Last week I wrote about the fact that even though I hate running, I continue to do it. I feel compelled this week to delve deeper into the misery, because as I thought about it over the last seven days, I don’t think I adequately described just how much I despise the activity. Last week’s post didn’t even begin to plumb the mental depths I navigate for the approximately 25-30 minutes that constitutes my personal, voluntary hell.
I’ve read many accounts of running, some by able-bodied runners and others by people with limb loss/difference. The one common thread they all have is that running is rewarding and enjoyable. It opens new avenues of self-understanding and satisfaction that non-runners can’t possibly understand.
I’m a runner. And I dispute the conventional wisdom. Let me show you why.
Alarm goes off. Stare dumbly at smartphone emitting the sound. Need to start moving immediately if I’m going to beat the heat and humidity. Consider the options – run in relative comfort or expose myself to energy-sapping conditions. Conclude that reading emails while half asleep is correct course of action. Slow-moving mind tells me that it’s theoretically possible incredibly important info found its way into my Inbox between midnight and now.
Morning blear in my eyes prevents me from focusing on the screen. Repeatedly ram my fingers into my eyeballs to clear my vision. Sum total of this effort reveals there’s nothing there in either my work or personal email that warrants delaying the agony. Curse my stupid phone for not providing me compelling basis for skipping the pending run.
Hop out of bed. (literally) still holding my phone. Hop to dresser. Pull running shorts, running shirt and sock (only need 1) out of drawers while trying to keep eyes mostly shut because don’t want to be awake. Start hopping into bathroom holding clothes and phone. Drop latter on floor. Curse phone for falling out of my hand. Bend over balancing on one leg and pick up. Eyes now fully open.
Hop into bathroom where running leg rests against wall. Sit on bathtub ledge and get dressed – shorts, shirt, then sock. “[Expletive deleted.] Eyes-closed sock selection process has resulted in knee-high dress sock instead of ankle-high running sock. So dumb with fatigue I didn’t notice. Curse my sock-selection incompetency.
Hop back out to dresser. Return dress sock to drawer. Select running sock. Hop back into bathroom.
Now I’m fully awake, save for the accumulated crust of a night’s sleep still resting on my eyes. Put on my running sock, and slide into the running shoe that’s designed to function like I’m running barefoot. (The thought that Nike built an empire on designing shoes with massive cushioning and shock absorption between 1970 and 2009 and is now expanding that empire by selling shoes with exactly the opposite characteristics from 2010-? flashes through my brain, as it does every time I put this shoe on my foot.) Curse Nike.
I spray rubbing alcohol on my liner’s seal and roll the liner onto my leg. Curse the fact that it took me over a decade as an amputee to try wearing a liner. Liner is particularly awesome when running, as I’ve experienced none of the skin breakdown and pain that skin against socket used to produce.
Step into running prosthesis and screw valve into socket. Turn on cold water and splash into my eyes to fully clear vision. Swallow multivitamin that reminds me that I’m not young anymore. Drink small cup of water. Curse my age.
Tread quietly downstairs with running leg. Quickly dab sunscreen on my nose and face. Unlock and open door and step into blast of superheated and dripping air. Good God. I do this why? Curse the weather.
Walk down driveway feeling for any areas of pain that may provide excuse to not run. Can’t identify anything severe enough not to try. Notice that my driveway is full of earthworms dying what looks like a painful, slow death. Empathize. They look like I will feel in just a few minutes.
Cross street so that I’ll be running towards traffic.(Ever since my accident, I’ve decided I’d rather see what’s about to hit me rather than get caught unprepared.) Remind myself that I’ll feel good when I’m done in 30 or so minutes. This is my mental zenith. It all goes to Hell from here.
Start running. Immediately regret decision and curse myself for thinking that this was a good idea.
First two tenths of a mile are a long, gradual uphill. Curse the location of my house. Curse the location of this hill.
Remind myself that my next house will be at the top of a hill so that when I leave it to run I get a nice downhill right off the bat. Remind myself that the future house also simultaneously needs to be at the bottom of a large hill so that when I return home, I can end on a long downhill. Acknowledge likely impossibility of this and decide instead that I must own two homes, one at the top of a large hill, the other at the bottom. Future running will consist of running from the first house to the second. Congratulate myself on my brilliance. Then curse the financial constraints associated with my stroke of genius. Decide that I’m not a genius. Curse my stupidity.
I have run 100M.
Feel discomfort in lower back and right shoulder. Tell myself that back will loosen up shortly and try to relax my shoulders, which I’m holding rigid. Curse the pain.
Remind myself to stay off the heel of my one foot and land towards the toes. Look for a mailbox that I can use as a target to aim for. Blow little bursts of air up towards my nose to try to knock the tiny bugs flying around my nostrils and mouth away.
Puffing and blowing doesn’t work. Now I’m out of breath. Curse the difficulty of my Lamaze-like breathing and simultaneous running. I have reached the first mailbox. I have run 300M.
Notice that the grade of the road is now higher on my left side than my right. This didn’t use to matter when I had two legs. But since my prosthesis is a fixed height and I can’t compensate for that in any way, have to hop slightly upwards on my right leg in order to make sure that the running foot doesn’t catch on the ground and send me sprawling onto the asphalt.
Breathing more labored. Curse people who designed this road to be higher on the left than on the right. Inconsiderate bastards, every one of them.
