I didn’t intend to start running. It all started with a dog: Auggie. After the divorce, I decided that I should have a dog; something to sit at my feet while I worked. I had grand images of a pampered pooch splayed out on the rug, chin resting on my feet, always at the ready with some Norman Rockwell version of my life involving slippers and newspapers in his mouth.
Once I got him, I remembered that slippers made my feet sweat, and I read my newspaper online. All I was left with after I brought Auggie home from the SPCA was a floppy puppy that looked like a brown sack of bones. With ears and giant paws. And it was staring at me as if it wanted me to do something for him. So I fed him. He ate the food in a second. I watched him as he snorted and pushed my cereal bowl around the kitchen as if he was digging to the bottom of it for some unfound stock of food.
I began by taking Auggie on long walks at Fort Funston where he quickly learned to be off leash. I walked with my headphones on, and he sniffed and peed on the ice plant. On the beach, he’d chase the ball, and sniff the shells, touch the water with his feet and jump back as if it had bit him.
The walks lasted, at first, for about a half hour. After about the first week, the walks lasted an hour, and then about an hour and a half. Auggie and I explored different routes, weaving between trees whose branches had grown in an arch creating a tree-cave. We wandered around Funston’s different landscapes of beach and tens of trails leading back to the parking lot. No matter how much we walked, the six-month-old Auggie would not tire. So I kept walking him.
As soon as we got home, Auggie was a sandy, sleeping mess. A puddle of a dog lying at my feet while I worked for the rest of the day.
At the end of that first year, I moved from San Francisco to LA. Working from home three days a week, Auggie and I took daily hikes at Griffith Park at midday. The heat was a different challenge for me. At the time I was a larger statured guy. Being hairy, I come from a family whose genetics involves an intolerance to heat, our best defense is to sweat excessively, soaking any fabric that dares to stand between me and the outside world. The heat, however, was especially hard for Auggie, by this point a 75 pound, dark chocolate lab.
The first part of the hike was all tree-lined and shady. Auggie would run ahead, sniffing wildly, sneezing at the pollen from the flowers, peeing on the honey suckle and growling at the bushes. As soon as we hit the top of the hill, however, the trees vanished, and the sun struck us like a spotlight in the night. Auggie would immediately run ahead, diving into a bush with a worried look, panting heavily at me until I passed him. As soon as I’d get farther up the trail, he’d stay behind me for a while, laboring in my shadow until he’d sprint ahead for another bush.
These hikes lasted for about an hour every day. After two weeks, I began to test our abilities and see how far we’d be able to go. On cooler days, some times we’d last for two hours. I no longer despised the feeling of a beating heart, and a sweaty body. I noticed that my breathing worked in conjunction with my body and my heart in conjunction with my will to continue up the hill. The longer the hike, the more electric my muscles felt.
It was about this time that Nike and Apple got together to create the “Nike +”, a pedometer that hooks up to your iPod and tracks your runs. The second I saw it, I knew I needed it. Not only am I a whore for gadgets, but I was curious as to how many miles Auggie and I clocked on a daily basis. It turns out it was a little more than three.
After using the pedometer for about a week, I had a day where the slow, walk through the mountains seemed like a labor that I was not willing to do. Auggie, not being tired of the hike, stood at the end of my sofa looking at me with eager anticipation. Dogs, I had learned by this point, are creatures of habit, and while they might not be able to learn how to sit, shake or not chew your shoe, they somehow kept an impeccable sense of time and schedule.
I noticed a cheap pair of basketball high tops sitting in the corner of my room. They were white with a silver silhouette of Shaquille O’Neal on the tongue. Across the tongue, and across the Shaq silhouette was a Velcro strap. I had bought these when I lived in San Francisco for the purpose of pick-up games at the Pan Handle. They were twenty dollars at Payless. They were still perfectly white.
I figured that the main purpose for basketball shoes was to run in them, so I strapped them on, tucked the iPod pedometer in the side of the shoe, put on some old green nylon basketball shorts, and a cotton t-shirt.
I walked into the living room, and my roommate asked “where are you going?”
“I am going running.” I replied.
“You?” He asked.
“Yes, me. I’m going running.” Auggie, on the end of his leash, dropped down, resting his head on his paw.
“Have you run before?”
“In high school, we had to run the track. Yeah. I’ve run before.” I said defensively, kicking my foot backwards toward my ass and trying to catch it in attempt to stretch my thigh muscle. I missed my foot and stumbled over Auggie, who jumped to his feet. I caught my balance, leaned one hand against the wall, and bent over to pick up my foot.
“Good luck,” my roommate said with a smile.
“All of this hiking has gotten me in really good shape. I’m going to run like the wind.”
“Run like the wind then.”
“Well, don’t trip on those baggy shorts,” he laughed.
“Screw you.” I said and we jogged out of the house through the screen door. Auggie lagged behind wagging his tail at my roommate, and getting stuck on the other side of the screen door. Not noticing, I pulled on his leash and he whined as his head hit the wrong side of the door.
My roommate opened the door for Auggie, who came barreling out of the door toward me. “You’re going to need this,” my roommate said and went back inside. I flipped him off.
I walked outside and began stretching. Just like I had learned from my high school PE class. One hand on my hip, the other, like a ballerina, arching over my head. I pointed my fingers toward the neighbor’s yard and jerked my body awkwardly for about twenty seconds. I then touched my toes once, did a few fast heel kicks to my butt and decided that I was all stretched out. I was not all stretched out.
I took off jogging down the street. My feet slapping the concrete made a sound like a child running with swimming fins on at the local pool. My arms pumped wildly and I exhaled from my mouth in quick hard bursts, inhaling short intakes.
By the end of block, I felt as if I was slowly swallowing my tongue. My lungs tightened, my legs wobbled underneath me, and the arches of my feet ached. I checked my iPod. The lady’s voice chimed condescendingly by saying “You have run .18 miles. Current pace: 10 minutes and 48 seconds per mile.” In spite of my roommate’s condescending words whipping in my brain, I continued up the street, swallowing and panting.
Auggie pulled me, running hard. The only difference between my facial expression and Auggie’s by the time we hit the end of the block was his tongue was hanging from his mouth. Mine was in my mouth, barely. At the end of the block, I checked the iPod. “You have run .3 miles. Current pace: 10 minutes and 34 seconds per mile.”
I ran 0.6 miles that day. I felt every step as if each step had somehow come back and kicked me in my exposed lungs. I hated it. I felt miserable. But I wanted to run a mile. So I went again the next day.