Hitting my stride one step at a time

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hitting my stride one step at a time

July 22, 2004

Dear Leslie,

At the beginning of my 10-week quest to become a runner, a truth was revealed: Time flies except when you're running.

Lunch hours slip away before you can finish eating. Eight hours of sleep whisk by, leaving you craving another 10 minutes. But the second hand on your watch is in no hurry when you're running. Tick ... tick ... tick.

"The thing about time/is that time isn't really real," James Taylor sings. "It's just your point of view/how does it feel for you."

Like the second hand, I started becoming a runner slowly, two minutes of running and four of walking, repeating over and over for a half hour. Here in the seventh week, I am running nine minutes, walking one minute and repeating twice for a total of 30 minutes.

This is actually my eighth week of running. There was one remedial week when everything broke down. Maybe it was my resistance.

I have discovered the importance of warming up your muscles and stretching before beginning a run. I have not yet discovered the high many runners report experiencing, when running becomes effortless, but the ticking of the second hand no longer concerns me. Instead of being consumed with how long I've run or being bored, the motion and the exertion of my body now seem to free my mind to go wherever it wants.

Solitude is difficult to find. Someone, from your beloved spouse to people at work to the announcers on radio and television, is always wanting your attention. When I run, my attention is mine to place where I will.

A catalog filled with running gear has arrived in the mailbox, presumably because my purchase of a decent pair of running shoes qualifies me as a runner to advertisers. The catalog contains shirts and shorts that wick away perspiration. My cotton T-shirts and shorts are drenched in sweat after a run. There are high-tech watches that measure anything from lap times to pulse rates. And there are shoes, shoes for every kind of foot and purpose. Nike has a new shoe meant to feel like you're not wearing shoes.

In "The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life," Amby Burfoot writes about a runner named "Doc" Robbins who has run road races barefoot for 50 years. He only wears torn khakis and an old wool shirt.

Despite the lack of proper accouterments, Doc has won national championships and often has finished in the top 10 in the Boston Marathon. Doc's only concession is to wear socks if the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Burfoot's point is that in running, as in life, the answers are inside, not outside. Fancy running togs won't make you a better runner any more than designer clothes will make you a better person.

Next week, the plan calls for two 13-minute runs alternating with two two-minute walks. In three weeks, I'm supposed to be in good enough condition to be able to run 30 minutes without stopping.

That's a mere warm-up to serious runners. But eight weeks ago, running for half an hour seemed an impossibility. Now it is a possibility. The difference is just my point of view.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor for the Southeast Missourian.

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