Knock off two more mailboxes. Two dogs go bananas as I pass the second one. Don’t even look at them and couldn’t identify them if I wanted to. Gaze locked about 4 feet in front of me. Curse the owners for letting their dogs out so early to bark and distract me from cursing other things.
Get quick respite from higher left side issue because of driveway pitch and the subsequent difference between the edge of the asphalt and the lower grade of dirt and weeds to its left. Now my right side is about 3 inches higher than my left. Revel in this change for 10 seconds. Then curse the height difference and move back onto the blacktop with both legs. Curse the absence of a sidewalk or bike line.
On the bright side, all of this has brought me to the top of the hill and to a short but nice little downgrade.
Cross road and peel onto private street that’s dirt and gravel for 100M. Curse the fact that my feet slide on the gravel and that I can’t get good traction. Curse the fact that there’s a giant pothole in the middle of this road that I can’t fully avoid. Curse the road for ensnaring my car during a particularly large snowstorm earlier last winter. I will never forgive Gravel Road for trapping my car.
Curse the transition from dirt and gravel back to blacktop and the speed bump that forces me to focus on my steps shortly thereafter. Curse the sun beating down on my back, as there’s little tree coverage here to protect me.
Observe rabbit darting ahead of me. Hate the rabbit for having 4 legs. Hate the rabbit for being able to run into the brush and stop running. Lucky [expletive deleted] rabbit.
Turn off private street and make right onto paved road that has another long, gradual uphill. Curse the uphill. Curse the fact that there are no mailboxes or telephone poles that I can use as goals to run towards. Settle for areas of sun and shade as targets. Estimate my heart rate to be somewhere between 245 bpm and cardiac arrest.
On the other hand, my back and shoulders don’t feel so awful because the desperate sucking for air that I can’t get into my lungs quickly enough distracts me from small things like permanent spinal trauma.
Reach the top of this second uphill and am thankful for the long, gradual downhill that comes next. Then curse the fact that (a) the downhill section goes by far too quickly and (b) is immediately followed by a short but steep uphill. Also curse the fact that running downhill requires me to brake slightly with my sound foot, leading to quickly developing blisters (multiple) as I slam against the front of my running shoe because I didn’t tie the laces tightly enough. Curse myself. Moron.
Finish climbing the short but steep uphill that takes 3 seconds in a car and 30 seconds of agonizing, lung-blasting trauma on foot. Arrive at the top and feel no satisfaction.
Lift shirt up and wipe my dripping head with it. Curse the fact that this exposes my all-too-flabby midriff and immediately drop the shirt back down. Curse the fact that I haven’t adequately rubbed the sweat off my head and that the rivulets of salt water running down my face combined with my half-assed sweat-wiping activity have now allowed the sunscreen to bleed into my left eye, causing excessive tearing and pain. Curse sunscreen.
Slow down to a barely-moving jog to recuperate. Pray that no one can see me right now, moving at a glacial pace to the end of this section of my route.
Enter the penultimate stage of this slow-moving horror show. Road is heavily shaded, which is good. Thick woods on either side, which is bad, as a small plague of tiny flying insects congregates somewhere between 1 and 3 cm away from my eyes, nose, and mouth. Blow uselessly at them up towards my nose to keep from inhaling them or trapping one inadvertently in my eye. Curse the bugs.
Feel the sunscreen now bleed into my right eye. More eye-watering and pain. Curse the weather and my own sunscreen-applying incompetency. Also curse the sunscreen. Again.
Measure the road yet to cover mailbox by mailbox. Curse the distance between the mailboxes.
Feel my shirt moving wetly against my body and making a bizarre squelching sound. Curse the squelching sound.
Round the bend to reveal my street. Curse the fact that there’s a 15 yard uphill to get onto my street. Will myself across the street and into the final 400m.
Run towards my house, which, blessedly, is down a winding hill from this direction. Observe the construction of the new McMansion replacing the 1950’s era brown-shingled house which previously nestled itself discreetly into the woods. Curse the fact that the lot has been blasted into submission, woods replaced by gaping flatness that soon will be heavily landscaped yard space, complete with new sod and huge patios.
Pass the construction and curse the fact that there’s nothing interesting to observe now that it’s behind me. Run downhill and feel my foot again slamming against the front of my shoe, increasing the amount of skin that either will come off my foot or that has done so already. Curse my lax shoe-tying practices. Again.
Entire the final 100 yards. Curse the fact that I’m once again on a slight uphill towards the rock that marks my start and end point. Try to hold the increased pace of the final downhill through the last 100. Curse the fact that my right leg feels like jelly and that despite what feels to me like a world-class sprint, my 13 year old could easily keep up with me at this pace and probably leave me in his wake if he really wanted to.
Reach the rock. Stop. Put hands over head. Walk across street to my driveway. Again observe the earthworm corpses and debate whether the departed earthworms are in a better place than I am.
Walk back up driveway to my house. Stagger inside to the welcome blast of AC. Pour glass of milk and add chocolate syrup because I read a few weeks ago that chocolate milk has been declared better than Gatorade immediately after a run. Curse the fact that this is as close as I will get to cooking this week.
Feel the sweat pooling around the end of my residual limb inside the liner. Estimate a good inch of liquid in there. Curse the sweat.
Curse the fact that I need to repeat this hideous effort at least 2-3 more times over the next 7 days.
That, folks, is what running is really like. But I do feel better afterwards. Truly.