Yesterday as I left New York City early in the morning I watched with a bit of envy as I drove past runners along the East River. Watching and admiring their work reminded me of a recent encounter with a non-runner. They remarked that on a drive along the East River they couldn’t help but notice how miserable each and every runner looked. Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?!
I nodded and didn’t say anything because if you aren’t a runner, it is impossible to understand that there is a whole lot more going on there. Sure there are miserable runs, especially this time of year as the heat finally sets in. We just got finished griping about how awful this past winter was and then the first hot and humid days hit and I am crying, “Why can’t I do 5 miles? I did 20 just a few weeks ago!” It happens every year when summer finally comes around. It takes a few terrible runs to get used to the heat as you squish along in your sweat laden shoes.
There are the days when your stomach decides to revolt against you or a cramp in your legs makes every step painful. And yet we keep going. We push through a rough long run because we know that the next mile actually might turn a corner and start feeling incredible. The run itself might seem miserable but I am hanging in there for that glorious feeling that sets in about 5 minutes after I finish. I keep smiling as I sip a beer and eat a burger and enjoy my calorie deficit and abundance of endorphins.
Don’t let that miserable look fool you. Usually I am just deep in thought about a million different things. Sometimes I am annoyed with myself for spending money on an outfit that I later regret, or I am balancing my checkbook in my head. That is when I might really have a distorted look on my face, mostly because I stink at mental math. I am often thinking about what healthy meal I am going to eat when I get back, while the devil dances on my shoulder urging me to swing by and get a big juicy roast beef sandwich on rye instead.
I often think about other runners I pass and how they are a regular part of my morning routine. I wonder what in the world they do that allows them to run at 9:00am and laugh because they probably think the same thing about me.
A friend of mine recently took up running and lamented about her love/hate relationship with running. You see it takes a lot of hard work to get going most days and push yourself to get out the door. But once she started and got over that initial hump she realized that running can be a great experience. In fact, she said she can’t find any other activity that allows her to feel like she got nearly as great a workout in as running. She could spin for hours or swing her legs on the elliptical for days, but running does something special for her mind and body.
It is almost like a mental and physical purging process. As I got back into running the past few days from only a little over two weeks off I was annoyed by how out of breath I felt. Yet at the same time I couldn’t believe how great it was to feel my lungs burn and see the sweat rolling down my face.
If you see me grimacing out there on my run and I look like I am in pain, perhaps I am. But I am more than likely loving what I am doing or at least loving how I will feel afterwards.
Never judge a runner by their grimace.