Your mother has never liked labels. No, not the kind on beer bottles, I mean the kind assigned to a person, like “hipster” or “prepster.” I certainly always resisted having labels placed on myself, but I also get irked when someone willfully boxes their entire being into a consigned, albeit idealized, space. Take “runner” for instance. Of course, running is a positive and healthy practice, but adopting such a narrow identifier is not only silly, its downright annoying.
Ok, so why the rant? Your mother has been “running” in some athletic sort-of circles as of late and has even signed up for a half-marathon, but is adamantly resisting the dreaded “runner” label. This is mostly because I don’t like to run (and, perhaps equally responsible for my resistance is the fact that being around people that “love” to run always makes my tail stiff and my hair perk). But I keep running anyway.
Ok, so why the self-inflicted torture? I’ve been reading a lot of runners’ blogs lately and a few of these athletes have come close to answering this question. Not one of them has hit the nail on the head. I am also self-aware enough to realize that such an elusive concept is impossible to explain in words, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. I will use my latest experience of my least favorite running method, the treadmill, to describe:
I woke up on Saturday with a wine hangover. Those of you that drink wine will understand why I have to qualify this hangover as such. After downing my first morning espresso, I saw a five-mile run on my training schedule and quite literally felt my stomach drop to my feet. “What kind of sado-masochist would actually do such a thing?” I asked my husband. No, it wasn’t asking, actually. Think Richard Dreyfuss’ roadside meltdown in What About Bob? That should give you a clearer picture. I sat on the couch with a 16oz. Starbucks and a 20oz. glass of water for the ensuing hour, hoping that one of these two magic beverages would work some sort of motivational miracle. I alternated between a guilt-ridden insouciance toward the workout and a guilt-ridden motivation to get off my a$$ and go. When I finally pulled myself out of this emotional purgatory, I put on my sneakers and walked out the door. My stomach took a serious free fall after the decision was made, and I stomped on it with each step to the treadmill.
After hopping on the machine I decided to rip the Band-Aid off and get right to it, inputting the speed to my maximum capabilities. No, I didn’t do this to become a faster endurance runner. I did this so I could be done running sooner. I turned up the volume on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and felt my blood boil at his misogyny, but my endorphins spiked because, well, because the beat is really fu%*ing good. I alternated between a therapeutic zone-out and an unrelenting urge to look down at the “Time Remaining” icon every two-seconds. I turned up the volume even higher in hopes that I could become so entranced by the music that I could forget I was willingly putting my body in a state of extreme physiological (and psychological) distress.
About thirty minutes into the workout I started to feel breathless, but pretty awesome that I was able to keep up the speed. That “runner’s high” was about to kick in. It was at this timely moment that some 40 year-old women with rock-hard calves jumped on the machine next to me. “She’s got nothin’ on me,” I thought as my competitive edge started to rev up. Ten minutes later I began to fade, but took a very “innocent” glance at this Barbie’s dashboard. “7.0! Really! What a bit*h,” I thought as I pressed the “cool down” button and found myself wishing there was a similar dashboard option for my head.
But despite the fact that I rode this physical and emotional roller coaster for two hours of my precious Saturday, I came away feeling satisfied. Now, Eva, I don’t want you to underestimate the power of pure satisfaction. It’s fleeting and difficult to come across; Mick Jagger even wrote a song about it. Finding it is akin to the search for the Holy Grail and it’s presence is so f*&king ephemeral. But the only time I ever come into contact with it is after a run.
So, Evangeline, I hope that someday you will put yourself through similar mind-f*9ks in search of this precious state of mind. I hope you torture your mind and body so wholly, not to budge the number on the scale or the number on your jeans, but to experience emotions that are otherwise lost upon the non-running world. I hope, too, that you will never call yourself a “runner,” but instead just a girl who needs to run because it’s the only way she knows how to be complete.