10 June 2011
My first run after five years
Today,  I decided to go for a run. For other people, this isn’t cause or material for writing a blog post. But for me, who hasn’t put on a pair of running shoes for at least five years, (that’s half a decade, which seems significantly longer), this is something.

When I woke up this morning, with the sunlight streaming through my window, it just came like a sneeze; not something you invited or could control, but something that demanded your full attention and expression. The pull to run was strong and, at first somewhat inexplicable. Why now? Why this morning?

As I pulled my running clothes together, I thought it probably had something to do with the fact that the sticky 90 degree temperatures of yesterday were the breezy 70 degree readings of today. Plus, the coating of pollen on the patio table the past few days had seemed somewhat less intense so maybe I could enjoy the outdoors without worrying that my Zyrtec would be overpowered. But what I also realized was that I was tired of my routine of hopping on my elliptical in the basement and watching CNN. I worked out each morning to the war on terror, the failing economy, and the partisan squabbling. Maybe I was attaining some kind of increased serotonin high from my work out, but I’m pretty sure it was negated by the dismal state of our world that CNN brought to me each day.

Of course, I could work out to something else, but I had grown accustomed to this routine, and though I seek flexibility on my yoga mat, I haven’t always been so great at mastering it in my life. Today, I wanted to feel energized by running with my iPod to some great music and letting that serotonin do it’s job with no CNN interference.

But here’s the truth. Trained as a clinical social worker, I can’t but help look beneath the apparent logic I tell myself about why today, of all days, I decide it’s time for a run. Playing both therapist and client as I tie my running shoes and get ready to stretch, I reflect back on the last 24 hours of my life and wonder if there is anything that relates to this sudden urge to pound the pavement.

It doesn’t take long to figure it out. Yesterday, I got a call from the doctor’s office. It was time to schedule my first colonoscopy and also a bone density scan. Nothing else screams 50 years old quite like that.

Maybe I needed to prove to myself that I still had the energy of my youth. But really, I’ve never been a big runner. I enjoyed going for runs in high school and college, and after I got married and moved to Boston, taking a run was a great way to learn the city. I’d run along the Charles River, or through the Public Gardens. After we moved to the suburbs and had our children, I’d get on a running kick for a month here and there. But my running has always been spotty at best and for at least the past five years, if not more, non-existent. I have friends who have trained for marathons. I applauded their efforts from the comfort of my couch. You get the picture.

But over the years, I’ve learned to go with where the energy is, and so I tried not to question the wisdom of this decision. Only last night, as I was sitting on the couch cross-legged and reading a book, I went to straighten my leg and felt the soreness that has been creeping into my hamstring over the past few weeks. At the end of each chapter, I would have to stretch my neck and shoulders which, for over a decade, have hurt from arthritis which neither physical therapy, acupuncture nor chiropractic work has been able to touch. So I thought, who knows. Maybe running would somehow jostle a vertebrae or move a joint this way or that and actually give me some relief. You never know.

Kudos to my husband, who I met in the hallway as I was heading out. “I’m going for a run,” I said.  He didn’t tell me I was crazy, or that he feared that I would spend the weekend complaining now not only about my sore neck and shoulders, but a pulled thigh muscle as well. He just said to be careful, and when I told him that I was going to do my old 3-mile route, and that if I had to stop and walk, I would, he said, “Yes, walking would probably make more sense.” So half kudos to him; not a ringing endorsement, but there was still a little support embedded in there somewhere.

Here was something new. The last time I had scrolled through my iPod to choose a song to run to, I hadn’t needed to find my reading glasses so that I could see the choices of artists downloaded. Perhaps a bad omen. I chose John Mayer. I like his music, and the tunes are not so fast that I’ll be running to the beat and then burning out too fast.
I finished my stretching, looked at the time on my watch, and began. I stayed cognizant of my inhalation and exhalation just as I do in yoga, making the breath my friend. Slow and steady, that was my plan.

