It may be because I've finally realized how out-of-shape I've been getting or it may be as corny as being inspired by the recent Beijing Olympics, but I've started running again.
In my very early teens, I took up cross country as a fall sport, and the two-mile in track for the spring. I used to enjoy the routines of junior varsity running - lacing up the Adidas, stretching, heading for the track. Every day the coach would have tacked up a different set of instructions, and there was a certain passive pleasure in submitting to each day's regime, e.g., "Monday: 1 mile warm up, 4 880s, 8 440s, 4 220s, 1 mile warm down" (a speed workout), or "Tuesday: 2 mile warm up, 1 1-mile, 1 2-miles, 1 3-miles, 1-mile warm down" (a distance workout). For the uninitiated, the first number is the number of reps and the second the distance in yards or miles. But in my later teen years, after the hormones kicked into high gear and I discovered the pleasures of sex and drugs and rock and roll, I forgot about running.
I rediscovered the joys of jogging in my late 20s in Atlanta. The National Park Service maintains an excellent multi-use trail along the Chattahoochee River with "mileposts" every quarter mile ("quarter-mile posts?"). It's essentially a two-mile loop, with a half-mile lead in/out, for a total of three miles. No hills, other than a gently rolling stretch near the 1.5 mile mark. I got to the point where I was running the loop twice for a 5-mile workout, and really kicking it on the final leg back.
My interest came and went and came again, and I continued to run on and off during the years I was away from Atlanta. I would meticulously map out road courses by driving around, noting the quarter-mile marks on the odometer on my car. My distance stayed in the 3 to 4 mile range, but I got my average mile time down to under 7 minutes, then 6:30. Certainly not competitive times, but good enough to give a 30-something runner a workout. I ran these paces through the hills north of Albany, New York and through the streets of Pittsburgh, PA before moving back to Atlanta.
In my first years back in Atlanta and now in my 40s, I returned to the NPS course along the river and even ran a few 10K road races. But then, I somehow lost interest in running, and let my gym membership expire, and as I entered my 50s I got slower, got older and got rounder, and basically came to accept it.
Until last week. For reasons I can't explain, suddenly I was overcome with the desire to put on some sneakers and head back to the river (maybe it was catching a profile of myself in the mirror when I came out of the shower). I went to the 3-mile river course during a weekday afternoon, stretched a little, and started a slow jog along the old familiar path.
Oh. My. God. After the first half mile, I hit the wall and couldn't run any more. My lungs were burning, my sides were cramping and my legs felt like rubber. I walked another half mile and then started running again, even though I still hadn't fully caught my breath. I only managed a quarter mile that time. I then walked another half, ran another quarter and then walked all the way back to my car. I took a long nap that afternoon.
Last Labor Day, my legs having recovered from three days rest, I headed back to the trail, determined to do better. I manged to run three-quarters of a mile this time before I had to walk again. After walking another three quarters, I ran for a half mile, walked for a half, ran for a quarter, and then walked the final quarter back to my waiting car (I think that's three miles). Another long nap. That evening, as I sat cross legged for an hour during my Monday night Zen Service, my limbs felt like jello.
I'll head back out to the trail again this weekend. I will try to add a quarter mile to my initial run each time out - a mile next time, then one and a quarter, then one and a half, and so on until I'm running the whole three miles again. Slow and easy - get the distance down first and worry about the time later.
As a young man, I used to laugh at magazine articles I saw with titles like "Fitness Over Fifty," wondering why anyone would bother after 50? But now that I'm here, and now that I've started again, I can't imagine why not bothering.