I have been a runner for most of my life. As a child, it was due to playing other sports. I enthusiastically played soccer and baseball. Photos of an awkward looking kid playing tee-ball, and silly soccer team photos with players on one knee still occupy space in my mother’s photo albums. Looking back, I held my own as a rail-thin, wimpy athlete — good enough to hold my own at the time, anyway. But I was never confused for a kid with serious athletic talent. Starting in high school, the angst of latching onto music subcultures got in the way of relating well to my preppy soccer teammates as well. The guitar became decidedly more interesting than shin guards. And by the time I was in college, I gave up sports completely. Well… almost. I still continued to run. And still do.
I run on a weekly basis as my main mode of exercise. My course is a little over two miles at a moderate pace around my neighborhood. I enjoy how running is such an intensive exercise. I can spend less than an hour, with stretching, and be completely worked out. Running gives me energy. It is simple and physical, which lets my mind wander and ponder the week’s events.
Often when I am running, I pick up small details about my neighborhood — businesses I never noticed, parts of bridges and train tracks not seen from a car. I get recognition from people waiting for the bus, or other runners going in a different direction. Ultimately, running has become part of my routine, and I feel strange if I skip a few days.
Three days a week, immediately after getting home from work, I change into my workout clothes, spend a few minutes stretching, and plot a new course out the back door of my apartment. Since it’s been cold, this involves a stretchypolyester workout shirt, black warmup pants, a ski cap and gloves. A black outfit, seemingly mismatched shades from charcoal to jet black. In the darkest December evenings, I felt like a black shadow running through the park, making extra noise so I wouldn’t totally freak out other runners and bikers I ran past. I imagined from far away I looked like two bouncing white shoes.
This winter I have continued to run, even when it’s freezing cold or snow still on the ground, on a fairly regular basis. On more than one occasion, I have returned from a run with snow needing to be knocked off my sneakers. On another, I had to run in the middle of the street to avoid thick ice and patches of packed-down snow. There is a certain pride in not letting the elements change up your routine. Well, by a day or two, at least.
This year, I upped the ante by deciding that I would train for the annual Beer Run.
The Beer Run is a five-mile run through the UNCG area of Greensboro, culminating with two free beers at Old Town. Winning racers (the first three men and women) get a bit of cash. And the proceeds of the race benefit the Special Olympics. Fantastic. But really, the motivation is proving to myself that I can run this race. I’ve been stuck in my modest two-mile run for more years than I would like. And times I’ve tried running further have been met with the groans of a body not used to being pushed. When I first considered doing the beer run, I about fell out of my chair when I realized the last time I had run five miles was more than 10 years gone. This specific detail cemented my resolve to compete.
So I’ve been taking my friend’s advice, and just taking off and running without a specific course in mind. I’ve let my feet take me in on new route each day. And while I enjoy running as part of my routine, I have enjoyed the spontaneity of each run being different from the last. When I return home, I map my run out to see how far I’ve cov ered,and often am surprised at the distance.
It turns out five miles isn’t so far away after all.
As with the sports of my youth, I won’texpect a winning finish. But doing this run will show that I can still push myself. That five miles is a modest goal I can achieve. So today, after work, before allowing myself to relax into my couch, my feet will hit the pavement once again as a respite from my hectic day, and towards that five miles. And, eventually, beer.
Devender Sellars —’ art director — firstname.lastname@example.org