Ever since I got new sneakers last week to replace my shin-splintery Nikes, I’ve taken up running again. While I typically do other types of exercise to stay in shape, such as walking, Pilates and the elliptical — even stairs if I’m feeling extra hard on myself — I tend to avoid running because it’s way too intense.
In high school, when my body was much younger, I ran the mile on our track team every spring season. I wasn’t a very fast runner by any means, but I still finished every time. I even gave the javelin a try (she was named Calpurnia), but that was a total joke.
But I wasn’t there to win. I was just there to build more stamina and maybe become a little quicker on my feet (my time was in the 7-minute range, which isn’t very good). But obviously there was competition involved, and by competition, I mean track meets.
Throughout the day, my stomach would be in knots during class just thinking about the gun pop going off as we all lined up to go four times around the football field. The anticipation of running was way worse than the race itself.
The first lap usually gave me a false sense of confidence, so I’d push the first quarter-mile way too hard. The second, therefore, completely sucked, and by the end of the third, some of the more elite boys would be lapping me.
But my friends would cheer for me as my red, sweaty face panted on, yelling “Go, Buck 30!” on the sidelines (my nickname was apparently my weight, 130 pounds back in the day). All of the runners would cheer each other on, too, which I probably thought was cool since I was a cheerleader.
Finally came the fourth lap. At this point, the peak of my adrenaline kicked in, and despite the pain, I would progressively run as fast as I could. My goal was always to not come in last and to beat at least one person on the other team. Part of being a good distance runner is stealth: your rival won’t hurry up if she can’t hear a soft tread behind her.
My strategy usually worked: I’d pick a target to follow, and then I’d quietly stalk her until the last straightaway when we’d both break into a full, arm-pumping sprint. The other runner normally didn’t anticipate this unexpected competition, so I’d be at somewhat of an advantage at the final 100-meter dash. Although I technically didn’t win the race, it still felt so satisfying not to lose it.
When I came to a stop, blood still throbbing through my body at a million beats per minute, the judge would read our times, and I would be so excited to hear that I had improved my mediocre 7:10 to a mediocre 7:01. When you’re really bad at something, even the smallest improvement feels like a milestone.
Fast-forward four years: I’m still relatively in shape, but as I mentioned, I’d rather re-take the SAT math section than run voluntarily. I should probably hire someone to chase me down Commonwealth Avenue in a golf cart.
But size 4 doesn’t accomplish itself by drinking wine and watching “Girls,” and my new sneakers have guilted me into doing about four miles at a slow pace four times per week. Since I’m not sure what kind of sicko might be reading this, I won’t say exactly where, but I will say that my route is somewhere in Brookline.
I chose this route because it’s not distracting, yet not too boring, and there are enough hills to burn the right areas. The first time I ran, it was tough, but I finished. And this course isn’t getting any easier: yesterday morning I was sliding everywhere on the wet leaves, just short of wiping out in front of an entire line of cars at a stoplight.
While I do feel grateful that I’m able to run with pretty decent stamina, I still have to say it pretty much sucks. I do it for two things: weight loss and not having a heart attack after walking up one flight of stairs. If I could do yoga and ballet to shred some pounds, I would, but without some serious cardio, change isn’t likely. My metabolism just isn’t what it used to be.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced a runner’s high. Maybe it’s that rush of adrenaline before beating another girl in the final straightaway, or maybe it’s the realization that my body is still intact on mile two after not training for four years. If I can walk straight the next day, that’s usually good enough for me.
Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.