I could fill a book of things in life I dislike. Just shooting from the hip, I’d say: Chuck Lorre’s lack of creativity, iTunes as a media management program and every character Bill Paxton has ever played. I come to grips with these items of enmity by avoiding them — there’s no point engaging in something that makes you miserable (Weird Science and Tombstone being exceptions to this rule) — and it’s avoid-ability that keeps my disdain from becoming hatred. That, and there’s dispassion; I don’t need to honor things with my hate. In my mind, the amount of vitriol required for true hatred should be reserved strictly for things I have found unavoidable, like running. And I fucking hate running.
Like clearing gutters full of mushy leaves or negotiating with a car salesman, every speed step of running infuriates me. From the moment I set off to the second before it ends, my psyche centers on my loathing; it creates a cognitive dissonance that would stagger Festinger. Just writing about it causes my jaw to tighten. Committing to a run feels as if I’m volunteering for a beating. The anticipation of lingering pain in my calves and a fear of the dreaded shin splint take center stage. A more logical man would simply huck his Asics in the trash and find another way to shed weight, but my rationality has determined that running is unavoidable. There’s an odd draw to the things you obsessively hate.
When I was a kid, I was fast. Sprinting came easily and nothing felt better than leaving friends in the dust. I anchored relay teams and enjoyed minor success at the 100-meter dash. This meant I was quick on the basketball court and had a great vertical; however, as soon as distance entered into the equation, I was lost. I’d get winded early or develop a side stitch and, unable to punch through that first wall, would give up. Instead of developing the cardiorespiratory fitness needed to outlast, I worked on my fast-twitch muscles to outrun. But my cultivation of speed and power, it turns out, doesn’t lend itself to mid-life pursuits. Now, every neighbor comes home on Sunday morning with a marathon medal around his neck. No one is competing in the 100-meter dash.
The amount of vitriol required for true hatred should be reserved strictly for things I have found unavoidable, like running. And I fucking hate running.
I want to enjoy running as a cardio activity that’s helpful in maintaining a healthy body, and so, I’ve tried to reconnect with running on numerous occasions. But, I can’t shake the hate. Because the fast-twitch of my youth was never tempered, my stride, I’ve come to learn, doesn’t lend itself to the endurance and stamina needed to chug along for more than 10 minutes at a time. I know how to sprint, but I never learned how to run. I run on the balls of my feet, leaning forward, like a man impersonating a bull. Even when I walk around the house, sans souliers, I use only the front third of my foot — a trait that still makes my wife giggle after 15 years. As such, when pounding the pavement for any length of time, my calves are instantly overworked and I end up on the shelf for almost a week. I’m barely able to climb the stairs to shower away my post-run shame.
I’ve also never lost myself in a run. That blissful runner’s high remains mythical to me. I think I’ve flirted with it a couple of times, but like sleep that just won’t come when you’re worrying about catching zzz’s, it has only toyed with my mind without taking root. Instead, I plod along with my terrible form and exasperated shallow breaths, attempting to count sidewalk slabs to divert my disdain towards the run, and to hopefully make it end sooner.
Recently, I hit the streets for a stab at changing my mind, and I spoke with runners about their beloved activity. I had to know if I was missing something obvious. Did they always enjoy it? Almost every one of them reacted the same way: they laughed knowingly and blurted, no. It had been a struggle for them, too. More than one conceded it took them years of continued torture before any kind of elation would stick. And that sounds terrible.
In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall argues that our bodies evolved to become efficient machines for distance pursuits. Our need to outlast prey at full trot to provide dinner for the family, has now morphed into an activity of leisure — partly to ensure continued success in the field, but also to foster social activity. While I don’t subscribe to his footwear beliefs, his anecdotal science and our anatomical construction are convincing. So why am I still ostracized from the pack? Shouldn’t my genes have been phased out by starving hunters a few millennia ago?
I’m still here because there’s merit to the sprinter. Maybe there’s an essential survival skill buried in there: be the predator that strikes fast, not the long and slow stalker. The distance guys can run in their svelte, sinewy bodies with their sustained pace, but I’m sticking with fast and strong. My bucket list doesn’t include completing 2:45 marathons or experimenting with ultras. Yuppies, go have your fun and get your shiny medals — I’ll be at the track, bringing back the 100-meter dash.
In trying to love running, I spoiled myself with some goods to help stifle the hate. It didn’t abate my hate, but that’s me. I loved this gear, and it got me through my attempts at running in cooler temperatures.
Asics Gel Kinsei 5
Asics’ flagship, the Gel Kinsei 5 ($141) is designed to provide maximum cushioning with directional stability to keep your stride on track. The Fluidride forefoot has proven to be comfy pillow while I work on my stride, keeping shin splints at bay.
Nike Elite Graduated Compression OTC Running Socks
Compression technology helps fend off sore muscles by providing added support. The Nike OTC Compression Socks ($45) have undoubtedly saved my calves from being completely hobbled at least once.
Aether Apparel Welded Fleece Pants
If early mornings or running at dusk is your jam, cooler temperatures could cause extra contractions. Aether’s new Welded Fleece Pants ($145) are fleece lined with a soft, flexible, jersey exterior. Sonic-welded seams make for easier articulation and mean less bunching while you run.
Aether Apparel First Light Jacket
A breathable soft-shell jacket is a must for every runner. It keeps the rain off and the warmth in without stifling your core. Aether’s new First Light ($250) jacket employs sonic welding construction here too, to eliminate stitchery and deliver an impeccably lightweight outer layer. A concealed vent between the shoulder blades dumps heat effectively and matte black reflective tape abounds to keep you from becoming a hood ornament.