Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Gateway Drug

That first mile.

At some point, each of us made the decision to slide on some cotton socks, slip on our cotton t-shirt, grab our walking shoes (because they’ll be good enough to run in right – I’m not serious about this after all), tie up the laces and hit the road. No Garmin. No iPod. No pace per mile plan. Nowhere for the sweat to go but – gasp! - cling to your shirt. Hell, not even thinking - or knowing - about a fartlek.

Rookies. So young. So naïve.

The first mile is always free. You’re trying something new, fresh, and fun. You’ll just do it once to see how it feels. You aren’t going to turn into that weird guy you see running everywhere around town. You pass him on the way to the grocery store. The next day, you see him on the way home from work The guy with the head and armbands, shirtless with the split side running shorts exposing a little too much of his thigh and completely soaked in sweat. These are family streets after all. Cover yourself!

But you felt pretty good after that first run. That first mile left you tired but thrilled. The adrenaline rush! Your heart was pounding. You wanted more but you knew your body couldn’t take it. At least, not right now.

Feeling a little guilty, you made quiet plans to do it again. To give into the urge. But you need better equipment. Those shoes won’t do.

So you sought out the local dealer specializing in running shoes. You felt safer with their products and expertise. They were friendly. Happy to see you. They offered you a first timers discount.

With your new shoes, you did another mile and felt even better. It was a little easier this time but the thrill was just as strong. You did another mile a few days later too.

In fact, over the next few weeks you did it as much as you could. You even smiled and waved to another, more experienced running addict as you passed. Kinship. There are others like you. This doesn’t have to be your little secret.

You return to the local running apparel dealer. You realize that the cotton t-shirts are making you look like an amateur, a rookie. You buy some moisture-wicking shirts. Some moisture-wicking socks. Shorts to hold your house key and, maybe, a few dollars in case you go a little farther away from home. But you don’t get the side split shorts that are attached only by a little thread at the hip. You aren’t that into it. It’s just for fun after all.

You are getting adventurous now but you tell yourself that you can quit at any time.

The local running apparel dealer tells you about a race. A 5k. The dealer, with his big wide toothy grin, convinces you that you can do it. As you fill out the race form, you get the vague notion that the dealer’s friendly smile has turned into a sinister sneer and that he’s trying to suppress a cackling, finger tent pitched laugh with hell fire shooting up over his shoulders.

You show up at the start line of that first race a little scared. The other runners in the starting den look more experienced. But happy. Everyone is talking and laughing together except for the real sick addicts at the front of the pack who sprint out and then return to the start line area to do some high knee kicks and then sprint out a few steps again. They are serious. No one talks to them. They are hooked and beyond help.

The 5k was a blast of fun! You didn’t know you could do it but, as you crossed the finish line, you realized you were further along with running than you thought. This realization both scares and thrills you.

You keep returning to your local running dealer for more supplies. And more races. 5k’s, 10k’s, 15k’s, your dealer has everything you need to make it happen. You are going longer now. More miles. More joy. More pain. One little mile just doesn’t cut it anymore.

You get to know the creepy guy with the split side running shorts by name. He’s at every race. You’ve started to pass each other when out on runs. You realize he’s not much different than you. Just an old pro at this game with a few more miles.

You begin to realize that you can’t quit running. At least, not cold turkey. You love it too much. You love the feeling it gives you. You even welcome the pain and soreness. But maybe you can cut back on the miles. Gain control over this thing before it gets out of hand.

And then the running dealer mentions a half marathon with a little sparkle in his eye.

Can you do it? Yes, you can. You do. And it feels euphoric. The medal draped around your neck is a monument to your determination and resolve. It hangs proudly in your home. You no longer hide your addiction. You wear your race shirts everywhere. Everyone refers to you as “the runner.” And it makes you a little proud.

Then, a marathon. Several marathons. You are too far gone. There’s no turning back. You’ve purchased the split side running shorts. You recognize the same cars passing you on every one of your runs as you go by the grocery store or go out for an after work run. At each race, you find yourself closer and closer to the front of the pack now. Closer to the serious guys bouncing and sprinting and too far gone.

You’ve even begun to recruit others. You’ve brought your wife, your kids, your friends and neighbors in to see the local running apparel dealer. For some, they’re hooked immediately. Others resist the urge. Always, the dealer is super friendly and smiles widely as they try on shoes. He casually mentions an upcoming 5k planting the seed to the addiction.

It doesn’t stop for you. You can’t quit. You no longer try. You schedule your life around long runs. More races. More marathons. You even entertain the idea of an ultramarathon. Can you do it? Your local running dealer says you can. He knows you can and he has everything you need to make it happen.

It all started with that innocent little first mile. Then it spiraled out of control.

And you’re so glad it did.

Happy trails.

40 comments:

Marcus Grimm said...

Unless you can't make it a mile your first time out. I still remember my first run:

3/10ths of a mile
stretch, gasp, pant
3/10ths of a mile

Fortunately, it got better after that.

Good post!

RazZDoodle said...

Awesome post!

sneakersister said...

I second what RazZDoodle said, AWESOME POST!!!!!

Vanilla said...

Are you trying to tell us that you've purchased a pair of the short split-side running shorts? Gross! Keep that to yourself!

