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I never liked running. As a chubby teenager, I signed up for track hoping to emerge from the season more like my friends, the whippet-like McCann sisters who glided through turns and sprang across the long jump pit. Instead, I ambled like a corgi on shin splints, scoring only forfeit wins from teams whose hurdlers were too good to risk injuring themselves on our sketchy asphalt track. The runner's high never took. In college I took a few runs a week, still stumbling after the McCanns in my self-loathing imagination and on an increasingly pained knee. Finally, after a surgery and hanging onto an awful job as long as I could for the insurance that covered the follow-up physical therapy, I surrendered. It was somewhat of a relief no longer having to talk myself into lacing up or keeping going when I was out of steam. My knee was a permanent gym note excusing me from running.

Years later, my nurse practitioner suggested multiple short walks a day to help with the stress that had turned my neck and shoulders into jerky and my cortisol production up to something like Trevi Fountain. My rage walks, as I called them, were good for my lungs, my sedentary muscles and vitamin D deprivation. But in terms of my frustration — with work, with the world — it was like trying to douse a house fire with a teacup. And once the pandemic hit, with its accompanying worries and uncertainties amid a national crisis with a climbing death toll and a chunk of the population in cartoonish denial, it was like fighting the fire with a teaspoon.

During lockdown, I'd take a long walk at lunch, trying to get some air and level out after watching or reading the news, or the stress of my job at a newspaper. And when the roaring in my head drowned out the birdsong and my fists would ball up and I couldn't calm down, I'd break into a run. It was better to feel it and let it fuel me instead of trying to choke down all that energy. Sometimes a few blocks would do it. Sometimes I needed to go full bore, arms pumping hard at my sides. Occasionally, I'd clench my teeth and pound up a hill until I got to the top, gasping and relieved, my adrenaline spent. It was like a primal scream, hurling myself toward the oblivion of exhaustion, the fried lungs, the helpless anger wrung out of me and replaced by something like spiteful accomplishment. I wanted to simultaneously run from and at everything. Because fuck all of it.

Soon, I'd hang up from a miserable phone call or close a tab on an enraging story and put my shoes on. I ran out my urge to throw things at the TV and fight pointlessly with trolls online. I tore around my neighborhood scowling until the scowl was one of effort, expending the sort of energy one usually reserves for flipping desks and thrashing hotel rooms on propelling myself forward a little farther, a little faster. It didn't make the world or my feelings about it any better — not by a longshot. And there was still no runner's high, at least not the way I'd heard it described. But, like aggressive exfoliation at a Korean spa, the scraped down feeling was a reset. I caught my breath back on my front steps and got ready to start again.

I thought, I'll do this for a little while until it starts to hurt for real. A week. A month. The summer. I waited for my knees to ache and cut this little experiment short. My quads and calves were sore. I felt my age in all my muscles. But my knees were freakishly unaffected, better than they'd been in my teens. The universe had kindly given me back my knees but cruelly torn up my get-out-of-gym note. Over the phone, a friend responded with surprise when I mentioned I'd been for a run.

"I only run when I'm, like, overwhelmed with anger and frustration," I said.

"So, every day then?"

Shit. I was running again.

When I saw on Twitter that my colleague Linda Stansberry was doing her own casual 5k with friends (cheerfully dubbed the Murder She Ran 5k) after a race she'd signed up for had dropped the ball on adapting for COVID amid still rising numbers, I jumped on board. I hadn't run alongside anyone since high school and realized belatedly that running me — huffing, grimacing and powered by boundless rage — might not be the most pleasant company. Still, I had committed. And she'd likely seen me worse over the years.

But the morning we met up to run along the Waterfront Trail was unlike any of my solo outings. There were a couple of women and their big, happy dogs on leashes. We mostly jogged and gossiped, told embarrassing work stories and enjoyed the slowly passing view. At the end, there were congratulatory friends and doughnuts. Again, no runner's high, but doughnuts! It was social, devoid of pressure and, to my shock, genuinely relaxing.

I can't say I've turned into a joyful runner since then but these days, I don't only run when I'm pissed off. The euphoria may never come, but it's still worth training to be a faster, more graceful corgi and take some of the struggle out of it. Sometimes, I even enjoy the scenery when I'm not blinded by fury. If this week's U.S. Supreme Court news is any indication, I won't be finished with rage runs anytime soon. So long as my knees hold out.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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