The Runner is Moody

I am The Runner and I am moody.

Ryan Novack

After running for a few years, I have noticed a direct correlation between lapses in running days and the amount of deep, frustrated breaths I take.  My lingering anxiety tends to linger longer the longer I take off from running, and my mood can be poisonous at worst, and childish at best.

My wife Rachel and I both teach in public schools in our area.  We wake up at 5:30 AM to educate, congratulate and discipline scores of rowdy, apathetic, needy, confused teenagers. Being moody around a bunch of teenagers can make everybody’s day longer, as a teenager usually fights fire with fire and can out-moody even the best huffer and puffer.

This moodiness can be especially unbearable at home for Rachel.  The other day, for instance, I was at the tail end of taking three days off from running, something I rarely do.  It’s 10PM and Rachel and I are on our way to bed, and I am finishing the dishes. Under the running water, Rachel drops into the sink, Tupperware from her lunch with the lid on it, and a plastic fork on the inside.  Considering that the plastic lid was on, the water splashed up, splattering my shirt with tiny cold dots that soaked onto my naked skin underneath. I close my eyes and let out a heavy breath in the way that every stressed out, irritated man has done since the beginning of time.

Had I not had a coffee urn in my hand, I would have done that thing where I pinch the bridge of my nose, as if pinching the bridge of my nose is the only protection keeping the world safe from me going on a spitfire rampage.

I open the Tupperware and am instantly hit with the rancid, acidic stench of old, sweaty, cooped-up tomatoes and onions and quinoa stink. I see red.

This Tupperware infraction is a small thing, but at this moment, feels like a betrayal of every vow we made on our sacred wedding day.

Here’s a script of what was said:

Me: “Baby,” (pause to let her know how irritated I am) “can you PLEASE (over emphasis on the “please” because I want her know that the please is sarcastic and I was not asking, but TELLING her to…) take the lid off the Tupperware before you put it in the sink.”

Rachel: (with a laugh meant to bring the appropriate amount of levity) “Oh, come on, you do that all the time, and I never say anything.”

Silence. Like the silence between the wails of a baby’s cry. My wife does not understand what I have just been through and I am entirely ruined.

I will spare the boring details, because, let’s be honest, irritable arguments are never worth repeating. But the point of the story is that these tiny infractions lead to a large argument spanning the rest of the evening, a stand off (I won’t talk first) the next morning, and all through the next day at work. This fight involved a hyperbolic amount of crossed arms, and shaking heads. Terse texts were passed between us, and niceties and pet names such as, “I love you,” or “boo-boo,” were replaced with choppy, non-capitalized texts such as, “what’s for dinner?” or “what time will you be home?”

After work that day, with a grudge in my heart, and my stupid male defenses up, I went running alone. With each mile, my tightened resolve to be right in this situation loosened up, and was replaced with a flooding of regret for overreacting with the Tupperware-in-the-sink-with-the-fork inside incident.  What I had previously seen as betrayal blew away and was replaced with the reality that Rachel’s putting of the Tupperware in the sink, with the lid on it and a plastic fork inside was not a betrayal, but simply an act of purging today’s lunch dishes in the sink so they can become tomorrow’s lunch dishes. With each mile, I gained empathy and understood the irrationality of my feelings, and saw my reaction for what it was: a crabby response to my three days off from running.

I instantly came home and begged for forgiveness.

I can’t explain it, and I’m sure it’s entirely irritating to a non-runner, but when The Runner does not run for a while, something in his body changes. It tightens up. After a good run, The Runner feels effervescent, relieved, relaxed and accomplished. 30% of the time the runner experiences some kind of minor epiphany or revelation. 60% of the time, he forgets it. After the first or second mile, the runner’s problems feel less concrete, and more fluid. The world, which can often make The Runner feel like he’s walking up the down escalator, suddenly seems to work in conjunction with his feet and his breath. The music in his headphones makes more sense, and the people he passes seem to smile more, and nod their heads in affirmation of his efforts.

If you rob the runner of this experience for even two days, his body becomes restless. His leg muscles conspire against his body and gain a firm grip on his emotional triggers. His nerves become irritable and provide poisonous ideas for his brain, convincing him to react poorly, in cliché outbursts, and generally to act as a very bad version of himself to whomever crosses his gravely path.

Ryan Novack has been a San Franciscan for 14 years,  and lives with his wife, Rachel and his dog, Auggie in the Inner Richmond District. For his living, Ryan is a public high school teacher, who teaches English to the wonderfully bright, enigmatic, idiosyncratic and bombastic youth of San Francisco.  Ryan runs through Golden Gate Park most of time, but can also be found sweating and panting his way through the Presidio and Crissy Field.  Ryan decided to become a runner when he was 30 and got a dog. Coincidentally, Ryan had 30 extra pounds to lose, so the dog became a motivator. Auggie and Ryan started by hiking, then walking, then running slowly, then running slowly, but at long distances. Eventually Ryan lost all 30 pounds.  Ryan’s first Marathon was the San Francisco Marathon in ’08. He has done the SFM every year since and sees it as a tradition to keep him motivated during his summer break.  In total, Ryan has completed 4 Marathons, 4 half Marathons and 1 50K race. Ryan can usually be seen running behind his beautiful wife, and his beautiful dog. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.