Jamoosh said...

I swear I do not have one pair of split side shorts. Oh, and you'll never see me anywhere near the front of the pack. But yes, guilty as charged.

Tall Girl Running said...

Nice post. Despite the pack of ice numbing my groin even as I type, I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy at the nostalgia of my early days as a runner.

As an aside, the verification word I'm required to type in the box to post this comment is "habockel". It's not a real word (I looked), but it should be. I think you should find a way to use it and claim it as your own. If anyone can, it's Nitmos.

X-Country2 said...

This is SO true. Once you tip to a moisture-wicking top snob, you're officiall IN.

Mike said...

Nice, well written - takes me back to the days of cotton shirts and shorts, thick blister causing socks, and gummi bears instead of GU

Roisin said...

Oh wow...now that I've read this, I can recognize my problem. Your next post should be finding a support group. Runner's Anonymous, anyone?

Morgan said...

I couldn't have put it better myself. This is running blog gold. We all start that way and if you're the right kind of person it turns into a full blown addiction. I'm glad we all did it and I'm glad we all found each other. My nostalgia is in full force right now as I remember my first 5k...

Viper said...

... the split side shorts ... guilty.

B.o.B. said...

You ever come across a blog post and think "Damn! I should have written that!" ?

Well my friend this post is it for me. Take that as a compliment.

This post gave me chills and perfectly explained what happened to all of us. So, big thanks.

Vava said...

This running addict is too injury free... can't relate.

Jessica said...

When you start wearing speedo's to run, we can officially say you are crazy...not that we think you are now or anything. Good post--although you make the running shop owner sound like he has a strip club business on the side :)

BrianFlash said...

This post is so true. I ran in the olden times of high school and burned myself out on the whole thing.

Now that I can no longer really compete, I enjoy the races so much more; but still have the obsession with getting faster.

And the obsession about completing races is in full swing.

My semi-daily 'dallysts' with running are a joy, but no split side shorts for me - now or ever.

DeAnna said...

Unlike most of your other commenters I'm just starting that rookie/cotton shirt phase although I do own a couple moisture wicking so maybe I'm farther along than I think! Great post, it certainly made me excited and not feel as crazy that I decided to start this thing.

Marlene said...

A+ post Nitmos!

Blyfinn said...

Oh so very true, outside of the whole shorts thing.

Lauren said...

You forgot the free beer after the race. That's how they sucked me in. Plus all those guys in the side split shorts!

The Sean said...

right on.

Laura said...

That is EXACTLY how I became the crazy marathoner I am today. No one ever believes me when I tell that story, but it's TRUE. From now on, I'm sending them to this post.

Thank you!

Mike said...

Thanks for demonstrating once again that an exceptional running writer is rarer than an exceptional runner.

Well done!

Anonymous said...

You forgot about how cranky we get if we can't our "fix!" Withdrawal is serious, people!

Irene said...

Mine wasn't a first mile. It was being able to run from one street corner to the next without wanting to pass out! Then it was a competition between my brother and I to see who could get the most 5k t-shirts, and which ones were the tackiest. :)

Beth said...

Great post! It was mostly the shopping part that got me hooked, but the feeling after that first mile, too, for sure.

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

great post. let me guess. the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Oh wait, there are no names...does that mean there are no innocent?

Biscuitman said...

Great post. Although lacking in your trademark sarcasm.

theloosemoose said...

Awesome.

The Laminator said...

Yep, the story of my running life. But how does it end? I need to know, I need to know. There's a part II to this, right?

Tola said...

Really, there's a point where you buy the split-side shorts? You're losing credibility here ...

Adam said...

I need to get some of those split side shorts. No one should be deprived of all of THIS.

Ovens2Betsy said...

I don't appreciate you writing about my life for your personal gain. Shame on you.

(Oh -- and my verification word was "slaing." You'll get double points if you can fit in that word along with "habockel.")

passions said...

Very inspiring thank you! On of the best running posts I have ever read. I did a fabulous run after reading this. THANKS!

Jess said...

This is great and so true. Those new addicts are so easy to spot...

aron said...

SUCH a great post and every word is true. I still remember my first mile (well it wasnt that long ago hehe) and my first 5k... in a cotton shirt ;) I wouldnt be caught dead in that running now!

Velma said...

Great post - I know you run so you can look cute in jeans - or maybe that is me.

Ultras sounds like fun which means we are crazy.

jen said...

Love this post! I was thinking something like this when I saw what I assumed to be a new runner out on the trail the other day that reminded me a little of me when I started (who knows if she was really new). I felt like stopping her and shouting her a warning "I'm you from the future! You're going to do an Ironman in three months. Stop now! Save yourself!!!"

M2Marathon said...

Hello hammer, may I introduce you to nail? Look how nicely formed his head is, why don't you have a little whack?!

That Runner Girl is better than some of my past nicknames...

Great post!!! LOVE IT.

RunningEmily said...

oh my god, so true! best post ever on running. gave me the chills. can't wait to complete my first marathon...might stop there after...but given the above, is that even possible???

Irish Cream said...

Hi. My name is Irish and I'm a delinquent blogger. I know this is almost a month late but . . . LOVE. This was truly an amazing and inspiring post. One of the best I've read. Thank you for being so damn awesome :)