EXTRA! SO VERY EXTRA!

Runner’s Calm

In Depression and Mental Health, Somewhat disjointed rant... on August 31, 2014 at 3:11 am

I run on the left side of the street. That’s a habit born of having my ass slapped by the driver of a car coming up behind me once when I was running on the right side.

The first step out of my house is always the hardest. I have to fool myself. One part of my mind knows what is coming. The other part is too busy thinking mean things about me. My body is in total disagreement with anything that involves more than flipping through Buzzfeed.

But, I do it. Because I am sick of bullying myself mentally. The best way to fight a bully: fight back. I usually choose light weight clothing. Not today. I wore a heavy-weight t-shirt and those terribly hot track pants that go swish when I move.

I don’t track distance anymore; I track time. I usually power walk for a good bit before I run, but not today. Today has been a day full of frustration and anger–mostly directed at myself, but some at others (if only for good measure). I hate working out inside. I need outside. I need the challenges of heat and insects and cracked pavement and looming branches and cars and overgrown thorns and hills.

I started running almost immediately. Not jogging. I cannot jog. I’ve tried and I fail most miserably. It’s painful and I find myself curling forward into the pace of it. No, I need running: with my chest open and my back straight and my knees high and my feet swinging back. The first few steps, I can still hear the self-doubt, the self-hate, the self-loathing. But, then, the inevitable stitch creeps up my right shin. I have a funny gait that I constantly have to readjust. I was really thin as a kid; where some kids have baby fat, I had baby thin. And, I never really moved my hips when I walked. I had no need of it. But, baby thin wore off. Adult me still hasn’t quite gotten used to my woman proportions. To compensate, I bear the weight on my right leg whether I run or walk.

The stitch is painful, like I pulled taut an imaginary thread that connects my toes to my fingers. But, I don’t stop. That one part of my mind knows that the stitch will ease. I’m not running to ease the stitch; it’s almost welcome. Every part of my mind is screaming OWWWWWWW. I always walk downhill. In my mind, it takes far more control to prevent my 180 pounds from barreling down a hill at top speed. No, I power walk down hill. I run uphill. I set my goals by mailboxes. At the first hill, I decide to stop at a forest green mailbox. I always stop, take my pulse, and have celebratory swig from my camelbak. Within 10 seconds, I want to feel at least 30 beats.

I live in the Piedmont–the foot hills of Georgia–so there are a lot of hills. Lots of chances to silence my self-loathing. The second hill is more severe. My pulse is high, so I don’t push it too much but just enough to make my thighs hurt. But, suddenly, I don’t care about that. I am reveling in–and sharply thankful for–enough youth and health to do this. This particular hill is the one that forces the longest recovery. I get myself back to a power walk with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Good and that lasts through the third hill.

I’m hot, but I wish I had started a half-hour earlier before. Late August in Georgia means blazing hot days, humid afternoons, and cool almost Autumnal evenings. I wish that I had started in the humid afternoon. Sweating it out goes hand in hand with running it out. My stress sweat smells terrible and bitter; my running sweat smells noticeably cleaner. So, I can tell when I’ve pushed myself beyond the stress. Today, it happened at the top of the third hill just before I turned left to make the fourth.

My workout playlist is an odd mix of styles that I put together with no other requirement than that the beat be fast and heavy so that I can keep up a good pace. That means there is a good bit of techno. I never bother to learn the names of the songs. But, as I was pushing up the fourth hill, one of my favorites came on. The chorus (I guess it is still a chorus–even though those are the only discernible words in the song) goes, “Torture. Kill Me.” It was then that I realized that I would have to do a fifth hill.

It’s one thing to run past the pain in my legs and butt. That will yield the almost pleasant dull ache tomorrow that reminds me of what I put myself through today. The real mind game comes with running past the pain in my lungs. My pulse is fast; but not dangerously so. That’s the point of the cardio–to improve my heart’s ability to recover. But, the primordial part of my mind (where I register basic gut things like fight or flight) doesn’t know that. It thinks I’m going to die. And the only thing that I hear, the only thing my mind registers, the only thing my body understands is: MUST MAKE IT.

I know better, but I agree that I must make it back to my house for a hot shower. My skin is warm, my breathing is strong, my mind is alert, my sweat is evaporating in the odd breeze. I’m not dying. But, I will have to make another hill no matter which way I choose to get back to my house. It’s a smaller hill and good for a close. My shirt is soaked; my synthetic pants have done their best; my camelbak is wet from the sweat off my neck and hair.

I probably did push myself a little too hard. My eyes seem to be beating in time to my pulse. But, there is nothing to be done at this point but cool down–until my pulse is at or just under 20 beats in 10 seconds. I walk back to my house in the gathering dusk. Everything is in sharp relief: the little irregularities in the pavement, the speed and headlights of an oncoming car; the almost non-existent tightness in my lower back; the slight smell of coming rain; the gray-purple of the sky.

I listen to Misty.

All the self-doubt, self-anger, and self-loathing are afraid of me now. They are silent. This is the point I need to reach. I run from me and return back to me. Runner’s calm.

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