On Running On

I’ve started doing a bit of running. Ah there I go again, making something small and stupid-looking sound cool and interesting.  

It’s actually too strong a word to call what I do ‘Running’. It’s much more of a ‘Flopping and gasping from Point A to Point B in the Most Ungainly Way Possible'.

It’s awful, in many ways, but still I find that I like it and, like one of those old Country and Western singers might mumble as they raise the microphone to their bearded lips,  “I wanna tell you why.”

(cue slide guitar)

I’m 48 and I’ve never run in my life, apart from the odd burst to catch a bus or to escape autograph hunters.  That’s why I think it’s worth writing a line-or-two about the accelerated shuffle which I can now achieve.  You may well be just like me.

I believed I could never run.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with me – nothing that would stop me running anyway.  It’s just that, anytime I tried to run anywhere, I would get fifty metres up the road quite fast and then would come to a destroyed halt, breathless and stunned.  No I couldn’t run. Not me.

But I needed to be doing something.  (That’s an Irish sentence-construction, I meant it).  I have a family history of heart trouble that would make a cardiologist blush, plus I’m knocking-on a bit, plus the considerable amount of walking I do never seems to quicken my pulse or knock the wind out me.  Maybe I was doing it wrong but walking, for me, was too damn easy and if I was to do enough of it to make it work, then that was taking bloody hours.

So… I needed to try running.

Here’s how I made it work for me.

First, I did it late at night, under cover of darkness, when fewer people would see me.  That’s important to me, I don’t like looking like a gobshite.  Second, I looked up some beginner-running schedules on the internet.  They’re good because you only start out by running for something like thirty seconds and then taking a break – even I could manage that.  Thirdly I followed an excellent piece of advice from Eamon Coughlan, one of Ireland’s greatest runners, which I heard on the radio.  He said, “Run for as long as you can, as slow as you can.”

With these three things in mind, I set off.

I ran for thirty seconds, I timed it on my phone, and then I stopped.  I didn’t need to stop at thirty seconds but that’s what the internet programme said, so that’s what I did.  I walked for the requisite time and then ran again – as slow as I could.

I didn’t get very far.  My heart was working and my breath was coming hard and fast.  It was awful really.

The next night, I ran for a little longer.

And the next night.

And the next.

Six months on, it’s still not pretty – matter of fact, it is decidedly unpretty but who cares?  I keep running a bit longer every time.  Sometimes I don’t manage it but most times I do.  There have been weeks where I haven’t run but I try to go out at least three times a week.  I even venture out in daylight now but I hate meeting people and I still find it embarrassing.

These days I run for about 20 minutes then walk a little bit then run again.  The odd thing is that I don’t really have to stop running after twenty minutes – my legs don’t hurt, I can still breathe and my heart is not failing on me.  It’s my mind.  My mind keeps telling me that I cannot run, it shouts it at me as I am trudging along and I have to ignore it.  I humour it by only doing a little bit more every time and that seems to be working. 

But the mind is a powerful enemy.  Every time I start to run/jog/whatever it is, I know I will have to stop after thirty seconds.  I know it.  It’s just that I don’t.  Not these days.  These days I keep going, despite what my mind tells me.

And it’s hard.  Don’t let me tell you it’s not hard.  But I needed something hard to do.

Benefits?  I think it’s mostly self-esteem, at this stage.  I’m learning how to run, something I thought I could never do.  I don’t think I’ve reached the speed or distance where major health benefits would accrue but I’m getting there and exercise is exercise.  I don’t know much about Endorphin rushes, all I know is when I’m done and showered and watered, I feel at peace.  I know that  sounds all self-aware and bullshitty but it’s true.  It’s a nice feeling, after the run/jog/whatever it is.

The reason for writing this is obvious.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Start slow, hide from the world, build up slow.

It’s good.

(I did it again, didn’t I?  Made it sound all cool and powerful, like a Rocky montage or something.  When I run, it’s a horrible horrible spectacle, an embarrassment, an outrage against sporting types everywhere… but I’m running, me, running… can you believe it?)

(I can’t. )


Mummadoc said...

Well done Ken. I'm not a natural runner either. I hate it as much now as I did when I started. In fact, for the past few weeks I've been 'on a break'. But it's all in the mind, isn't it - sometimes I trick myself by saying I'm just going to go for a walk in my trainers. Feels good when it's over though. Like I said to you once before, you just have to think of it as a necessary part of life, such as cleaning your teeth. It's just got to be done. *sigh*

maybepoet said...

I am a fan of the fast, uphill walk because my poor old knees are shot from doing marathon's and 15yrs of cross country. I live within 2 miles of the 'White Peaks' on the staffs moorlands and am spoilt for choice. I love the image of a middle aged scribe doing some nocturnal staggering and gasping. My own ration of pain comes in the form of a 5 mile row 2-3 times a week where I push myself to virtual collapse - pain is cleansing, isn't it?

William Dameron said...

Ken, like you I am 48 and drew the bad luck genetic lottery card of high blood pressure. When I run, my blood pressure improves significantly. I am running for my life.

