After conquering the ability to run a mile, running for me became what most new additions to my life become: an excuse and justification to consume products relating (no matter how slightly) to that new addition. A few years back, when I decided to take up swimming, I bolted to the sporting goods store and reveled in the joy of discussing goggles, nose plugs and swimming caps. It didn’t matter that I had swum once for 20 minutes in the pool at my gym, it especially didn’t matter that I had next to ZERO knowledge about proper swimming form and no grace. The fact was that I was swimming and that was excuse enough to compile a bunch of S-T-U-F-F. The swimming hobby didn’t take, and for years I had a drawer filled with practically brand new swimming paraphernalia.
For running, I bought a pair of comfortable running shorts with built in underwear. This was one of the most exciting parts, as “all in one” products make me feel as if I am some kind of a superhero ready for battle.
I bought a pair of Nike shoes to fit my new Nike + gadget. The day before I bought the shoes, I had seen on the website that, under the insole, was a pocket for the Nike + receiver. When I used the Nike + gadget for hiking, I had, using a knife, carved a hole in the bottom of my shoe, under the insole to fit the receiver. I then covered it with a thick sheet of Duct Tape. The idea of fitting my receiver into a premade secret compartment satisfied me to no end.
I bought runner’s socks, anti-chafing glide, a water bottle, and a lot of Strawberry flavored Energy Drink, which I later learned tastes like Willy Wonka’s vomit, and never used again.
I decided that I wanted to be the kind of guy who ran in rock and roll t-shirts with the sleeves torn off. A sort of homemade muscle shirt. I found this hilariously ironic. Rummaging through my old T-shirts, I found a black Slayer shirt from the concert I had attended a few years back when they came to the Warfield. The concert, for me, was ten percent nostalgia, and ninety percent anthropological experiment. On the front of the Slayer shirt, was a large red eagle holding a pentagram. On the back was a list of all of their tour dates. I also found an old Guns and Roses shirt and, in apparent shortage of metal T-shirts, a blue Wilco shirt.
I tore the sleeves off, leaving frayed ends of strings and jagged seams. All of my shirts were cotton despite the advice from the Bostonian lady at the sporting good store who said that I should get sweat wicking shirts because, as she proclaimed, “cotton is rotten,” which came out sounding like “Catton is Ratten.” For a hat, I used a simple black baseball hat.
For Auggie, my 80 pound chocolate lab, I bought him a red handkerchief, and a new red leash with reflectors on the handle. The label said it was especially for running. It was, in reality, was just a leash with reflectors.
I set my sights on the Silverlake Reservoir, a (roughly) 2.5-mile, roadside loop in LA’s Silverlake district. The course took the runner around a park, a dog park, the reservoir and through a suburban neighborhood. In terms of scenery: actually pretty boring. However, the promise of maybe seeing a celebrity heightened the anticipation, making it tolerable at its worst.
Decked in my new shoes, and my Slayer shirt, and running gear, I felt like I was ready for my close up.
The first two minutes, my breath was even and paced. I put the music on my headphones, providing a heroic, introspective soundtrack to my run. The music in my headphones, by the way, did not match my shirt, as I had stopped listening to Slayer directly after the listening of it had stopped pissing off my dad (at age 15) and I decided that I was much less prone to violence and mosh-pits, and much more attuned to shoe gazing, independent rock bands, or sad-bastard-acoustic-guitar-guy rock.
Auggie trotted along, prancing like a show horse. He was so distracted by the new scents that he was constantly in danger of barreling into an old women or tying up a celebrity in his leash. From time to time, Auggie would stop suddenly in front of me to sniff a discarded burger wrapper, lamppost or flower bush. I found myself at constant risk of tripping over him, and launching myself, skidding onto the concrete. I yelled “Auggie, NO” every five minutes, and yanked on his leash. This all made it hard to keep an even breath and I found myself panting and anxious.
I shuffled past the dog park, and hit the small incline. I slowed down a little, feeling the burn in my legs and lungs. After the hill the course flattens out, and the scenery turns from a row of cool shops to a row of flat-roofed houses. Having just conquered the hill, my blood was pumping and I began to sweat a little. For a few minutes, I was sucking in air in hard, labored bursts.
A guy passed me who I thought might have been Jason Lee, but I realized that it was just a guy with brown hair.
I ran along for about another half mile, my pace picking up, my feet kicking higher, and shuffling less. Coming to the curve before the big hill, I knew that I had hit the halfway point. I had already gone a mile. The novelty of the new route had apparently passed for Auggie, and he kept an even pace ahead of me, dragging his tongue happily out of the side of his mouth. I had stopped breathing heavy, and my lungs felt like they were settling into place.
