My first long run, longer than two miles at least, was in Army Basic Training. It was a non-trivial feat, even though I ran in cadence at a slow pace. My first truly long run was a few years later. I ran for an hour at a faster pace than I was used to. I achieved my first runner’s high. It was then that I understood and appreciated running.
Every place I’ve lived for the past decade, post-Army, I’ve found a worthwhile route to run regularly. I need it. When I first moved to NYC, the Upper West Side, I ran through Central Park a few times, but found running through Riverside Park much more pleasant. Time and time again, when the weather permitted, I ran through this gauntlet of sun bathers, BBQers, random sports players, dog walkers and other runners.
One of my favorite places to run was in the Bronx. My route was up through Van Cortland Park. I would run past hissing highways and past the golf course, past people fishing and under the canopy of trees. If you go deep enough, you can imagine an endless forest, and not the big city just around the corner. Or you can turn into the open part of the park where people play soccer, baseball and cricket. At the edge of the park was a place to do pull-ups, perfect for making the run back even harder.
In Spokane, Washington, I learned to love running by the Spokane River, a long quiet run by fresh, rushing water. And now, in Seattle, the bay is the perfect companion for a run. You feel the strong winds as ships of all sizes sail by.
Funny thing is, as a young boy, I thought people who ran just to run were odd. I enjoyed sports, but the few times I had to run, I found it immensely boring and even painful. It was only when I went into a smaller unit in the Army, where long runs and solitary runs were required, that I started to love running. That runner’s high I mentioned certainly helped, but I also had time to think or just space out as I got into my own rhythm and flow, my own meditative state, feeling my body and breathing in my environment.
When I run these days, I do so to clear my mind and reset to zero. I’m not gonna lie; sometimes I run harder than I should. Lung-searing hard, I try to see at which point my heart will hurt, because sometimes you have to run hard to forget your troubles and your failures. I’m just glad that my knees allow running to happen, allow me to forget for a moment.
One day I’ll be old, knees broken down and aching back, and I won’t be able to run to forget. Where will I be? What will I do? I suppose, I’ll be nothing but memories then, staring out a foggy window in my wheelchair looking at running paths in parks. I hope not. Until then, I’ll run.