I have a confession to make: I call myself a runner, but I have not actually run anywhere for exercise — or any other reason, for that matter — in five years.
It’s not a laziness thing, not really. I mean … yeah, OK. It’s sort of a laziness thing. But it didn’t start out that way. It began one late September afternoon on the Lakewalk, on the portion by East High School. I was out for one of my typical runs: three, maybe four miles, at a pace not much faster than a quick walk.
I had just turned around at the high school when a group of runners caught up to me. Teenagers passed on either side, laughing amongst themselves, chattering and generally enjoying their run. More passed … then more … then a few more …
I made a token effort to keep up, but within a few blocks, even the stragglers of the group passed me. At the end of the pack, a young man complained loudly to his running partner that he wasn’t a runner, he threw shot put and discus. Why did the coach make him do these long runs? He was never going to be a fast runner; why bother? Then he passed me.
Very soon, the leaders of the group thundered back from the opposite direction. From bits of conversation overhead as they raced past, basically a few words at a time hitting me in a weird doppler effect, they had already run two miles out and were heading back to the school.
I have a high level of confidence in myself — whether or not that is deserved is another matter — so I was surprised when I arrived home feeling defeated. I decided to allow myself to wallow in that feeling for a few days. A few days turned into a few weeks, then a few months. Winter arrived — one of those winters that got real cold, real quick — and I had a good excuse to stop altogether.
The truth is, I’d been noticing for a while that I was slowing down. I had never been fast in the first place — not even when I was the same age as the students who lapped me — but it had never bothered me before. I laughingly called myself “The Waddler” and went running anyway. Looking back on it, I expect I was ready to be done with running and just hadn’t internalized it.
I participated in other forms of exercise for a few years, but it has declined to the point where I now call a stroll around the neighborhood “adequate exercise.” I have the good fortune to be healthy and capable of more, I just … haven’t.
I’ve been missing how it feels to run and exert myself, especially the last few autumns. There’s something unique about taking in deep, rhythmic breaths of autumn, when the crisp air tastes like leaves and lake.
A few weeks ago, on a late August day that felt like fall, I went for a hike. Inspired by the early autumn feeling in the air, I carefully broke into a slow lope-like run. I maintained it for a quarter mile, happily breathing in the feeling of autumn, then dropped back into a walk.
Everything hurt the next day. My hips hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt. My elbows, for some inexplicable reason, hurt. I expected this. The first day of exercising is always the most difficult. But I did it.
So my initial statement that I haven’t run anywhere in five years wasn’t entirely true. I’ve run a quarter mile three times in the past few weeks. I have also nursed sore muscles all three times. It has yet to become easier, but I’m happy with the progress, and feel I am mentally ready to call myself a runner once again. I am The Waddler. I will carry on.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at email@example.com.