Slow and Furious
While running almost daily over these past five years — I’ve been yelled at, flipped off, and nearly run off the road. I’ve fallen down flat on my face, busted open a kneecap, and been accosted by mean school children who called me “fatso.” I’ve been chased by a pack of angry pit bulls.
By my estimate, I’ve run approximately 5,000 miles in six different countries on two continents. Along my way, I’ve gratuitously dropped perhaps 9,500 F-bombs, some expletives mumbled, others screamed at full volume. This averages out to nearly two F-bombs per mile of running — double that average when running anywhere in South Florida because of oppressive humidity and playing dodge ball among world’s worst drivers. Indeed, I’ve learned that fury can be quite the devilish motivation, especially when skirting and sidestepping cars and trucks and forced to constantly be on the lookout for maniacs distracted by smartphones who simply do not see or fail to yield to the doddering 6-foot tall, 225-pound, 55-year-old blob off on the shoulder heaving desperately for air along busy boulevards and tricky avenues mostly lined with speeding traffic.
Fuck running. But I do love it so.
I can’t explain the contradiction, really. Aside from the giddy self-satisfaction of enduring the elements of the not-so-great outdoors, often battling the extremes of temperature and topography, the closest sensation I can relate to is that running has become an alternative form of meditation. One becomes addicted to mental and physical rhythms of the body in motion. I’ve even perfected the art of dozing off while running, as odd as that seems. I’m almost never tired nor do I feel worn out after running. I never ache after running. I’m more alert and alive than ever. I only feel tired and listless when — for whatever reason — I miss a run after a day or two. I ache when I do not run.
I guess in some ways running is a drug.
Today was the hottest day ever in the history of Las Vegas. Since this city was founded in 1905, that means this was the hottest day ever recorded in 112 years. Oh, that means the high reached a blistering 117 degrees.
I ran five miles at precisely 4 pm today, right when the temperature peaked at the all-time high. Yes, this was planned. This was by design. If I’m going to run, I’ll run. If I’m going to sweat, then I won’t candy-ass it by running in the morning when it’s just 98. I want the full fast and furious version of running to the extreme.
Mind you, this isn’t a sick brag even though I’m a master of sick bragging, but rather a demonstration of what simple dedication and strong willpower can do. Those who know me best probably know, I’m not particularly motivated nor hard-working most of the time. But I do make it a personal mission to run about six days a week, no matter what the weather conditions. This “sacrifice” averages out to about six hours per week, hardly time-consuming given all the time most of us waste doing far less productive (and counterproductive) things in our lives.
The coldest temperature I ever ran in was a bone-chilling 5 degrees once — at South Lake Tahoe. That run, which lasted only a few miles, nearly killed me. The trouble was, South Lake Tahoe is at 7,100 feet and running at that high altitude puts tremendous stress on the lungs, especially if you’re not accustomed to the conditions. I can’t say it did much good to breath in all that cold air either, as I contracted bronchitis and was coughing my head off for the next two weeks. Yes, I do admit — one can take this running thing to the extreme.
But, for whatever reason, the heat has never bothered me. I’ve run in 100-degree weather hundreds of times, and never experienced the least bit of discomfort. Sure, after sweating like a beast I smelled like a farm animal afterward, but that was nothing a good shower couldn’t cure.
Here’s a shot taken yesterday while eggs and runners were frying on the sidewalk.
Many things that bring us down are beyond our control. Some of us lose our jobs. We go broke. We lose friends, and sometimes even our closest family members are no longer among us. We may work harder than others and such effort may take us nowhere. Other times, something effortless results in a huge bonanza. Life can be wildly random.
Running is the one thing over which I do have total control. All decisions and movements are mine. All effort is my own. Every step forward is, in and of itself, a very small victory. Satisfaction is the ultimate reward.
Most days, I run between 2 and 5 miles. It takes me about an hour to run the full 5-mile course in my neighborhood, which is positioned on a gradual slope. Running on a flat surface is much easier than running on slopes when paths are sometimes up and sometimes down.
