I’m 46 and out of shape.
I’m not fat, per se (nor have I ever really been), but I’m hell and gone from anything you could credibly describe as fit. While my wife scrupulously feeds our family a robustly healthy mix of stuff, I still find myself eating a ton of crap, and I drink entirely too much beer — and will pointedly never drink a “lite” beer. During the summer days, I was spending a lot more time with my kids, which meant ice cream almost every day — and I partook as well. This is not a sound plan.
I’m also at something of a crossroads. It’s been a bumpy year (to put it mildly), and I’m under a lot of pressure. I’m looking to focus. I’m looking to streamline. Not to sound too much like Travis Bickle, but I need to get organized.
So, given my penchant for excess, the threat of encroaching girth, the spread of silver across my scalp and various other worrying factors, I started ruminating about the concept of taking up running.
I walk absolutely everywhere, but that’s just not high impact enough. If I’m going to fine-tune, I’ve got to do something more.
Back in the 90s and into the 2000s, both the wife and I had gym memberships, but my daughter’s arrival in 2004 put a stop to all that. A decade later, I simply don’t have the time — to say nothing of the money — for a gym.
So, one recent night, after crowdsourcing some feedback from my friends on Facebook, I set my alarm for 7 a.m., with the intention of going for a run.
When the alarm started chiming that next morning, I cannot say that I was exactly rarin’ to go. I ended up lollygagging for another 15 minutes before getting up and slipping on a pair of black Nike running shorts that I probably hadn’t worn since forsaking my Crunch membership in 2004. Next came a pair of short white socks and my ancient-but-still-sturdy pair of New Balance running shoes, which I haven’t worn since my last championship game pitching for TIME Magazine‘s softball team in 2005. Slipping on a white t-shirt, my ensemble was complete. It was time to do this.
I decided to forego the iPod. As much as my life is basically ruled by music, I thought this return voyage into the long-dormant realm of my physical fitness should come with as little distraction as possible. Still feeling somewhat ridiculous in my running attire, I slipped out the door and off I went.
I stood on the northeast corner of Washington Square Park and looked west. It still being relatively early, the byways were largely clear of pedestrians or NYU students. The only other people out were seemingly dog-walkers and members of that elite fellowship I was seeking to join: runners.
I figured I should stretch, but — honestly — I didn’t really know what stretch to do. I did some stupefyingly rudimentary stretch-approximations for about ten seconds each (a decision which would invariably come back to haunt me later that afternoon), and off I went….
I started off at a slow trot. I’m not doing this to break any records or enter any half-decathlons. By the time I reached the Washington Square Arch at the mouth of Fifth Avenue, I was surprised how simple it felt. Though they hadn’t hit the pavement in some time, my New Balance kicks were still providing me with a sufficient amount of spring with each step. I was literally off and running.
As I rounded the corner onto Washington Square Park West (a.k.a. MacDougal Street), however, I started to feel it. With each step, I felt the impact. I felt it in my knees. I felt it in my sternum. I felt it in my lamentably curvaceous torso. Each pounding foot on the pavement came with an innard-worrying jolt. I felt my ponderous 185 pounds in each stride. My body was starting to wake up and evidently wasn’t fully onboard with my plan.
I didn’t want to pause, though. If I could just make a single, complete, unbroken lap of running — even at this comparatively unhurried pace — I would consider it a good start. Other people can do it without pausing. Why couldn’t I?
Rounding the corner onto the south side of the park (Washgington Square Park South, a.k.a. West 4th Street), I suddenly flashed back to the summer of 1980 at Great Oaks, a sleepaway camp I was sent to in Oxford, Maine. Myself and the other campers were huddled on a dock that extended onto a black, ice cold lake. Our task was to dive into the water, swim to the bottom and grasp a bit of sand or dirt. When we swam back up and broke the surface, we were to vault our hand up and display said dirt, demonstrating that we’d successfully made it to the bottom. When my turn came, I jumped into that forbidding black water, but couldn’t seem to successfully propel myself downward. I flailed and fought the disorientation, but I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — make it to the floor of that lake. I gave up too soon and broke the surface with a dramatic gasp, my hands uncontaminated by sand or dirt. “That’s going to be a problem, Mr. Smith,” said our incongruously portly councilor. I felt ashamed. Thirty-four years later, I still do.
Melodramatic? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to give up like that ever again. I was going to complete this full loop without stopping.
By this point, my breath had settled into a nice rhythm, punctuated by an emphatic exhale on every fifth step. As I rounded the last corner onto Washington Square East (which turns into University Place), I felt confident. I was going to make it without stopping.
I’m sure there are droves of you reading this who think this is ridiculously laughable. If my statistics are correct, the perimeter of Washington Square Park only equals half of a mile. If I can’t run a half-mile without stopping, how can I face myself?
Well, that’s just it. That’s why I’m starting this.
I made it back to the spot I started from and yanked back the throttle into a wobbly walk. I’d completed my first run around the park, and was now feeling it all over, especially in my legs. While I was hardly in a dewy glow of a victorious marathoner, I felt a slight twinge of accomplishment. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s a start.
Let’s see if I can keep it up.
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