Okay, so back in the day, I used to run to music like the Rolling Stones', Start Me Up. Oh sure, words like: If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop. are all fine and good when you’re all of twenty years old. Thirty some years later, I would most definitely rewrite the lyrics to more accurately reflect my current situation: If you start me up, if you start me up I’m fairly certain soon I’ll stop…

Today, as I was listening to John Mayer’s CD I related well to his song: Gravity. The first lines sing: Gravity is working against me, and gravity wants to bring me down. Trust me, I could relate on so many levels not least of which were my breasts squeezed into an old sport’s bra.

But still I ventured forward. I can remember when I used to run. If I passed someone I knew, I picked up my speed, elongated my stride, tried to show off my best effort in running. Not anymore. Today I nodded my head to a friend who honked hello in her car, but stayed steady and slow. I think that comes with age or maybe self-confidence. I don’t want to have to prove myself to anyone, or worry about what people might think or say about me. When I was younger, I would try to hard to beat my last time, to run faster than the time before. I was in a hurry to get where I intended to go. But with age, what I realize is that there really is no hurry to get where you think you need to go, because it’s ultimately about breathing fully into the space where you are NOW.

Turning onto Seaview Street, I was faced with a hill that I had forgotten about. So I harnessed my energy and pushed upwards, thinking that this running business is a lot like life. You need to find the resources and energy deep within for the challenges that lay in your path. And you are rewarded with the ease that comes when you get to run down hill and feel like you’re free as a bird. With the ups and downs, you learn to surf the waves, to pace yourself, to let the fullness of life wash over you knowing that challenges and triumphs, sorrows and joys, easy days and hard ones, are all part of the marathon of life.

At 50 years old, I have learned how to pace myself and breathe through challenges in a way I couldn’t do when I was younger. Back then, I would fill my head with the immediate future: how fast am I running, can I beat my last time? Why is my shin hurting? Will I be able to make it up that hill? Down that path? Those questions don’t pester me like they used to. At a half a century old, I’ve learned not to get lost in all the possible questions of the future, that no one can know or predict. I’ve learned to breathe through uncertainty, pain, boredom, fear and doubt. I’ve had practice. When my kids were in high school, how many nights did I stay up worrying that they would be home on time and that they would be home safe. Whatever time they promised to be home by, I would spend the fifteen minutes before that time worrying about every possible danger that could have occurred. In fifteen minutes I could spin a tale of terror in my head that momentarily became a truth, until I heard the garage door open, or the key in the front door. And breathed again. How many times did I hold my breath waiting for a loved one’s biopsy or medical test and then breathing again when I heard the word: benign. And when I heard the word: malignant or Alzheimer’s, I learned to live in a  “new normal” where I had to figure out how to breathe again, and keep going. So today, breathing through the challenges of running after not running so long, were not nearly as hard as in the past. I’ve learned, at this stage in my life, how to breathe with what is, and to breathe in the moment, and then to release it.

But those last few blocks, when you haven’t run in years, are a killer. Part of me wanted to give in and stop, and another part of me said, “you made it this far, why don’t you just keep on going?” And I thought to myself, that’s life too, isn’t it? The days where you are challenged to the point of despair and you want to throw the towel in? But you’ve come this far in your life, you might as well stick around and see how it eventually all ends...and so you keep going.

And keep going I did. Mile after mile, minute after minute, second after second. But while I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life trying to let go of the ego, I’m not sure I can comfortably share with you just how many minutes and seconds it took me to complete these three miles. But when I came home, I felt energized and alive, and in my head I heard the beginning of Mick Jagger sing, “If you start me up, If you start me up I’ll never stop…”

Namaste B’Shalom,
Ellen







Posted by emfrankel at 4:24 PM | Link
Re: My first run after five years
What's it take to become a sulbmie expounder of prose like yourself?

Posted by Buck on October 25, 2011 at 6:51 AM
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