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Running Again

Seven years ago, I did something pretty astonishing, for me, something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish: I ran the New York Marathon. I finished a good bit slower than I wanted to, in no small part because I was having too much fun to go any faster. This was November 1997: I’d turned 30 a few months before, I was madly attempting to finish my dissertation, and I was in the thick of the job market. A marathon seemed only fitting, a clear, if somewhat literal, way to celebrate the changes in process in my life, and a way to begin saying goodbye to the city that I so loved.

The marathon experience itself was amazing — seeing the neighborhoods of New York, many of which I’d never before set foot in, at ground level, watching the thousands of kids who’d turned out to hand out orange slices, feeling the complete overflow of emotion when, after finishing, I made my way to the meeting point only to find that all of my friends had showed up, with dry clothes and fresh socks. The dry clothes were much needed: it began raining at mile 13, and by mile 20, I was about the wettest I’ve ever been in my entire life. But I didn’t care. I just kept poking along, and when, at mile 23, the person I’d been running with finally fell by the wayside (he’d been suffering for ten miles, having gone out drinking the night before; feeling some kind of weird responsibility to him — weird because I didn’t know him from Adam, but had only met him at a tune-up race two weeks before — I stuck with him until nearly the end), I opened up my run, and finished running harder and stronger than I think I may ever have, before or since.

The marathon was an amazing experience. Training for the marathon, on the other hand, nearly killed me. In my early 20s, I had a weird health crisis — the virus of unknown origin was, annoyingly enough, just par for the course in my medical history. Back then, however, the crisis was pretty serious: my doctors were uncertain whether I had rheumatoid arthritis or the beginnings of lupus. I’d gone from completely normal, as I’d been my whole life, to unable to climb a flight of stairs, unable to hold a pen, unable to wash my own hair, in about six weeks. Every joint in my body was affected, and at the peak of my treatment, I was on two drugs for the arthritis, and three more to counteract the side-effects of the first two. After about two years, though, the disease, whatever it was, went into full remission, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

It left behind a few reminders, though, most notably for the purposes of this story, bad knees. I began running at age 26, for the first time in my life trying to get into some kind of decent physical shape, and always had trouble running more than three miles at a time, or running more frequently than every other day. This made training for the marathon, four years later, more challenging than I might have liked it to be. I spent the better part of six months achy and sore, and grew — and this is the worst part — to dread running. Just the thought of putting on my running shoes was enough to depress me.

I stuck with it, though, and completed my training, and ran the marathon. (And could easily have met my goal time, had I not saddled myself with a hung-over running partner.) And the marathon was great. And afterward, I took some much-deserved time off from running.

But that time off stretched out way longer than it ought to have. Things on the job market got nutty, and finishing the dissertation became a priority. And then there was graduating, and moving, and settling into a new job. Periodically, over the next several years, I’d try to start running again, and I’d manage a couple of weeks’ worth of runs, before the ache in my knees once again resulted in a resurgence of the old dread. Running became a slow form of torture, and given that it was voluntary, I’d eventually just stop.

I’m telling you all this now because, in the last four months or so, something’s changed. Part of it, I have to attribute to R.’s presence here: he made me take my vitamins nearly every day, among which is included a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement that I think has made a phenomenal difference in the health of my knees. Running doesn’t hurt like it used to. And so I’ve been running more.

And I’m thinking seriously about giving the marathon another shot.

It’s probably crazy. I’m busier than I’ve been in my life. But there’s some part of me that needs a physical, attainable goal right now, something to drag me up out of the bad election-R. gone-work stress-no book-rejected grant application-doldrums that I’ve been languishing in.

Long story short: I’m off to run. If this goes well, you may be hearing more about the training process in the coming weeks.


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