Friday, 3 August 2007

Becoming a Burnham Jogger

You'll be happy to know that I'm recovering from the groin injury. I can walk now. Four more days on anti-inflammatories and then, if I'm not perfect, it's X-ray time. Pray for perfect, so I can run, again.

No one, even in jest, would refer to me as athletic. Once I hit puberty, I went from skinny, active kid to endomorphic sloth before you could say, "hormones." Like Lance Armstrong, my lung capacity is beyond the machine's ability to measure. Unlike Armstrong I fell off the wrong end of the scale.

Oh, I tried. In high school, I took up gymnastics and learned faster than anyone in the group -- until week three, when I hit the wall. (A running expression.) I joined the Synchronised Swimming Club where Amazonian effort kept me afloat or underwater, as the need arose. But you still have to be able to breathe to succeed. So, I settled for looking good in outrageous swim suits and lazed into my twenties and thirties.

As an adult, I would occasionally summon up the optimisim to try again. I have spent more money on gym memberships than anyone in my salary bracket. Two weeks of calisthenics or Nautilaus machines and I would feel the irresistible Call of the Couch. With beer.

My colleagues took up running. They came to work, wittering on about their three-mile gallop along the lake at six in the morning and how great! they felt. I'd slump further behind my desk and and dial the phone for a relaxing chat with a client who'd blown up his computer in the night.

Sometimes I would exercise at home. Canadian Royal Air Force Exercises: Conquer the world and your body in 10 minutes! Somehow, it always took longer. Yoga in 28 days! Bo-r-r-r-ing. Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics. Isn't this where I came in? Running? No, thanks.

Now and again. regretting my lack of get up and go. I'd read another book. Cooper's wife wrote one just for women. She recounted how Ken had taken his own pulse (39) and then hers (78), and then explained to her that, since her heart was beating twice as fast as his, it would wear out in half the time. She wouldn't live to see their baby grow up. I'd have divorced him, but she took up running. Pushing the baby buggy. They deserve each other, I thought.

Aged 39 1/2, I moved to England. Well, it's funny when you hit 40. One day you're sylph-like in a bikini and the next you're buying women's magazines exhorting you to Look Good on the Beach This Summer and Lose a Stone Overnight on the Chocolate Diet.

The day I returned home from boarding school at 13, my mother had invoked her mantra -- "I weighed 104 pounds soaking wet when I got married" -- and put me on a diet. I was 2 inches taller than she at 13, but I bought the line and had been on one diet or another ever since. Now I just couldn't do it any more.

Ruminating over dinner one evening, I began to consider the problem. Can't diet; hate exercise; no time; wanna eat; hate exercise. Sometimes, life is just one Monday after another. (Garfield, my hero.) "So here's the deal," I said to myself. "If you run, you can eat. Any day you don't run, you don't eat." I may not be able to give up eating, but I'm very good with bargains. I am the person who gave up drinking for 5 years. I am the person who gave up smoking. Three times.

The next day, I was browsing in my normal habitat -- the library -- when I saw a notice on the bulletin board. Learn to Run! Join Us on Monday Evenings at the Maidenhead Athletic Club! Beginners welcome! Telephone Angela! I telephoned Angela.

I'll do the short version. It was a 400-meter track and I couldn't get 'round a quarter of it. But Angela was nice and her husband, Malcolm, was nice and the other people were nice, and no one laughed. They just ran and walked with me. And I ran and walked, ran and walked, ran and walked for the next two hours. I couldn't walk for the following five days, but the next week I was back, again.

After several weeks, Angela and Malcolm suggested I come to the Burnham Joggers with them. It was so neat! First you did the Social Mile -- the entire club together. You got to meet people you'd never have seen if you'd had to catch them first. And I could do it! The whole mile. I had been practicing for, lo!, these many weeks. After the Social Mile, we split into groups of like abilities and ran distances accordingly. Then we showered and repaired to the pub. Was this a good group or what?

In another month I could run two miles. (And drink more beer.) Another month and I could run six. Six months later, one of the guys took me out when my regular group wasn't there and said we'd do a new route. "We'll try an 8," he lied. When we got back to the club house, everyone congratulated me. I had completed my first 10-mile run and hadn't known it. When you run the way I do, after a certain level of misery it's all the same. All runs longer than 5 1/2 miles take forever and will probably kill you. Having made this discovery, I have always known I could do a marathon.*

A club keeps you going. There is your particular group waiting for mutual encouragement each Tuesday and Thursday. And, frequently, Sunday. And special occasions. And Boxing Day. And New Year's Day. (You cannot be serious! But they are.) You can't let them down. There are the better runners who encourage you and force you to stretch yourself. And the race organisers who force you to race (or, in my case, "race") and not be embarrassed about your time. (They have no qualms about any embarrassment you suffer by seeing your age posted on the bulletin board.) And there's the pub. And the parties. And the weddings. Where do you think I met Nick? Forget that night class stuff. Athletics is it!

But I also am happy to run alone. Running alone in the quiet -- no earphones for me -- sets your mind free: to watch the scenery with more than your usual attention; to appreciate; to think; to solve problems; to rid your mind and body of the day's stresses; to diss young men in their cars and feed your growing superiority complex.

There is this wonderful thing called a "runner's high." Running shoots endorphins from your brain into your bloodstream (or maybe the other way around). Endorphins put you on top of the world. Or so they tell me. On a good day, I get, maybe, a runner's medium. I once bought a book just for the title: The Man With No Endorphins.

So now I've been running, off and on, for 27 years. There have been lay-offs, but I have never, ever, considered, giving it up permanently. Even though, every day that I contemplate putting on my shorts and shoes, I hate it. It's hard; I'd rather read; the weather is lousy; I'd rather nap; I'd rather a lot things.

The trick is: Don't Think! Turn off your brain, change your shoes and GO! Because the days that I don't run, I feel guilty. If I see a jogger on the road, I know what he's thinking when he looks at me. "Hey, there! You can't do this." Well, yes, I can. And I know that I will feel better for it.

Medium is good enough.

Oh. And the original problem? Once I hit 20 miles a week, I could eat anything. And do.

*But I haven't. I limit myself to halves, 10Ks and the like. I am much too well bred to inconvenience the race marshalls by keeping them there two hours past quitting time.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! The running post! Right now it's my SO and my dog that are incentives. And so far, we are doing well. Slow... but well. :)