A ten kilometer fun run sponsored by Palo Alto Parks and Recreation in late spring 1986. An easy run that takes a sea of colorful souls from the smooth macadam near the golf course and the city’s single runway airport through Byxbee Park to the gravel packed levees that criss cross the Baylands on the Adobe Creek Trail. It’s a blindingly bright, still morning edging from warm toward hot and the tidewaters are retreating. There is the sharp stench of sulphur produced by bacteria digesting dead phytoplankton. In other words, on the day of this 10K, it stinks.
The uneven surface of the gravel levee slows my pace and the morning sun’s reflection on the water pierces my eyes like shards of glass. But I continue to force myself forward even as the runners overtaking me make me feel as if I’m not moving at all.
And then I stop. My body is like a horse refusing to move any further forward. I rest for a moment and consider my options. And then I begin to walk. The walk becomes a slow jog and then returns to walking as soon as my body realizes what my brain is trying to make it do. This back and forth between my brain and my body continues until I see the 10K Fun Run banner indicating the finish line. I shuffle across, collect my tee shirt, and, conceding there was nothing fun about this run at all, go home.
After that 10K my running schedule became erratic. I loved running but it was clear I needed a brief hiatus. It wasn’t my intent but my hiatus lasted twenty years, give or take a few. Running became, for me, like an old romance. There were wonderful memories but painful ones, too. Over the years I often asked myself, “I wonder what it would feel like to run again?”
I can tell you. It sorta kinda feels awful. But I expect that to change.
My bookclub chose for it’s May reading pleasure Kelly McGonigal’s latest book, The Joy of Movement. And recently the New York Times reported that there’s been an uptick in folks strapping on their old running shoes.
Armed with a nearly new pair of Hoka’s I decided to be one of those folks. It hasn’t been easy. Or pretty.
There have been years when I’ve not been particularly kind to my body but I’m in good health (knock on wood) with no heart, bone or blood pressure issues. With that in mind, and knowing my return to road running would be slower than the opening scene from Chariots of Fire (cue Vangelis) I didn’t feel the need to ask for a doctor’s approval. Instead I checked in with my favorite senior marathon runner and took additional advice from Juan Vigil’s book Seniors on the Run: Extending Your Life One Step at a Time. Then I hit the streets.
On Day One I shuffle the length of one whole block. Four hundred feet if I’m lucky. And then I walk for two. I time my four hundred foot shuffles for when neighbors can’t see me. I know the exercise won’t kill me but it is quite possible I’ll die of embarrassment.
Seven days later and I’m no longer embarrassed by my shuffle nor am I embarrassed by my fifteen-minute-mile pace. I’m not looking for speed and I don’t intend to break any records. I’m shuffling to become reacquainted with a part of me that I miss. I’m shuffling because I never forgot how good running made me feel. Especially in the cool mornings with the smell of jasmine in the fresh dawn air. I’m shuffling because Kelly’s right. It’s joyful.
Besides, it’s never too late to begin again.