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Breaking Up With Running

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.

Today I’m picking a fight with…Running. Because I love running so much but it doesn’t love me back.

In the 1985 film, REAL GENIUS, (which as you know is universally accepted as a masterpiece of cinema) there’s a scene where villain Professor Jerry Hathaway arrives back at his house as he finishes a jog. He chases the neighbor's dog off of his lawn and notices that our protagonist Chris Knight is eating popcorn and waiting for him. They have the following exchange:

HATHAWAY: Do you still run?

KNIGHT: Only when chased.

I saw this movie when it came out and this brief but poignant view gave me what can only be described as a dogmatic approach to running for the next 10ish years of my life:

Running was stupid unless it was helping you escape imminent death.

(Quick aside, guys, William Atherton, who played Jerry Hathaway in this movie deserves more love. From 1984 to 1990 he played Walter Peck in GHOSTBUSTERS, Hathaway in REAL GENIUS and Richard Thornburg in two DIE HARD movies. Is there a better run of someone playing insufferable & sniveling characters than that? I don’t think so. And he’s so good at it, does that mean that’s the way he is in real life? Is there still time to work on an honorary Oscar for him? This man was as much a part of my childhood as He-Man, The Autobots and Twisted Sister. He deserves recognition.)

Anyway, the point is, I didn’t run for a long time. It was well into my 20’s before I really started to run for fitness and that’s not that weird. Most people claim to hate running and are reluctant to start.

My theory is that they don’t know that learning to run is an acquired skill just like learning to ski, ride a bike or kayak. There are right and wrong ways to run but because it’s basically a faster version of something we do all of the time, walking, there’s a perception that running should be easier than it actually is.

Also any runner will tell you that the first 5-15 minutes of every run is the worst part of every run. So if you’re not a runner and you decide to give it a try, you’re probably not doing it correctly and when you try you immediately enter the hell of miles 1-3…So, it can be a little off putting to say the least.

But, spoiler alert, eventually we all become runners.

As we age the pie chart that shows how our personal time is consumed starts to dole out new pieces to career and family and all of a sudden a 30 minute run from your front door, something that sounded horrible not that long ago, becomes your best choice for fitness and your sanity.

And so even if you’re not there yet, some day, you too…will become a runner.

But let me tell you, do not fret when that day comes. Just start running trails. It’s such a fun way to experience the outdoors and one of the closest ways to get in touch with how you felt as a kid and you and your pals were playing in the woods.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all of this and it’s because…well, running and I are at an interesting crossroads in our relationship.

I just had my second arthroscopic surgery on my left knee in six years thanks to what my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist have described as naturally bendy and loosey goosey joints. Apparently I’m like the gumby of outdoor enthusiasts and that quality does not mesh real well with the dynamic footing and movements required when running almost exclusively on trails.

And because I love doing it so much, the result has been the shredding of my left meniscus for the second time.

After you get over your reluctance to run, you start to love it. And then it becomes kind of like a drug. We run when we want to but we also run when we don’t want to. We run when we should do something else. And you know there’s a lot of good science to support the fact that humans are built for it. But there are always exceptions and I guess I’m one of them.

After my first knee surgery I was hellbent on getting back to running and then spent the next six years running as much as I could. When I probably should have run a little less and lifted a little bit more because now, due to my Stretch Armstrong style joints, I’m on the bench.

Or am I?

Perspective matters. The glass can be half empty or half full. So instead of sitting around worrying about how to bring running back into my life you know what I’m going to do? I’m putting running on the bench and I’m going to go biking with my kids, bikepacking with my pals, surfing and skiing and getting into the gym. You know those pictures of JK Simmons looking like a shredded Santa claus? I’m going to worship at the altar of JK and be the old guy with the huge guns.

And who the hell knows if my running days are actually over, the truth is I have way less cartilage in my knee than I once did but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

But until then, I’m taking Running out to lunch in a crowded restaurant. I’m sitting Running down and before anyone has a chance to take our order, I’m telling you, Running: I’m really sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. My heart feels one way but my knee feels another. And also, I need to be honest. I’ve started seeing someone else. Their name? Oh, not sure if you know them, but they go by Gravel Bicycle.

I love you running, but right now you’re kind of toxic. And I know you’ll find someone else. There are plenty of people out there right now turning 20, 25, 30…and realizing that they need to start running.

So you’ll be ok.

And so will I.


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