Back in Berkeley when I trained as a boxer I used to run 3 miles a day.
Our house overlooked a park – and lest you’re imagining a Central Park kind of scenario let me tell you that it was no such thing. It was a slightly run down park with a rickety swing set and weed-infested grass but it was oval and relatively large and a stretch of the road was dotted with speed bumps, traffic was light and it was nice to look at the green swathe out of the corner of my eye as I huffed and puffed around it 10 times. It also attracted night herons, which are a singularly beautiful bird- graceful and smaller than the usual heron with dark caps and wings. I don’t know why they came but they perched on the trees and the chain link fence looking a little lost. As if they’d been aiming for Africa and taken a wrong turn somewhere above the Atlantic. I didn’t like running. Not like I loved pounding the heavy bag or tapping the speed bag with my gloves in a syncopated blur or jumping rope with flourishes.I read an article once in a fitness magazine that said that some people are built for running- like cheetahs and ostriches- while others are better at different muscular exercises like bending down and picking up toys one hundred times a day or hoisting babies up in the air. I clutched at this straw with enthusiasm. My hips ached from running on concrete but unfortunately if you want to box you have to run. So I did. I never got the euphoric sensation I get these days from plodding up a steep incline but I did establish a sort of rhythm eventually and I enjoy running very much now even if its usually after a ball or a manic toddler. Because my trainer existed to torture me, I would do a lap at a medium pace and get my heart rate up and then on the far side of the park between the speed bumps I’d run win sprints back and forth eight or ten times and then recommence running again.
Win sprints for anyone who hasn’t boxed or played basketball are all-out-fast-as-you-can dashes over short distances. You just hurl your body forward, push yourself until it feels like your heart is going to erupt out of your chest, and then you amp it up even more, until your vision fades and your blood thunders in your ears, your throat is raw, lungs bursting and the spit is thick in your mouth and then you do it again. Believe me, simple jogging was effortless after that. So each lap I’d turn the corner and see those speed bumps and feel my heart fail me for just a moment before I could berate myself/ psych myself/guilt myself into doing it again. Honestly other than wanting to please my trainer I don’t really know why I kept on.
One of my neighbors – a guy whose house perched in front of the speed bumps- told me once that he watched me every day and just shook his head, perplexed. “You’re plain crazy, girl,” he said. Yeah, there wasn’t much grace in it.
Sometimes writing feels like this. I just can’t go on, but from somewhere deep inside I force myself. Sometimes I trundle along in a nice, comfortable easy gait barely breaking a sweat, and sometimes it’s all hell-for-leather (love that expression!), flailing arms and a jumble of legs. It ain’t pretty but it works eventually.