. At least, I think that’s what he taught me. I trained with a hilarious group of teenagers (somehow, I remember Cameo’s Word Up as our soundtrack — “oh pretty ladies, around the world… do your dance!”) until my first cross country race, where nerves made me so nauseous I thought I was going to die — or at least puke in the bushes at the top of the first hill. I quit after the first kilometer. And I mean I quit: I quit the team, and I quit running, there and then.
My sport and workout of choice became swimming, and I returned to that after college to keep in shape. I picked up a pair of running shoes, but only to use on the elliptical machines in the gym, when I wasn’t swimming. My knees were screwy, I told myself. I got sports-induced asthma. (I had that swimming too, but the logic didn’t hold for me there.) I hated running.
So, fast-forward to last week, here in Stockholm. Matt told me one of his colleagues wanted to put together a group to run a relay, with each person running 5 km apiece, in a race at the end of September. She’s been trying to get me to run with her, ever since we started swimming together this winter. She stopped swimming as soon as the weather got close to fine enough for outdoor sports.
I thought about joining her, dubiously. And then, after years of protesting running, swearing that I hated it and it would damage me forever, on Friday I decided I would try to run this weekend. And yesterday I did it.
I headed out the door into a hot Swedish midday afternoon (24 C tops, somewhere in the 70s), with rain threatening. I started my new app on my new phone (Endomondo! it’s super cool!) to track my speed, and took off down Valhallavagen to the Djurgården.
And it was so easy to fall into that form that my trig teacher taught me! (Not that I can remember any trigonometry, mind you.) Knees up, torso steady, arms pumping, breathing steady. I surprised myself and made it to the park with a steady gate, no stops. Just like riding a bicycle!
I checked my cell phone app to see my time, at 12:41 pm, maybe 10 minutes after I’d left the house (?) — but (nuts!) I had messed up the starting point. I had no idea how long it took me or how fast I went. So I reset the app and started walking to the end of the field there at Gärdet — and again, I failed to set the app right.
So, this point, I doublechecked to make sure the app was working and set off on my way home. I had mentally set myself a course of running back on the uphill road, walking on another trail, and then running back the same way. But here I was, halfway out, and I felt like I had fallen off the bicycle. All the reasons I haven’t run in two decades came back to me: my right knee was killing me, I was hot and sweaty, I couldn’t keep my form together or run for longer than 30 seconds at a stretch after awhile. I thought to myself, why am I doing this?
But I kept going, kept pushing myself; I used that little coaching voice that I have embedded in my head from swimming and running. I kept going, jogging and walking, until I got home.
And it wasn’t that bad after all.
So, today, my knees are killing me and I walk like I am getting used to new prosthetic legs. But it was still a good thing to have gone running yesterday.
I can see why running is an “easy” way to get a workout, in addition to just putting on your shoes and walking out the door: You use just about every part of your body, or at least, I did — all the parts I don’t use swimming or biking or walking. I am sore everywhere (despite eating a ton of tomatoes yesterday); I am thinking of this as lactic acid buildup, and signs that my muscles are breaking and regrowing *right at this very moment.*
I also wonder if this is a way into meeting other people here in Stockholm. I was musing, out there in the middle of the field, about how I like to run to hear myself breathe, to see the landscape around me. I know Matt runs to listen to podcasts and be out by himself. But I would also run to be with other people. Swimming in particular is a solo, meditative experience, head underwater and nothing but the movement of your body. But I like it so much better when I have someone to do it with (I miss you, Lila!). I go faster and farther, and it’s more fun. I might have to try running that way too.
And yesterday, I could see how meditative running can be, with the repetitive movements of your feet, the need to feel your body, and to correct your pace, your form, your breathing. And I noted the pleasure of observing the world around me. I was reminded of a colleague who says she does her best writing while she is running. I think I wrote half this blog post in my head while I was out on the trail.
At least five women I know who are about my age started running for the first time sometime during the past few months. My friends are doing this for fitness, I presume, for an easily accessible workout in between kids, work, and play. And perhaps also because of looming age?
I’m facing a Big Birthday this week. I might as well pick up a new habit that might help me age gracefully (or destroy my knees faster, I’m not sure which!). I’ll let you know what happens, I’m sure.