Guest Blogger Ryan Novack

I am The Runner and I am Gross

Not being interested enough to research the topic, I would conjecture (and I’m being generous here) that approximately every 10 seconds in your city, a runner is doing something gross. In terms of the world, a second doesn’t go by when a runner is not expelling something gross, or releasing something gross, or grabbing something sweaty. Which is gross.

When not running, a runner might look and act pretty normal. There is that woman who you work with, for instance. The only hint that she is a runner is her uncommonly chiseled calves and thick, taut thighs. She is dressed well, holds herself with poise, confidence and class. She dons a crisp power suit, sans sweat stains, and leads a meeting, looking dapper and commanding. She composes herself at lunch with etiquette and always smells like a mixture of your favorite flower and freshly cut wheat.

Run into this same person in the park, however, and she’ll spit like your grandfather, or blow a snot rocket in the bushes with the accuracy and confidence of a sharp shooter.

That handsome, neatly dressed, dapper man you see charming clients in the office by day will, by late day, be pulling sweaty wedgies, scratching itches in deep dark places on his body, or stopping and placing his hands on the filthy city asphalt to stretch, only to wipe his faces with those same hands at mile six.

And that’s just the external aspect of a runner’s grossness. Runners are generally so hopped up on caffeinated gels, and fiber, and carbs, and water, and dried fruits, and processed, dense energy bars, and adrenalin and anxiety that they piss all over the place or create certain stenches and body odors unique only to runners. Or maybe the compost bin at the end of the week.

Given that the disgusting things runners do are so visually, audibly and olfactoraly (to create a word) obvious, I can understand why the non-runner might think that runners are gross. If this were all I knew of runners, I would also think that runners are mildly evolved, thrashing, sweaty beasts.

I’ll never forget last year’s SF Marathon where, at mile 21, I was stricken with a sharp, handicapping cramp in my nether region. Suddenly all of the muscles in the small area between my two most private of private areas clenched up like a fist, making me yell “ooooh” in a sort of yelp.  I wanted to quit. Untrue: I wanted to die. But, I had to finish the race.

So I stopped, put one foot on the curb and viciously starting rubbing the area with my middle and index fingers and making tortured noises and facial expressions. An unsuspecting, hung-over, hipster couple turned the corner holding coffee and eating their morning bagels. Our eyes met, and the first thing they saw through their dark sunglasses was The Runner, deep at work, poking and pushing on his taint, like he was trying to resuscitate a small forest animal in his shorts.

After seeing this display, the hung over couple looked horrified, confused and maybe even a little sad. I’m sure after they got home, they sat in silence, reflecting on the sight they just witnessed, and after they understood that what they just saw was not their fault, and not an indication that the end of days were near, they simply looked at themselves and said, “runners are gross.”

But The Runner knows how necessary it is to be gross.

It’s not easy to get up after a long day. I come home from work, and I sit down and eat a bowl of cereal. Then I watch The Daily Show. About half-way into the show, the cereal starts to settle, my couch starts to swallow me. My eye lids say, “suck it Ryan, we’re gonna close.”

When this starts to happen, the hardest thing in the world to do is to stand up off of my comfortable, sunk-in-the-couch ass, and run 5-8 miles through the park. But still, I get up, go out in the cold, or the dark and I run.

Anything that gets in my way is dealt with in the tersest manner. If the wedgie is wedging too much, I un-wedge it. If the junk is jammed, I yank it into place. If the nose is blocked, I expel. If the bladder is full and there is no restroom, I find a tree. And this is isn’t because I have some blatant disregard for human decency or etiquette.

Running hurts. But, I also know that it’s something I have to do for my sanity, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. Running, for me is a spiritual endeavor, and it clears my mind. Running provides me with the solitude to reflect on my day or to “preflect” on the next day.

Most importantly, I run for longevity.  I somehow met a very beautiful, smart and successful woman who decided to marry me. Therefor, it is my responsibility to stay fit and healthy so I can continue to be enjoyed by and to enjoy my wife for as long as I can.

So, the grossness is necessary, you see. If being gross helps me to achieve the above goals, there is no harm. If a little bit of grossness makes it so I can get back home and shake off the day by enjoying the spoils of my labor, eating home cooked food and giggling like a child as my wife and I retreat into our bubble at home, then bring it on.

I have learned to embrace the grossness, and I have understood that to be a gross runner is beautiful. We spend the majority of our days trying to hide the fact that we are humans, with human things that happen to us. We powder our noses, cover our mouths, put napkins on our laps, and sit up straight. To get out and run, gives us an opportunity shed that thin veneer of daily etiquette. For short stints throughout the day we embrace our raw human side and do things like sprint in public, jump over logs, kick up dust and breathe loudly through our mouths as if we are running like the hunted. Our hearts pound and our muscles scream.  What comes along with this, is both a literal shedding of stuff (sweat, fluids, etc.) and a spiritual shedding of the stresses of the day, the anxiety of the week, the weird concrete hardness that fills your muscles after a day of sitting, or the boredom of an afternoon.

The grossness of a runner is a testament to be proud of. It’s one of the many beautiful proofs that our bodies are working the way that they are supposed to be working, and that all of the effort that we go through to help our bodies work in the most optimal way is paying off. If you’re reading this, and thinking, “I’m not gross like that, I don’t know what he’s talking about,” you are either not a runner or you are in denial.  Celebrate the grossness, it’s a great way for us all to step outside of our egos a little and remind ourselves that humans are animals and when we allow ourselves to freely act like animals, our bodies respond.

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.