Because I Can

 

I always hated to run.  Some of you will remember…timed forties, perfect plays, home to first, home to second, etc., fitness tests in PE….  All my running was athletically related and involved sprinting.  I was never very fast…never very athletic.  Snail like but I never left a yucky trail.  Football, baseball…I didn’t do basketball.  Couldn’t get that huge ball in that tiny ring and there is a bunch of running in basketball…minute drills?  No way.

Hundred-yard sprints to end the practice are not fun.  They were never intended to be fun.  Show me someone who enjoys hundred-yard sprints and I’ll show you a masochist…or someone who pulls wings off flies and plots murder.

I found myself coaching in addition to teaching in the early Seventies and learned that, deep down in my soul, I was a sadist.  Marquis de Sade with a whistle and a clipboard.  “Men, we’re going to do all the forty-yard sprints in the world…plus one.”  “You’re going to run forever…too long? Subtract a minute.”  I didn’t do it in a sadistic way per se, sadism was not the goal.  I tried to apply reason, never running for the sake of running and interjecting humor into my expectations. Still, deep down…there was sadistic joy seeing my charges puke at my feet. “Look! Eggs!  Anyone hungry?”

In the late Sixties, the jogging craze hit.  By the mid-Seventies, I had joined it.  Not that I was particularly interested in the health effects of jogging…I was in my mid-twenties and indestructible.  I was more likely to get my exercise skipping “the light fandango” with a beer in my hand.

I jogged not to get into shape, I was more interested in the good looking, long-legged brunette, teaching peer who wore those minuscule Seventies running shorts over her tight and athletic…you get the idea.  I tried to run just hard enough to keep her backside clearly in view.  I chased her but I never caught her.

Despite her external motivation, I had no self-motivation and was sporadic with exercise until a heart attack dropped me in my tracks on my fifty-sixth birthday.  Great birthday present.  A blockage and a stent to correct it and save my life, three more stents a month later, six weeks of rehab and instructions on what to eat…cardboard slathered in cow poop.  Nothing from the Southern-fried food groups.  I learned to eliminate salt on everything except eggs and grits.  I even learned to tolerate oatmeal…with enough fruit and yogurt covering it.

On my days off from rehab I walked.  While I enjoyed walking, the effort just didn’t seem to be enough.  I was from the “No Pain, No Gain” era.  Exercise should have an element of pain involved.  Walking was too easy, and I began to run, albeit slowly.  Underused lungs and quads screaming, maybe I was a masochist.  I don’t pull wings off flies and the only murders I plot are in the books I write.

Five months after my heart attack I ran my first 5K.  After six months I had dropped sixty-plus pounds.  I was my cardiologist’s dream patient.

Only Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles would ever look at me and say, “He looks like a runner.”  Stockily built for comfort not speed, it is best to line me up with a stationary object to make sure I am moving.  But I was a runner!  I ran races to prove I was and to provide motivation.  I needed goals other than beer and pizza after the race and fit women in athletic wear to run behind during it.

I still hated running but it became a mind over matter endeavor.  I found it cleared my head and correctly put together the jigsaw puzzle that was my mind. I did it because I could.  I did it because I was still alive.

5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons…I put a marathon on my bucket list and signed up for one in three months’ time.  I didn’t win any races, but I always finished in the top half of my age group.  I was proud.  I was running against myself and the grim reaper in my rearview mirror.

Four years ago there was a misstep and the pain that came with it…physical and mental pain.  For two years I ran, I limped, I quit running to walk…then started the process over only to be hobbled again.  I finally went to the doctor.  A torn meniscus and early-onset osteoarthritis.  Bone rubs on bone in both knees and the orthopedic surgeon shook his head, “Not soon but if you live long enough there will be a knee replacement in your future.”  I walked and I walked but I couldn’t jog.  For two years I’ve walked or ridden my bike.  I wouldn’t do the marathon.

As much as I hated running, I missed running…still miss it…but I don’t miss it as much as I did Monday.  Why? Because on Tuesday…I ran.  I blame it on the song “Domino” by Van Morrison.  When I heard it over my earbuds, I wanted to dance but my dancing is worse than my running and I was on a public road.  Rather than having people think I was having a Joe Cocker ‘fit’, I took off jogging. Slowly, smartly and with no pain on the following day.  The day after, I ran again.  Alternating jogging and walking from mailbox to mailbox or driveway to driveway my lungs screamed but my knees didn’t.

Probably a mile’s worth of jogging split up over three and a half miles.  It is a start…it is running.

Both days, I argued with myself the whole time.  I was careful but apprehensive, waiting for a familiar twinge of pain.  Waiting for the throbbing ache when I finished.  Promising myself that if I felt an odd twinge or the throb I would quit and chase the foolish thoughts from my head.

Why am I taking the chance?  My “firetrucking” knees hurt when I don’t run.  They hurt when I sit around for too long…but they didn’t hurt any worse than they did after a four-mile fitness walk.  Still, why I wondered?

“Because I can,” I told myself.  Because I want to.  Because it allows an old man to dream a bit…to remember.    There will be no marathon…maybe, not even a 5K.  I may have to be satisfied with a mile jog, but it doesn’t matter.  I run because I can.  I run because it makes me happy.

Addendum

I awoke this morning with a twinge…of sciatica.  My knees are fine. ‘Iffin’ it ain’t one thing it is a thousand others.  I’ll test myself with a short walk and stretch.  If all feels good I run/walk a bit on a nice soft athletic field.  I’ll be smart…maybe.

The line ‘skipping the light fandango’ comes from the Poco Harum song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The complete lyric was, “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.”

