If life is a tapestry with many, varied threads, jogging is the errant fiber that runs through my fabric, never quite blending in. I grew up with athletic siblings—they were both involved in track and cross country activities, fit, in-shape and earning their letter jackets. I was the somewhat fluffy younger sister who loved reading, singing, playing piano or guitar and an occasional game of Scrabble with my mom. I was not athletic.
I took up jogging in college, along with an eating disorder, and while my body slimmed down, my self-esteem plummeted. I eventually quit the eating weirdness, but jogging stuck with me. Somehow, through bearing babies, weight-gains and losses, jogging remained an activity in my workout repertoire. When I turned 40, I decided to tackle the decade with a commitment to participate in a half-marathon. You note I didn’t say compete. My goal was merely to complete the entire race without collapsing.
I learned a whole host of new terms like fartleks, intervals, lactate threshold, negative splits and other foreign sounding words. I bought expensive shoes to help my natural foot pronation, and clothing made of wicking fabric to keep sweat off my skin. I started visiting a local outdoor gear shop and talking running with the owner, an avid and, in my opinion, somewhat crazed runner. He loved talking running lingo with me. And for this brief six month period of my life, I was no longer a jogger. I was a runner.
It was amazing to me the number of people who suddenly wanted to talk about my recovery runs and split times. I always felt a bit like a fraud, like they would discover I wasn't really a part of their club. I was just a woman trying to defy my 40th birthday. You may be thinking, sounds like you were a real runner to me. But that’s the beauty of deception and here’s how I knew I was a fake, a wannabe: Every time I talked to one of those crazed-runner-types, they’d get this far-away look in their eyes and a slight smile on their wind-chapped lips and ask me in a dreamy tone, “Don’t you just love that runner’s high? The endorphins… man, I’m addicted.”
I’d stare at them with complete lack of comprehension, my mind racing to come up with a response. The truth is, in all my years of jogging and even racing 5ks, 10ks and the infamous half-marathon, I never felt a runner’s high. I had no concept of what it was like to feel addicted to working out. Each and every run was an act of discipline, a goal to be achieved.
Now I’m not saying I never derived pleasure from a run. I liked getting lost in my head, listening to my footsteps and breathing, a hypnotic syncopation keeping me company on a long outing. I liked that I could train my body to move intensely for 13 miles. But I never really liked running. I was a fraud.
Years after I completed the race (and I did complete it within my goal time and earned my t-shirt), I quit running quite so much and following the strict diet. I could almost see the disappointment in the shop owner’s face as he asked me if I still ran, probably noting the ten pounds that had since crept back on my body. “I jog,” I told him. He nodded and dismissed me. Eventually he quit asking.
I still jog a couple times a week, three slow miles. I savor the time outside with my dog, enjoying the lovely scenery. I still have to talk myself into going each and every time. But I do it because it’s good for me, good for the Dog-Dog and it’s still a great head-clearing time to think and process.
I may not be in the company of running enthusiasts anymore, but I have a feeling I’m in the very fine and friendly company of people like me fighting the middle-aged bulge, trying to stay healthy without knee replacements. That’ll do just fine.