What’s toughest for me are the hills. Hills are murder on the legs. There’s a quarter-mile stretch of my daily run which is all uphill. My legs feel like rubber afterward. They shake and want to collapse. That part of my run isn’t getting easier. To the contrary, it’s getting more difficult. I suspect that losing some muscle mass due to age, even if it’s a little, has something to do with this.
As for vanity, I gave up worrying about extra weight or carrying a stomach a very long time ago. I’ll never have a perfect body, so why worry about it? Why obsess over weighing a certain number, when it seems more practical to do your own thing and let physics and biology take its course? I’ll never be disappointed in not weighing a certain number because frankly, I don’t fucking care. I’m going to eat my buttery meals and drink my wine, and then run when I can to stay as fit as a can. Why bother with worrying?
That would be my advice to those who, like me, may carry a little extra weight and want to lose it. Don’t worry about losing it so much as doing things you enjoy which might burn off some extra calories. It’s really not that difficult it you make the time.
Some readers may think their busy schedules excuse them from exercise. I don’t buy that excuse. I used to work long hours, day and night. I also used to travel more than half the year. Consider that since I’ve begun running as a ritual, I’ve run the following number of times in these cities:
London, England — 2
Cannes, France — 20
Eindhoven, Holland — 10
Dublin, Ireland — 6
Cork, Ireland — 1
Ft. Lauderdale, FL — 25
West Palm Beach, FL — 30
Hickory, NC — 6
Laurel, MD — 6
Atlantic City, NJ — 20
Philadelphia, PA — 3
Pittsburgh, PA — 5
New York, NY — 1
Rome, NY — 10
Gary, Indiana — 5
New Orleans, LA — 30
Shreveport, LA — 9
Dallas, TX — 1
St. Louis, MO — 10
Phoenix, AZ — 1
Los Angeles, CA — 35
Escondido, CA — 20
South Lake Tahoe, NV — 12
Reno, NV — 2
Flathead Lake, MT — 2
Fargo, ND — 3
Sacramento, CA — 2
Las Vegas, NV — 1,200
Looking back, my toughest runs were in South Lake Tahoe, Flathead Lake, MT (due to elevation) and Gary, IN (due to it being a shit hole). The easiest runs were almost always along oceans, which means along flat surfaces while enjoying gentle breezes. I never had a problem running in South Florida, or Atlantic City, or even New Orleans during the summer. Flat = good. Hills/Altitude = bad.
The longest run I’ve ever made was 12 miles, which was 18 months ago in West Palm Beach. That distance won’t break any world records, but I was very deeply satisfied I could still run that distance without stopping at my age. That said, I did encounter a terrible chafing problem afterward where the meat of my thighs has rubbed together so much the skin was raw. It wasn’t pretty.
Injuries are a customary hazard with running and all serious runners will encounter them at some point. My view is, you have to just run through the pain and discomfort. I don’t recommend this to everyone, of course. Each body is different. So, please do listen to pain signals within the body, especially if you are just starting out. For me, I know I can work through discomforts.
Twice, I had lower back pains so bad that I could barely stand up without assistance. This is something that just flares up out of nowhere about once a year. Each time, I stretched and ran through the pain and then felt much better afterwards.
Another occasion, I was running along Okechobee Blvd. near the Palm Beach Kennel Club dog track. Racing rough a crosswalk at a busy intersection, I made a giant misstep, missed the curb, and smashed by face onto the pavement. In the process, I busted a kneecap that turned bloody but looked much worse than it actually was. That caused me to miss a few days, but after the swelling went down, I made it a mission to return and race through that intersection, this time, bouncing over the curb like Rocky racing up the famous steps and thrusting his fists into the air.
The worst injury I suffered was seemingly benign and invisible, but which is, in fact, very painful, even to the point of causing debilitation. Plantar Fasciitis is a knife-like pain up through the heel, which suddenly hit me a few years ago. I can’t explain the sensation other than to say that even taking a small step is excruciating. That stopped me from running for about six weeks, the only real stretch of time I’ve missed in five years.
I’ve tried to share the ups and downs of daily running from time to time with readers. Some readers have even contacted me privately to say they will try and get healthy and will try running — to which I reply, bravo!
If it hits 118 degrees, I know where I’m headed — outdoors to the pavement.