When you try to run when you’re out of shape, it’s a tough slog.
You drive past real runners out on their morning run: slim, lithe, light on their feet, they skim on the surface of the road, like water-bugs on a pond. They practically skitter. They look good in their running clothes. So you think, I’ll run when I get home.
You pull in the driveway, head inside, pull on your running clothes (why does this shirt have to be so snug around my middle?), and immediately you feel like a fish out of water. The clothes don’t feel right on you. But you brush your discomfort away and head out the door. You jiggle in more places than seems normal. You spit and sweat and huff and puff like you’re really angry at something. And your feet feel like you have concrete shoes on: not just that, but you’re wading in thick clay, and you feel like you’re just about ready for a walking break but then you notice you’ve only been running for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
So you keep at it. You’ve decided that this time, for real this time, you’re going to start a pattern of fitness that you’ll stick to. You’re not going to give up at the two-week mark, like you’ve been known to do. No, this time is for real. You want to get Fit by Forty, and you only have 728 days to do it.
Plus, you hear that some people actually like running. Not you, of course. Running is just a means to and end; a necessary evil; the painful payment required to have a healthier body. But you’ve heard a legend that, when some people run, they feel God’s pleasure. They actually run because they find a certain thrill in it.
You shake this thought from your head. Sweat and spittle fly with the head shake. You’re just a bit dizzy. Your legs hurt now, and your feet hurt, and your chest hurts. You’re breathing hard. You’re nearing the halfway mark, where you usually take a walking break.
Then, for one fleeting moment, it happens.
For a second, it does actually feel good. You feel like you don’t need a break—that you could keep going, and going, and going. You feel the breeze in your face. Your body hurts, but at the same time it feels good. You feel strong. For a moment a memory comes back to you: You’re a teenager, downhill skiing. You’ve been at it all day and now it’s night. The ski hill’s lights shine bright in rows like streetlights. You feel the freedom of the night air on blowing on the ski hill, cold on your face. You’re sweaty under your ski jacket, and you feel simultaneously warm and cold, and you feel alive. You’re flying down the hill, like you could just keep skiing all night. There’s a girl with you: she came to ski with you. She’s a the first girl you kissed, and you kissed her nervously on the ski lift just a second ago. You’re fourteen.
The cool air blows on your face, crackling with the first hints of winter, blows through your sweaty hair and you realize with a start that the memory is 24 years old, that it’s laid dormant in your brain for more than half of your life now, but it came back like it had happened yesterday. The thrill of the run fades again, and you hurt all over, and you want to stop, and you don’t feel strong, rather, you feel old and fat and tired. But you smile a bit.
As you run home through the night, through the sleeping neighbourhood to your sleeping runner wife, you smile, because you felt that thrill for a moment. And it actually really did feel good.