Embarrassing but true: I base most of my understanding about the lure of running on the movie “What Women Want.”
You’ve seen it, haven’t you? Mel Gibson is stricken with the ability to hear what women are thinking; ho-ho, how funny. Women – what can you do.
(To its credit, the movie does NOT drum up an ancient Aztec curse or a wise Chinese crone or anything to explain this, which I appreciate. It just happened, okay? Get over it.)
(And also – I’d feel a lot more comfortable citing this movie if Mel hadn’t turned out to be such an immense dick, because it really is a good movie, with Frank Sinatra and Bette Midler and Helen Hunt looking particularly lovely.)
(Where was I? Oh – running.)
So Mel reads the minds of women all around him and creates the world’s best advertisement for Nike. “The road doesn’t care if you dress sexy. The road doesn’t care if you make more money than it does. All it wants is for you to pay it a visit from time to time.” And that was the only visualization I could ever get my brain around for why anyone would run – because it was a cool, after-rain moment on an empty paved road and your legs felt strong and your shoes fit just right and you just couldn’t help but burst into a run because it felt so empowering…
Okay. That sounds good. You’d run and your brain would empty out and you’d achieve a zen state and a mystic balance of mind, body, and spirit.
Yeah. That’s not how I run.
This is my internal monolog:
All right – headphones in. Fast-walk playlist on, loud enough so I can’t hear my own gasping, panting breath. Timer? Yes, set the damned timer. Barbara says it’s not important, but I know it’s important.
Okay – ready? Here’s the line of paint on the path with the numbers 0.0 on one side and 1.5 on the other. Head towards 0.1. And – JOG.
Feels so damned thuddy. That will smooth out. Go through the body parts list:
- Low abs engaged. Don’t tip the hips forward with the spine; it’s no good pulling the hips up by tucking the tail bone under; you have to tug it up from the front by tightening the transverse abdominus. I think of it as a flaccid, wide-but-not-deep rubber band running from hip to hip somewhere deep in the groin. Trying HARD to turn mine into something mighty, but I’m still at shot rubber band status.
- Ribs down. Distance from ribs to hip bones has to stay consistent. Why else did I do two 30-second planks before I started if not to wake these muscles up for the run?
- Obliques – keep ‘em on. That’s the other part of the planks. Essentially, the entire middle of my body is supposed to feel like an oak tree. It does NOT feel like an oak tree, but for limited periods measurable in seconds only, I can force the issue.
- Shoulders down and not pushed back. Yes, pushing the shoulders back would seem to provide space for the rib cage to lift up, allowing those heaving sacs of air to gaspingly suck in more wind – but no. If your shoulders are back, then your wingbones are down, and those are capable of stopping the lungs from expanding out the back. OUT THE BACK?? Yes. Breathe out the back, too. So weird.
- Roll from heel to toe. Why else have I been doing calf stretches every single day? This is supposed to be getting easier and less thuddy as I stretch never-before-stretched calf muscles. If I focus on it, on flexing my foot hard before every heel strike, I can ease up on the thud sensation. Jeff Goldblum isn’t watching impact tremors in a glass of water somewhere and saying “I’m really quite concerned, here” in a mild Jeff Goldblum voice.
- Now, the big one: The glutes. The big, heavy glutes that I’ve been hauling around for decades. Time to make them pay their way. Still not easy to simply FEEL them into working, so…
- Push off the back foot. Don’t pull forward with the front foot. The front foot is just there for balance, to catch me as I push off the back foot. With every stride, kick off the ground with the back foot. Back foot. Back foot. Back foot. Damn it. I thought running was supposed to be instinctive. It’s so not.
The mental check list is almost as long:
- This song isn’t good for jogging. Can I open the case, wake up the phone, and hit the “next” button without completely falling over?
- The headphone cord is bouncing around and annoying me. Loop the slack around a finger, or something.
- Christ – I have to go up a (short but steep) little hill. Kill me now.
- Oh, lord. Someone remind me to ask Barbara how to go down a hill. Can’t roll from heel to toe going downhill; I’d fall right over. Have to run on my toes. That seems like a bad idea. My carefully-tended stride is getting ugly again, and I’m thudding. I can hear Ian Malcolm. “I’m really getting quite concerned here.”
- There’s someone on the path in front of me. Coming towards me – reach for eye contact at exactly the right distance. Not so far that a person with poor eyesight doesn’t see; not so close that it’s startling. Judge the moment, glance up. If contact is made, small smile and nod. Yes! Now if we meet a second time as we travel around the lake, we can add a rueful “Still at it? You, too?” smile.
- There’s someone on the path in front of me. Going the same direction I’m going, walking. This is the worst. I’m going to have to pass him/her, and I will be huffing and puffing like a grampus so they’ll certainly know I’m coming, but when I slow down to walk, they’re going to pass me. And then I’ll have to pass them when I go back to jogging. This is going to be ridiculous. My choices are: (a) Play leapfrog with a small Korean woman or a retiree with a cane. (b) Run faster; get far enough ahead that s/he won’t catch up when I start walking, like I have the energy to do that. (c) Pull over and sit down for a few hours until they go home. Or possibly expire from old age. Them or me; either would be fine.
- What the hell am I going to do when the Virginia weather is swampy? It’s supposed to go up to 91 today, so I actually set my alarm and got up at 6 in the morning to be running by 7. (I swear, I’m not a pod person. It’s really me.) But what happens when 7AM is already 85 degrees – and even more debilitating, when it’s HUMID? How will I possibly keep this up? I’m barely maintaining my sanity now.
- Where’s the next tenth-of-a-mile marker?? Maybe it was washed out in a freak acid storm I missed; surely I’ve gone a few miles by now?? (In fact, today I managed to stagger along for a full half-mile before switching to a walk-a-tenth-jog-a-tenth pattern. Frustratingly, even though my first burst of running was 5/10ths of a mile, not last week’s 4/10ths of a mile, the run took me almost a full minute LONGER than it did last week. This is why Barbara doesn’t want me timing my runs. I hate it when she’s right.)
The road doesn’t care if you dress sexy or make more money than it does. The road just wants you to pay it a visit occasionally, so it can completely tangle up your brain and exhaust you and make your shin bones tender to the touch. Damned road.
What women want: A comfy armchair. A great book. Something crispy/salty and something sweet/creamy to nibble on. Clothing that is in no way binding.
All right, women also want cardiovascular fitness. To be able to jog without feeling like our lungs have been scoured with a Brillo pad. A good cholesterol reading above 40. (I’ve never gotten above 30, me, but I’ve never made it a point to sweat every single day for six minutes, eleven minutes, twenty-three minutes and twenty-eight seconds at a time. Next time, my good cholesterol is going to be GOOD, by damn!)