Sunday, November 11, 2012

The 5 Stages of Runner's Grief

So, I started running again in July.

Whether you're a seasoned runner, or a kind of runner, you know one thing: it's a li'l different from any other sort of exercising; not necessarily harder or easier, just...different. I knew this. I used to run quite a bit. I ran cross country, ran track (well, jumped, technically). In the off-season, I would tend to disappear for long periods of time, not understanding my parents' dismay that a teenage girl was running in a valley by a creek alone, like ya do. My dad would come looking for me in his car, and ask casually if I wanted a ride as his tactic. NO, dad. I'm not GOING anywhere. This is the point, GOD! (I'll just run past this stretch of uninhabited land with trees that would effortlessly conceal my dead body and roll my eyes that you were, like, worried).

This tapered off in college, when I was bein' all exercise-y in classes. When I first moved to Chicago, I used to run around Wrigley Field. Oh, I'm SO CHICAGO!!! This means I live here now, my jogging around landmarks! Then, at some point I stopped. Just...didn't like it anymore. Like a shirt you've kept way too long, kinda still wear, then suddenly use to dust furniture.

But, ANYWAY, I tried every now and again, the emphasis on every now and again. Months, years apart, and it had been a year since the last attempt. I had been trying to exercise more. Well, exercise again, let's be honest. My recent history is spotty. When you walk around all day as part of your regular, city-dweller routine, I guess you fake yourself out into thinking that counts. Other than that, I'd probably been the least active I've ever been. Then one day this summer, for no particular reason, I got my ass into my running shorts and shoes and went for a jog. As anyone who has started running, either again or for the first time, as an adult, you will understand the following. For anyone thinking of doing this, it is my duty to prepare you for the process. Either way, you know you are not alone.

1. Denial

You walk to wherever the start point is, stretch a bit. Resolve to start slow and just see what happens. Hey, if it sucks, just stop, right? Just get into my groove, it's not a race!!!! Lalalalaaaa. Hey...this... ain't so bad! Pick it up a bit...oh, hello, squirrels! Just enjoying nature, like you! Hi, other joggers! We're all in this together!! Look at you and your game face! I can make that face, too! 

You begin to think you've got this in the bag. You imagine that your stride appears determined, yet graceful. You are a gazelle in New Balances.

I am a runner! This is great! I don't know WHY I put this off for so long? This AIR! AHH! You're the best. AROOOOUUUND. Nothinsgonnaeverkeepyadown...I only know the refrain... uuuhhhh... YOU'RE THE BEST! AROOOOUND.....

This lasts for roughly 90 seconds.

2. Anger

Not from you, from your body. Your legs start to burn a bit, gradually doubling in mass. Your lungs start to realize what's going on. Heeeeey, are we running or something...? Your face senses danger, and knows no other tactic than to play dead. The rest of your skin follows suit. Your ears begin to communicate the dismay of the others by punctuating every thud.

And then, it's sudden full-on panic from everywhere.

YOU SAID WE WERE GOING TO THE PARK!!! YOU LIED! WHERE ARE YOU TAKING US?! HELP! WE ARE BEING HELD AGAINST OUR WILL!!! It is pure fight or flight. Your quads try to escape through your skin; like they're trapped in a well with an aversion to Jergen's, and will not give up clawing their way out until they get your dog in the bucket.

Your heart realizes it's terrible in a crisis situation and freaks out.Your lungs are smart enough to know they can't escape, but they are vengeful. If they're going down, they're taking EVERYTHING down with them, like the fire demon in Lord of the Rings. They also really want to just throw out everything you ever gave them, so...they just do both. Because fuck you, that's why!

Your feet become useless. Limply protesting. They are two Wendys from The Shining. Your arms are mildly uncomfortable, struggling with survivor's guilt. Are we even really doing anything? She's not even moving us that much. Hands? Hey, hands? Just play dead like the face. Your eyelids hear this, and follow suit in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the south.

You realize your gazelle days are over. You look less like a leaping animal, and more like something that's trampling a small village, hut by hut, and all that is heard are screams and everything's on fire.

3. Bargaining

Your brain decides to play good cop/bad cop. Shut up, you weaklings! This is for your own good! We are not stopping! Hey, Chris? If we just stop and walk a minute, everyone will be a whole lot happier and maybe work more effectively. We are not stopping! This is ridiculous! We are making it to at least a full mile! Ok, if we make a mile, we'll walk, ok? Ok? A mile's not so ba-...ok, how about just run for 5 straight minutes. Let's just do that, and then we walk, ok? Everyone promises to be good, right guys?

In the meantime, every time it leaves the interrogation room, it's making side deals. If you can just tell me why, WHY, this is happening, I'll get you a plea bargain. I promise, I will handle everyone, and you can still walk away from this. Just tell me who's responsible.

Then eventually, it becomes desperate. I'll give you anything you want! ANYTHING! Please? I can't take this any more. The lambs are still screaming! 

4. Depression

You are in worse shape than you thought. You will never amount to anything. If the phrase "Life is a marathon, not a sprint" is accurate, then you doubly suck at life. You will die on this trail and be found next week under a tree by a kid retrieving his ultimate frisbee. He will be scarred for life, and never go near a tree again. He will be a broken man, walking out of his way one day to not see trees, and be run over by an H-3, and it will be all. Your. Fault. You are a murderer who can't even run a mile without stopping. I just hope you're happy with yourself.

5. Acceptance

You realize that it's just gonna suck the first time. You accept this level of suck.

You run as long as you can, and then you walk. And then you run again, and it sucks .1% less. Your body now has Stockholm Syndrome. Oh, it's okaaaaaaaay. You were just doing what you had to do. We understand. Let us help you. And then you walk. You make it home alive, having just gotten the first one out of the way, and it can only get less sucky from here. (You've forgotten that, actually, the third run, while not humiliating, is the worst. The second one is so much easier, that you think the third will be even better. But you forget that hamstrings believe that revenge is a dish best served cold. They lie in wait, like Michael Corleone, smiling to your face, just biding time...).

You realize it will take a few weeks, and then are genuinely surprised and pleased that that's true. You accept that, hey, sometimes you're just gonna swallow some bugs; who are you to deny extra protein?

And maybe you keep it up. Maybe because you like it again, or maybe out of resolve, or fear of losing your relationships with your lungs and quads permanently. I...I've never seen you guys that angry before. I felt like I didn't even know who you were. Maybe because you know that some things just take time, and now you have the patience. Which means you've grown as a person, so your brain was clearly full of shit with that guilt trip. But you forgive it, because you are not a heartless hamstring.

You still avoid clearings ideal for frisbee. Just in case.

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