About eleven summers ago, I went for my first run. I went about a half mile – one loop of my neighborhood – and stopped. I wasn’t exhausted but I was breathing heavy. I was surprised how difficult it was to run for 5 minutes straight. At the time, I played pick-up basketball frequently and could get up and down the court as fast - or faster - than most. I thrived at diving into a middle of a group of ballers underneath the rim, jabbing my razor sharp elbows into some ribs to clear room, and coming down with a rebound, passing the ball out, then exploding down court for a return pass. Surely a little bit of “jogging” would be easy right?
Turns out, this running thing was a whole lot tougher than I expected.
Over the first several months, those “jogs” were difficult. It was tough to go more than a mile at a time. Eventually I built up to three miles. Still, I always felt awkward and disjointed when I ran. I told Mrs. Nitmos repeatedly that I just wasn’t a natural runner. My breathing felt off. My arms and legs were hopelessly kicking out in strange angles. I thought that I must look like an epileptic having a fit while running. Nothing was smooth. No flow. Certainly it was obvious to others with every step I took that I was a beginner. My knees were chopping too high; my feet slapped too much; my elbows were unnaturally akimbo. I even remember feeling a touch self-conscious when one of those seasoned runners with the hip angular sunglasses and moisture-wicking….everything…would run by me and my cotton t-shirt.
I was 30 years old when I went for my first run. I made a goal to run a 5k in my hometown that I’d been aware of since I was a little kid. I probably would have quit running early on if I didn’t at least want to run this race first. Basketball was my thing. Running was just a short-term affair.
The race came and went. I had fun. Compared to my age group, I did reasonably well finishing in the top 40%. I was surprised that many of the other runners looked just like me…except with less efficient Adam’s apples and not as quick with spontaneous observational humor. That’s when the competitor within took over.
If I shave two more minutes, I can get in the top 20 for my age group.
If I shave three more minutes, top 10!
Maybe I’ll try one more race after a few more months of training.
Over time, my running style smoothed out. My breathing is pretty relaxed even at strenuous intervals. I don’t even think about those things anymore. Mrs. Nitmos tells me that she can always spot me coming from far away because of my distinctive high front knee kick when I run. Maybe it's the Vegas showgirl in me. Or maybe it’s the same as it always was….it just feels natural now. Alas, I own a moisture-wicking burial tuxedo.*
I don’t know how many runs I’ve completed over the last ten plus years. For the first few years, I’d stop running completely for 3-4 months over winter to continue playing basketball. I still normally only run three times a week due to time constraints. I would guess I’ve run about a thousand times now, probably more. I’m still searching for PR’s. I haven’t played a single game of pick-up basketball in three years.
The phrase “death by a thousand cuts” is often used metaphorically to describe the gradual destruction of something by repeated minor attacks.** What do you call the gradual construction – in this case, of a RUNNER – over time by a series of minor actions?
I’m on the precipice of age 40. The next time I post, I’ll be on the other side. I’ll let you know how it looks. A new age group to compete within beckons. I’ll officially be called a Master. It’s about time.
I guess this is life by a thousand runs.
*It’s got to be hot in a coffin right?