2013 has consisted of a weekly episodes of mildly significant to minor existential crises. Of the many I’ve indulged in this year (Why am I riding a Greyhound bus? I’m black. Do I need to listen to hip hop? Why am I drunk on the G train at 3am?) my latest (Am I a runner?) has been the easiest to answer. HELLno. Whatever my new combination of Nike shoes, New Balance shorts and an apartment by Brooklyn’s Prospect Park add up to, it isn’t a runner. I’m an “enthusiastic walker”. Lucky me. Crisis averted.
This might sound overly simplistic and/or overly stupid but running is a hard sport to just start doing. I had the clothes, the location and the motivation but from there, I might as well have been starting my bobsledding career because it’s weirdly confusing. Running is so intrinsically simple that it actually is very complicated. Do I stretch? Do I walk for a bit and then run? Do I go against the crowd or run with it? Do I put on electronic music? Do I put on the Les Miserables soundtrack? How long do I run for? How many gasps per minute are a sign of an upcoming heart attack? It’s a lot to think about.
Let’s talk about the actual run. I like it! I like being outside. Being active. I like having socks up to my knee like a shortstop. I like listening to Kylie Minogue and air-drumming to “Love at First Sight”.
But there are some problems. I’m really out of shape. Within two minutes of my jog, I’m gasping for air like a trapped puppy in your grandmother’s Oldsmobile. My ankles are next to go. Instantly, I think who saw when I started. I try to play off as if I’ve been running for 45 minutes, not a little more than 45 seconds.
But it’s worse than that. When I run, my thoughts become really amplified in my head. Look at that dude’s calves. He’s a runner. Damn. Look at that grey-haired woman jogging with a baby in her stroller. Damn. She’s a runner. Despite the pounding of “LOOK DOWN, LOOK DOWN” from Les Miserables pounding in my head, I can do anything but.
Which is kind of funny. As a kid, I considered myself entirely a runner. Which is to say, I ran a lot. I ran after church, ruining each month’s pair of Goodwill slacks with every game of hide and seek tag or Red Light, Green Light 123. I dominated field days in middle school. I was the man to beat in high school at the Shuttle Run. It was how I made my mark on the baseballl field and it was my only genuine athletic gift. I was fast. More importantly, I was faster. I never ran on a team or with a purpose. I never had to officially prove that I was a runner except for those moments playing for the Rosedale Little League when I tried to stretch a double into a triple. Running was my underlying card. You’d never know it. But I did. That was enough for me. No matter my inability to play basketball or my inability to throw a spiral at football, I could run. And that meant something.
Which is why, after years of not running but convinced that it was, in fact, I was forced to actually discover what this gift had become. Entirely nonexistent.
Running like an adult requires a fierce commitment to not look over your shoulder. It is entirely in the moment; a moment you alone create and define. I hate that.
Running like an adult is different from any running I’d done before. Everyone’s pace on the track is different. The awkwardness comes when I start negotiating with myself based on someone else’s pace. Should I run faster than this mother-of-two in yoga pants but slower than Buzzcut in an Iron Man Shirt? I try to fit in and there’s no fitting in because no one really cares about my or anyone’s motivations or still at running. They didn’t come to the track to find their place on the totem pole of weekend runners – where the fast lead and the slow ones follow. They came with their own goals. Their definition of success need not be mine. Now. If Yoga Pants and Buzzcut and I met to run a 100 meter dash, I’d probably win. But that’s entirely irrelevant. I have to set my own pace and my own speed and tell myself when to start and tell myself when to end. I’ve no real idea how to do that.
Which is why running like an adult doesn’t really suit me. I never learned to have any goals I was running. I just needed to see everyone else’s speed and just be a tad faster and that would be, as it were, success. I was good at that.
When I was in high school, I was a pretty dramatic person. Whenever it rained, I’d walk the last few minutes to my house No Doubt’s song “Running”. Once I turned the corner, I’d start running the end of the track. It was very dramatic. There was no real way to incorporate this anecdote into the story. But it is still cool to think about.