What follows after the halfway point is a steep hill about the length of a city block. I put my head down and headed up the hill. Auggie sprinted in front of me, pulling and panting as the leash tightened in the distance between us. I pumped my arms and bent my head toward the top of the hill, struggling with each step.
Half way up the hill, I felt as if my leg muscles would fail, and my lungs felt as if they filled with sand. I walked the rest with my hands on my hips taking deep, desperate breaths and saying “Whoo.” Any gust of wind sent a cold shiver through me as it mixed with my now soaking wet shirt. My black hat had also sweat through, and, as I picked up running, began to drip sweat from the brim on the concrete in front of me.
The psychology of seeing so much sweat convinced me that I was fatigued when I hit the top of the hill. My ears began to pound in time with my heart, and I had an unnerving thirsty feeling drying out my mouth.
After the hill, the path passes a children’s playground, and a narrow side street heading back to the car. Despite the growing tightening in my muscles, I shuffled my feet in an impersonation of a jogger, and finished the run.
My foray into my first 2.5 miles took me over 40 minutes. I practically tore the door off of my car clutching for my water bottle, and Auggie’s water bowl. I poured water in his bowl, and watched him bury his tongue in long, uncontrolled laps of drinking, breathing hard and splashing water everywhere.
I pretty much did the same thing, but without all of the licking. From a distance, it must have looked like I was trying to eat my water bottle. Once I got water in me, my desperation turned to a sort of calm. My burning muscles rested in to place. I was done. I felt like I had accomplished something. My blood seemed to flow happily in multicolor bursts through my beating heart and veins.
Driving home, the music in my car stereo sounded different, like I was hearing it inside out, and for the first time. It was wonderful. The wind whipping through the windows felt like a vacation, and sounded like applause. I felt positively post-coital.
At first, I ran three days a week, hiking on my off days. After two weeks, I began to notice that my watch hung looser on my arm throughout the day, the first sign that I am losing weight. My jeans needed a belt, my shirts hung on me awkwardly. When I went to visit my Mom, she said, “Honey, you look like you’re losing weight.” I did not take this to heart, because even at my fattest moments, my mother tells me what an Adonis I look like. However, when a female friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen in a while, told me that I looked thinner. I calmly said, “Oh, thanks,” but inside my head, “We are the Champions” by Queen echoed loudly.
With the advent of this new recognition, I felt even more inclined to run. I noticed that I began talking about running during conversations. I used running as a metaphor even when it was awkward, and barely appropriate: “You see, “ I’d interject into a conversation, “the debate about the Iraq war is like jogging…”
Regardless of my shallow intentions, I actually began to look forward to running. I started running four days per week, running the reservoir twice around each time.
With the Nike + pedometer, when you run a mile faster than the day before, or if you burned a lot of calories, the voice of a famous athlete comes over your headphones and congratulates you. Lance Armstrong’s voice, for instance, comes on and says, “This is Lance Armstrong. Congratulations, you just ran your fastest mile.” In his voice, there is real excitement, he sounds very impressed. I understood the insincerity in this, yet I silently brimmed with pride every time I heard his voice. After each run, I paced nervously, secretly hoping to hear Lance tell me how great I am.
By this point, I had replaced my rock and roll shirts with sweat wicking shirts. While I missed the style aspect of running in a torn Slayer shirt, cotton truly is rotten and the function of sweat wicking shirts replaced the form of metal shirts.
In the mornings, my tibia and calves were sore, making it difficult to walk for about the first two hours of the day. Looking online, it was recommended that I buy a tibia band and a Styrofoam roller. I immediately (and excitedly) went to the sporting good store, buying both.
Auggie and I soon synced up. I had gotten to the point where I could calculate the exact amount of space between the people coming toward us, and Auggie’s nose Mathematically, I knew exactly how much give to give to the leash, how many times, and at what speed I had to wrap his leash around my hand in order to keep the other runners out of danger. Together, we telepathically moved in unison like a six legged, two headed running machine. His breathing was my breathing. After our runs, if somebody complimented him, and in what good shape he was, I knew they were talking about me. We were the same beast.
It was after I began running five days per week that I finally called myself a runner. I remember it well; I was at dinner with friends in LA. Somebody at the table who I hadn’t seen in a while asked me how I had managed to lose weight. I’d lost ten pounds by this point. I responded by saying, “I run.”
“What?” he replied.
“I run.” I repeated. The restaurant was very loud.
“One more time, sorry man, I can’t hear in here.”
“ I said I’m a runner.” I yelled. “I run.”
“Oh, all right” was all he replied with, but I was stung by my words. They were true. And for once, I realized that, what began as an attempt to garner attention and oogling by women had quickly turned into something that I truly enjoyed. The next day I ran the reservoir three times at a record speed, and Lance Armstrong told me that I was a stud.