Hey all, welcome to Sisyphitness: An Atypical Exercise Blog, where I will post humorous anecdotes, questionable advice, and serious musings about the role of exercise in modern culture.
I run sometimes. I’m lucky that my body is naturally a good size for it. I was a runt growing up, but I was fast, which was helpful as a young boy, particularly as a boy who attended to an American Catholic grade school where no one really asked you if you wanted to play sports. Your parents just signed you up.
But I don’t love running. I’ve never run a race as an adult. I don’t keep track of how many miles I run. I don't attend workshops on improving my stride. Nor do I loathe running, as some people, quite understandably, do. But I think there is an interesting case for running. Don’t worry, though. I’m not here to guilt-trip you for not running. Run if you want to, don't if you don't. My aim is merely to point out an oft-overlooked dimension of the act in this age of automated step-trackers, running on treadmills while watching television, and 26.2 bumper stickers.
I once knew a hippie girl who my friend was sleeping with, the first time I’d ever known people who were sleeping with each other without being boyfriend and girlfriend nor the expectation of ever becoming them, simply for their mutual enjoyment of each other. She lived in Mexico and made pottery or something, and she would talk about guys she knew there in front of my friend, saying things like, “He wasn’t a boyfriend, just a lover.” At the time I’d thought the latter to be a more serious designation, but I was wrong in her case.
Besides the lessons about the variety of human relationships, this girl taught me an important lesson about exercise. My friend told me a personal dictum of hers, which was to run as fast as you can at least once a day. She actually did this. (I wonder if she still does, fifteen or so years after I knew her.) In my interpretation, there is so much wisdom in this advice. It speaks to life’s brevity and even more so to the fragility of the body. If you can run, it seems to me sometimes almost criminal not to. What a waste of the body you’ve been given to let it loaf around when it could be dashing about like a fox or a horse! (Personal Psychological Note: my worry about “wasting” abilities and talents once again stems directly, I believe, from my Catholic upbringing, not putting your candle under a bushel basket, etc.) Granted, we’re at the top of the food chain and don’t need to run either to either catch food or avoid being it. Maybe a dog is a better example. Beyond being a strictly functional evolutionary adaptation, dogs seem to run for the pure joy of it. But even if you don't buy that, tiny humans are all the proof we need that joy can be found in running. Children love to run. Not all the time of course. Only when they’re excited. Time for recess? RUN to get in line. Ice cream truck rolling by? RUN! Mom or Dad home from a business trip? RUN to them!
My friend and I actually did this for a while. I remember one time in Denver while we were on an epic, Kerouackian road trip. We were wildly drunk, the bar we’d been partying at was closing, and one of us remembered that we hadn’t yet run that day. Of course, we decided to sprint home from the bar. It was only a couple of blocks, as I remember. And we did. And it was dumb, but our lungs filled up not only with Denver’s thin air, but also with joy. We ran and yelped like children.
Those of us who are able-bodied gain the ability to run and jump (and squat!) early on, and I sure as hell want to be able to do all of these things for as long as I possibly can if for no other reason than to maintain a connection to my youth. (This is also why I continue to play sports, but sports have a lot of accompanying baggage, so I’ll deal with them in another post.) When the time comes that I can’t, so be it. I imagine this limitation will provide me some wisdom, teach me some lesson. But for now, there are other lessons, other bits of wisdom, that I’d rather pick up.