Monday, October 15, 2018

A few things that aren't running

I don’t have any apps on my phone, I’m not on Snapchat or Instagram, and I don’t hashtag my blog. I don’t necessarily say these things with smug pride in my superior independence from techno-nonsense, but I admit that if the last of these were something I did, it might be easier for me to calculate just how many of my past blog posts have focused on running. When I first started blogging, all of my posts were about running—in fact, the name of my blog had been “Babe Runner,” which only switched to “Electron Woman” when my negative way of thinking dominated everything else, and finally became my name after I became a published author (and after the meds tempered the worst of my bleak attitude). Throughout these changes in writing focus, running still occupied a major part of my life. I met my husband through running, a lot of my best friends are runners, and always in the back of my mind I’m pondering the eternal question: what race am I doing next?

And yet in recent years I’ve increasingly been writing about many other things, in large part because my life is many other things, not just running. It has always been many things, but for a while there running was the only thing I cared about deeply enough to make the center of my writing. It’s exciting to live life with that kind of intense focus on a single pursuit. I’ve done that. But ever since my latest running-related injury—my left knee, which braced the rest of me during two falls and finally gave out two BQ attempts later—I’ve been doing a lot of other things, too, things that aren’t running but still provide their own type of satisfaction.

Cheering on other people while they run. The first time I got injured running and had to volunteer at a race instead of running it, I thought I was going to hate it, like being the understudy to the lead in the play and never once getting a chance to shine. I didn’t hate it, not at all. Since then I’ve cheered on other runners as a volunteer, as a pacer for long ultras, and in a sort-of-vaguely-parental-but-I’d-prefer-calling-it-friend role for my stepdaughters. A couple weekends ago K’s youngest got a solid half-marathon PR in Peoria while I screamed and shouted and rang a cowbell. Yeah, I was that person. Luckily, this was Peoria, where everyone is Midwestern-nice, so they chuckled appreciatively when I yelled “GO RUNNERS! RUN FAST TO ESCAPE THE OBNOXIOUS COWBELL LADY!”

One of the toughest things to do in this world is to feel genuinely happy for people who get things you don’t. I haven’t gotten a PR in any distance in years, and I’ve failed spectacularly on my one big running goal. That doesn’t matter. My personal glory is irrelevant. People I know are accomplishing great things. That’s pretty cool all by itself.

Walking. There was a time when I would have rather sprinted off a cliff than made walking my preferred form of exercise. Just witness the way runners—everyone, really, except those who do it—treat race walkers. There’s always a faint smirk that accompanies the congratulations given to someone who wins the walker division of a race, no matter how impressively fast their speed (and I’ve seen walkers who finished 5Ks faster than the majority of those running). I’m not looking to walk any races any time soon, if ever, but I have rediscovered how magnificently a walk in the woods can clear the gunk out of your head. I say “rediscovered” because I used to do a lot more of it, though through the concrete jungle rather than the woods. In Manhattan, you walk. You don’t drive because, well, it’s Manhattan; you don’t take cabs if you’re trying to save money, and you don’t take the subway if you feel like you may lose your shit if you’re trapped in another crowded train car with broken A/C. And you don’t saunter, either; you walk fast. You want to show the world how you clearly have somewhere important to be, even if it’s just a miserable little cubicle doing a job you hate so much you secretly wonder (oh blasphemy!) if it’s really worth the slow, painful death of your soul to live in New York.

It wasn’t. I left. And now I walk, not to show anyone anything, but to enjoy being alive. I get that with running, of course, but it’s different. No matter how fast you walk, pretty much every mode of transportation you can undertake on land will be faster. This means you really can’t be in a hurry when you walk, and that means you experience it differently from so many other activities fighting for your time each day. It is a bit like the difference between devouring a meal you picked up at the drive-thru on the way home, finishing the last salty, greasy morsel when you pull into your driveway, and eating dinner in France. Three hours later, oh look, it’s not over yet; there’s cheese. Don’t get me wrong, eating onion rings right out of the bag as you drive home is delightful, especially after a long run, but there’s something to be said about having room for a wee bit of brie. I’m not sure where I was going with this, but in any case, walking? Good. Cheese? Also good.

Riding. Lest you think I’ve gotten all wussy in my impending old age, rest assured: I am still, to paraphrase, looking for adventure in whatever comes my way. Because you’re never too old to try something new, I recently rode a motorcycle for the first time. It was terrifying. As we hit 55mph, I wondered why these things were even legal. Yes, I had a helmet, which would no doubt preserve my severed head nicely once when we crashed into a metal guardrail. I’m still here, obviously, so I survived, and I’m going to ride again. Perhaps this time I won’t even need to scream so much.

So there you have it. There is life after running, or at least I think there is, since I’m not yet in the “after running” portion of my life. Running will happen, and running posts will be written, though they’ll likely share the spotlight with cowbells, cheese, and middle-age badassery