One foot in front of the other

by Stephanie on August 2, 2012

I used to hate running. I hated it like I hated mornings, or sitting down to start an essay. The threat of dawn invoked dread. Impending deadlines made me want to curl up on myself, clutch at my knees, like a caterpillar being poked in the belly. And putting on my running shoes, stepping out into the frosty dark or the smothering heat of summer just for the sake of getting tired and sweaty seemed absurd. Hateful.

I was not a sporty teenager. I found high school PE classes loathsome (often because they were) and with the exception of the weightlifting team I never made the cut for competitive sports. I rode my bicycle regularly for a couple of years, but only out of necessity. When I lived in Brisbane I started going for long walks because I had spent so much time sitting at my desk, writing, that sharp pains had started shooting down the back of my leg. Walking seemed to help, so I walked. I bought runners to stop the shin splints I got from so much walking. Until that point I hadn’t owned any for a decade. And then in Cairns, a few years ago, I tacked onto the stride of a tiny, nuggety woman in pink lycra pants who was jogging along the Esplanade. I hadn’t even decided to run, it was just what felt right. A couple of kilometres later I was at the end of the track, euphoric and incredulous, my legs numb and the muscles vibrating like rubber bands.

Still, that was the first and only time for a long time that running brought any kind of immediate exhilaration. It’s different when you’re travelling, when going out means you get to explore new cities, or dusty red-dirt roads, when you have things to stop and look at, and someone to jog around with and talk to. When I was at home and running was exercise pure and simple, I didn’t find it soothing; I found it stressful. When it wasn’t stressful, it was monotonous.

I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when things changed, or even exactly what changed. But the catalyst was a decision. I got sick of my own malaise, my own half-hearted enthusiasm. I decided: I am going to get better at this. To get better at something, you have to practise. To practise, you have to make time. You have to put on your shoes. Go out into the cold. Put one foot in front of the other. And for a few weeks I didn’t notice a difference. It was still hard. It was still cold. But while I never forgot that I hated it, I wasn’t focusing on that any more. I focused on improving. I focused on running further, running faster, getting up the steep hills without stopping, getting to the point where it didn’t hurt so much. And then, perhaps because I’d stopped looking for it, looking at it, it stopped being hateful. I thought, this is a thing I can do by myself. This is a thing I can do and it doesn’t have to hurt. And when it does hurt, that doesn’t have to bother me. It doesn’t mean I’m failing, it just means I have to think a little more. Practise more. Consider what my body is doing. Try again.

Writing is like running. The more I run, the more I write, the more parallels I see between them. Writing is like running is like getting up early in the morning. Discipline is as discipline does. What discipline does, discipline learns. Get up early in the morning. Write. Run. Meet deadlines. Make the distance.

I ran my first half-marathon three weeks ago and in the aftermath/recovery period the cold I had been holding off for a month saw its chance. I haven’t been properly sick for years and the first thing I noticed was how much I wanted to go running. I wanted the cold air in my lungs. I wanted my muscles to burn. I wanted to feel all that energy rushing through me. Electric. Elemental. Because sometimes running seems easier than everything else in life. Sometimes running seems like the only thing that has purpose, has direction, even if that direction is just back home again. Sometimes one foot in front of the other is the only logical thing to do.

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