…And since I’m on music and running kicks, get up, dance and enjoy the day.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer and can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from Canva

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Aging Gracelessly Redux…. 

 

Oh,  I’m feelin’ it this mornin’, the morning after my weekly visit with Hawk.  Five miles on the Swamp Rabbit, solving all the world’s problems before enjoying an after-walk cup of coffee at the Tree House.  That’s just in case it’s been a problematic week and we need more time to solve those problems.  Lately, they’ve all been problematic, and no one listens to us anyway…well, they listen to us at the Tree House and that’s one of the reasons we keep going.  They think we are the bee’s knees.

Yeah, I’m feelin’ it as in feeling old, very old.

I do about twenty-five miles of walking during the week hoping to put distance between myself and the ominous figure caring the old-fashioned scythe.  Despite my best efforts, the distance between us is shortening.  As Hawk continues to tell me, “We ain’t gettin’ out of this alive.”  No, but I’m going out kicking and screaming…just like he is.  I want to be a burden on my child and grandchildren for a long time.

Hawkday Friday is the only day of the week I set an alarm and it throws my whole system out of whack.  Aging creates creatures of habit, I guess.  I am so out of sorts waiting for the Big Ben to go off.  “Did I remember to wind it?” Am I the only guy who must get up two hours ahead of time to make sure all systems “are a go?”  Friday mornings my “systems” always send out messages.  “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” 

I take my wife a cup of coffee at five-thirty because she is as crazy as I am and invariably, she mutters, “I don’t know why in the “firetruck” y’all can’t walk at a decent hour.”  I don’t know either except that it is easier to deal with my own disfunction than Hawk’s.  “And besides, you went to high school with him and learned similar dysfunctions.” He wants to walk at six to keep away from the sun and just because. I want to walk at seven-thirty to get into the sun and just because.  Opposites do attract.

So, I’m up at three-thirty and feeling like a dead man.  I had trouble falling asleep.  Late at one end of the day, early at the other makes for a grumbly old guy.  I could blame Hawk’s goofiness but to be honest, it’s just as much mine.  “How long before the alarm goes off?”

Who lays awake worrying about lying awake?  I do, that’s who.  When my bladder drives me out of bed in the middle of the night I worry about when the alarm is going off.  “Don’t look at your watch, you’ll only worry about going back to sleep.  Don’t look I said.  You’re a dumbass, you looked.  Jeez, I gotta get up in an hour.”  I might as well get up now, all I’m going to do is worry about having to get up.  Jeez, forty-five minutes, thirty minutes, etc. and finally I fall back to sleep…thirty seconds before the alarm goes off.

I feel as though I have been beaten.  My aging body has become an alien thing…as alien as Ripley’s Alien Queen and just as nasty at times.  An ever-changing sack of tiny aches and pains, a “thousand little paper cuts” kind of agony.  Nothing major, just my sagging bag of bones letting me know what I did yesterday, maybe the day before, maybe the hit I took in a football game fifty years ago.

Once I jumped out of bed in anticipation of the day to come, now I ease-out, one toe at a time, hoping I don’t pull something before my feet hit the floor.

Sagging bag of bones…. Did you know besides your hair and nails, your nose and ears are the only body parts that continue to grow as you age?  I don’t mean stretch as in sag…that’s kind of funny looking.  It would be funnier if it was someone else. Damn you gravity.

I mean body parts that actually continue to increase in size.  God must have a twisted sense of humor.  If I live long enough, I’m gonna look like a caricature of Ross Perot…according to the mirror, I already do.  A truly loving God would have given me hope in another area and a reason to get rid of my big ole four by four.

Every morning I wake up as the dark-headed, dark bearded young man of forty years ago.  I walk into the bathroom and yell in my head, “Don’t look in the mirror.  Don’t do it!  Boo, you looked.”  The vision in my head is a mirage, replaced by the image in the harsh light of the mirror.  An old guy with a bigger nose and ears than last night, with less hair and more wrinkles turning into crevasses.

Still, as Hawk and I discussed, we are better off than a lot of our peers.  We’re still mobile, hostile, agile…and delusional.  Youth is a state of mind and we are still in diapers…or are heading back to diapers?  We still have a childlike wonder about the world.  We still wonder what we are going to do when we grow up.

I’m a gluten for punishment and out of habit I walk again this morning.  I walk alone with my earbuds until I meet a pretty blond runner, her long ponytail bouncing, blue eyes twinkling.  For a moment I remember being thirty.  As I continue my walk, we pass each other three more times.

Finally, I ask, “How far are you going today?”

A big smile followed, “I’m doing eleven.”

I shook my head and returned her smile, “I remember those days, long runs on Saturdays.”

“How far are you walking?”

“Near five.”  She smiled, gave me a thumbs up and shouted “Great job” before continuing on her way.

My heart melted a bit and I thought, “You know your knees feel pretty good.  Maybe a little running next week. Maybe if I’m careful I can do a marathon by the time I grow up.”  I don’t know, I’m sure a nap will cure those thoughts.

For the clarification of those who don’t live in the area:

The Swamp Rabbit Trail is a fitness trail that runs from above Travelers Rest, SC through Greenville, SC.  It was named after and follows the route of a short spur railway once called The Swamp Rabbit.

The Tree House is the Tree House Cafe and Studio, which sits next to the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Travelers Rest.  Great coffee, sandwiches, great service, and great company.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, non-fictional and fictional, and can be found at  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Lena Christenson, Don Miller’s feminine pen, has released a new book, Dark Tempest, a suspenseful romance with a hint of the erotic.  Lena can found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

The image, Old Man Loves Smoking Cigars, is by Greg Cartmell and may be purchased at https://gregcartmell.com/product/old-man-loves-smoking-cigars/