I hate running.
Running murders the knees, cranks the hamstrings tight as drums, and inflames the hips. In theory running is a cheap, accessible sport. In reality most runners arrange their schedules around running. They rise in the dark, haul sweaty sneakers to work to run during lunch breaks, and skip happy hour in the evenings. Yes, nachos and Great Whites sound great after a long day. But if a runner needs to clock eight more miles or do a tempo run, then the sneakers get laced and the pints have to wait.
I hate missing happy hour.
I've been running since I was a freshman in college. It started as a way to get out of my dorm room while my roommate made out with her boyfriend. Then I found a map of three, five, and eight mile loops through the woods on the edge of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and started slowly working my mileage up until I could comfortably complete the eight-mile loop before breakfast. During my senior year I lived with four intense women and a volatile cat. My morning runs were one of the few times I was alone.
Running helped me manage my stress and anxiety. One of my running routes took me up a steep incline to a vista point overlooking a large pond surrounded by granite boulders. I dubbed this route "Anger Hill." I ran it every time I was furious with my roommates for leaving dishes in the sink or smoking in the living room or playing "Box of Rain" on repeat until 4 a.m. By the time I reached the top, my anger dissolved into exhaustion and I was grateful to return home. Indignation couldn't survive Anger Hill.
There was a time when my running was glorious. I got faster and upgraded to fancy running shoes. I identified as a "runner," but also as an explorer. Running was my way of claiming my territory, both in the neighborhoods where I lived and places I visited. I ran new routes all the time. I tried to create loops (instead of "out and backs") that maximized the uncharted ground I could cover. I got lost a lot. But I always returned victorious.
I ran the Avenue of the Giants half-marathon in 2010. I checked my training schedule every morning and followed its marching orders obediently. Ten miles at an easy pace? Done. 800 meter intervals? Yessir. Sprints? OK. Rest Day? Thank God.
I ran the Hammond Trail in the sleet and did endless loops along the Eureka waterfront at sunrise. I completed the half-marathon a few minutes under my goal time, and I was exhilarated.
Then I made a foolhardy mistake. I decided to do it again.
My second half-marathon training was plagued with injuries and inconsistencies. I wrecked my back, twisted my ankle and tweaked my neck. I trained through the winter, so mostly I ran in the dark and in the rain. It sucked. My shoes were always wet. My low back always ached. While I was running I fantasized about lying on my couch watching Netflix. Anything on Netflix. I completed the Corvallis Half-Marathon on a frigid morning in April. Slowly and in pain.
I hated running. I felt guilty about hating running. And I found out that I wasn't alone.
Matt Deshazo is a former HSU cross-country athlete. He's now a competitive cyclist who still runs as part of his conditioning program. When I told him I hated running, he said, "Uh, yeah. Most runners hate running. Endurance sports are mental and physical pain. Eventually you become built for long distance. But the pain doesn't go away."
One of my running partners, Adrienne Tauses, completed four marathons this year. She runs six days a week. She insists, "I love running." But on our last run together, in the snow and slush remnants of an Oregon blizzard, she said, "There is a point on every run when I just want it to be over. It doesn't matter if it's three miles or 13 miles. It's psychological."
So what is it that keeps us running? For Deshazo it is a drive for a competitive edge and a feeling of complete freedom when he hits his stride. For Tauses it's therapeutic to do nothing but put one foot in front of the other and think for miles at a time.
As someone who lives on the "Type A" end of the spectrum, I've learned that running lets me release my anxiety and self-criticism. Running makes me feel tired and accomplished, which makes me more relaxed, which makes me a better partner and friend. I loved running when it made me feel strong and powerful. I need running when it makes me feel weak, forcing me to push harder to outpace my demons. Running teaches me every day that the only way out of a situation, be it a mile marker that needs to be reached or a work conflict that needs to be resolved, is by staring straight ahead and moving through it.
Just because I need to run for the sake of my mental health doesn't mean I have to like it. I still lie in bed making nonsense bargains with myself, "If I run in the rain this morning I won't have to run in the dark this evening." Or, "If I run today I can take tomorrow and the day after off." I whine my way out of half of the runs I plan every week. I am currently researching new trails to explore to distract me from the fact that I do not want to run this weekend. I may not be a joyful runner these days, but I'm still out there pounding the trails, fantasizing about nachos and my Netflix queue.