On running

I wake up at dawn, put on a t-shirt and shorts and double-knot my running shoes. I step into the clear morning air and listen to the birds chime the first welcome of the day.

I start slowly, allowing my limbs to shed the last bits of sleep. Then I fall into a rhythm. My steps match my breath, which matches the swing of my arms, which matches the bounce of my body as I move it back and forth, up and down.

I fine-tune the speed of my steps depending upon the terrain. If I’m heading uphill, the steps become longer, and slower, my breathing deeper, and I use my arms forcefully to propel myself. If I’m heading down a slope, my steps become gentler to protect my knees. I bring my arms close to my body to move efficiently.

In this way, I can run for hours, for miles. I’ve competed in 10 K races. I ran Bloomsday, a 7.5-mile race in Spokane. And I run just for the fun of it, anywhere I can. What I love about running is that it requires nothing more than a pair of good shoes and my body, all in working order.

When I run, I sway to and fro, my body in synchrony with itself and with my path. I feel a rush of adrenalin, the endorphins of a runner’s high. The landscape races by in vivid colors and I feel the air cooling my skin, wicking away the sweat as I move through the day, at one with the world. When I am done, I feel as if I have been in flight, soaring over a great landscape, and the feeling of bliss stays with me for hours.

At least, that is how I remember running. I gave it up 27 years ago.

And I still miss it.

On the day I gave up running, the doctor gave me a grim look as I lay shivering in a flowered hospital gown on a gurney at the emergency room. He had examined the veins in my right leg and saw a tangled mess of damaged material that would never heal. He told me that if I continued to run, I might not be able to walk by the time I was 40. It wasn’t a chance I wanted to take at 23, so I put up my running shoes for good.

Do I miss running? Absolutely every day. I have found other things that I enjoy in place of running: I walk, I hike and I dance. But they are not quite the same. About 10 years ago, elliptical trainers came into fitness gyms and I could almost recreate the feeling of a run.

Almost.

I try to remind myself that running had terrible drawbacks. Getting to the point of the runner’s high requires going through a lot of lows at the start. There are abdominal cramps and charley horses. When you first start running, your lungs suck air in giant, wheezy gasps as if you’ve been smoking for a decade. You risk shin splints, arthritis and other aches and pains. Some days, you get started and within five minutes, you think: “This is too much. I quit.”

But you keep going.

Because in the end, you know that the reward will be worth it.

Although I gave up running almost three decades ago, I held on to some of the most important premises of the discipline. Push yourself to your limits. Work hard. Don’t let a little unpleasantness stop you on your way to doing something meaningful.

Find your rhythm.

And don’t let a setback, even if you have to give up the very thing you love, take that rhythm away from you.

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