What helped me achieve greater distances was interval training. run fast for two minutes, slow for three minutes. Also, listening to music takes my mind away.When the right tune comes on at three miles, it pushes me to go on.

I have slacked off lately, thanks for the reminder. It will do my heart good.

Rachel Fox said...

Well done for sticking with it!

Jim Murdoch said...

I haven’t run in years, not even to catch a bus; there will always be another bus and I live (deliberately) two stops from the terminus where there are always a whatever-the-collective-noun-is-for-a-conglomeration-of-buses gathered bumper to bumper. And I don’t think I’m going to start. I do need to do some kind of exercise because since I stopped working the only part of my anatomy that has been exercised on anything like a regular basis are my fingers, well, most of them since I don’t actually touch-type. I’ve been an asthmatic since I was about four and although I did some running at school—I was actually the fastest in the school over one hundred metres—I was never any good at long distances or even moderately long distances; two-hundred metres was by upper limit.

I used to worry about my heart—my dad had two and the second one finished him off—and I even went to the doctor a couple of times to have heart pains investigated but apparently my heart is as strong as an ox’s and it was my digestion that I had to concern myself with. Despite living a sedentary life I do actually live a healthy one: Carrie monitors my diet—I’m only a few pounds overweight—and I never overindulge in anything, not even work these days. But I still should get out of the house more. Carrie bought me a DSLR camera a while back (two years? three years? who knows) and I keep saying I’m going to go out and take some photos but, to date, that’s all I keep doing and I don’t even do that that much because I might actually end up doing something about it.

I’m reading a book about creativity at the moment—and fascinating it is too—but one of the things it talks about is the benefits of getting away from work scenarios for a while, not to get away from the work but to allow the right side of our brains to have a crack at the problem. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while—I have a two-part post on the benefits of boredom coming up shortly—but reading this has really done a lot to help me realise that keeping ones nose to the grindstone—although it may seem commendable—is not necessarily the most effective use of our time and energy. So I’m curious if, on your daily runs, you’ve had any surprising moments of insight or clarity or whatever you want to call them. Needless to say this is not the only way to stimulate creativity and trigger ideas and the book talks about how the long slog can also work but more of that once I write my review; I’ve still got about two-thirds of the thing to read.

Ken Armstrong said...

Laura: Very accurate. My mind throws up all kinds of roadblocks, particularly when there are other people around. "You look like an idiot" "Walkers are overtaking you" (not true) "You are ungainly and everybody is talking about you and laughing at you. My mind is my best friend and my worst enemy I guess.

Mummadoc: You have been a great influence in all of this, as I hope you know. I am suitably grateful.

maybepoet: You are in a different league to me on a different planet. I am full of respect for the ways you push yourself.

Bill: I do push hard at the end of the run and am always surprised in what remains in the tank. I will try as you suggested, thanks.

Rachel: Thanks mate. I hope nobody reading this ever sees me doing it, they'll be disillusioned. :)

Jim: Honestly, I don't think I have any any startling insights or moments of clarity. Once or twice, I have drifted away from the actual running effort and noted my mind going elsewhere. Generally, though, my brain is filled with the alienness and discomfort of what I am trying to do. This may change as I get a bit better at it.

I *do* find, however, that after the run, I get to a calm place where creativity comes quite nicely. That part is good.

Art Durkee said...

I do some of my best thinking when I'm walking, or driving across the countryside. Long roadtrips often yield good work, in the end. (Even if I don't feel like it at the moment.) I learned years ago that I work best by NOT pushing my nose to the grindstone, but by taking lots of short breaks. Stepping away from the writing table is exactly when things start to flow.

I think a lot of writers have this idea that persistence is everything, that you can force your way through any block. There's a famous quote that sums it up: "Writing is easy. You just stare at the blank page till the drops of blood form on your forehead." I think that's bollocks. Just as I think its bollocks that you have to be either messed-up mentally, or a drunk, to be a great writer. The archetype of the Damaged Artist, if you will.

I think these ideas are dead wrong, and do a lot of harm. Not to say that writing is all sweetness and light: we all struggle from time to time.

But that's why going off to do something else for awhile can be so fruitful. I think of poet Stanley Kunitz, who was a lifelong gardener. He spoke many times about working in the garden helped his writing. I've discovered the same thing to be true for me; when I'm out in the garden, I feel reconnected to life, and when I come back inside there's a glow that transfers to my creative work.

I can't run. Physical disabilities prevent me. But I do take long walks, and ride bicycles. When I was younger I used to think nothing of riding my bike 25 miles or so. (I'm working to get back to that, now, after everything that's happened to me.) Long walks are very fruitful. As you say, the give the chance for the right brain to go over things while your attention is elsewhere.

Paul Carroll said...

The big question, though: would you advise it? I'm a terrible runner. Running for the bus kills me, and I hate it. That actually puts me off trying to run at all.

Also, there's this whole thing that when I try to run and I'm not actually *going* anywhere, I feel stupid. Like, I get running somewhere, as a form of transportation, but just running for the sake of it... sends shivers down my spine!