Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Two years ago this month, I woke up one morning and decided that it was time to exercise. I started walking on the treadmill that day, and in the time since, I've gotten to the point where I'm running 4 to 5 miles four to six days per week. I long since have forsaken the treadmill for the great outdoors, except on those days when the weather is so bad as to make outside activities dangerous. The benefits to my health are multitudinous, as the enthusiasm of my cardiologist attests.
The following February, I was out in California for a visit with our oldest daughter and her three boys. She introduced me to a smart phone app called "Map My Run." The app, using the GPS feature on the phone, tracks runs (and walks and hikes as well) for distance, time, and pace, uploading to a regular website at the end of each activity. Also immortalized are maps of the routes I've run, a handy tool as well.
Even after two years of use, I still get surprised by the information stored therein. Quite by accident, I stumbled on a page showing "lifetime stats." I was startled to realize that sometime last week, I topped the milestone of 1,000 miles.
Now, I now that's not comprehensive, as there are several months of work that have gone unrecorded because I was laboring in software ignorance. But it was interesting to realize that in the time since I got the app, I've spent some 245 hours so engaged, roughly the equivalent of a smidgen over 10 complete days.
It can be noted that I have worn -- and worn out -- some 4 pairs of Nike Air Monarchs over those miles, along with an uncalculated number of pairs of socks. And then there are those compliments I get from ladies whenever I wear shorts.
Still, that thousand mile total does give me pause. That's a long way, even spread out over a year and a half. It's the equivalent distance between Washington DC, and the eastern suburbs of Kansas City. That's a trip one does not take likely, even in a car.
I've come to enjoy running, mainly because of what I learned about myself. I've learned that I have in me the strength to push past what were my limits. And that exercise has an important effect on my health and longevity, an important thing to a guy with five stents in his heart.
Another consideration is how much I've enjoyed just being outdoors, even when the weather has been, shall we say, less than convivial. I've been out in the winter when snow was falling and the temperatures falling through the low 30's. Likewise, I've pushed through the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer on days when I felt like I was running through a bowl of soup. This year, I have added an additional activity, hiking. Most weeks I've been able to use my Tuesday to walk the abundant trails in Virginia, reveling in the peaceful solitude of forest and meadow. It has become such a part of me that if, for some reason, I don't get out for two or three days, I begin to feel weird.
A number of years ago, Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt starred in a movie called, "What Women Want," about a smug self-centered massively chauvinistic (male) ad exec who loses the top spot at his agency to a woman. At some point, he undergoes a near-electrocution in his bathtub and is gifted, at least temporarily, with the ability to hear other people's thoughts. He uses that "gift" with deadly effectiveness in tailoring his approach to some major accounts. In particular was one spot he produced for Nike. The ad can be viewed here, and the text goes something like this:
"You don't stand in front of a mirror before a run
and wonder what the road will think of your outfit.
You don't have to listen to it's jokes and pretend they're funny.
It would not be easier to run if you dressed sexier.
The road doesn't notice if you're not wearing lipstick.
It does not care how old you are.
You do not feel uncomfortable
because you make more money than the road.
And you can call on the road whenever you feel like it,
whether it's been a day or a couple of hours since your last date.
The only thing the road cares about is that you pay it a visit once in awhile.
A cynic would say that this a woman's way of deciding that a hunk of asphalt is better than a man, and they could be right. Even as a guy, I've known some dudes who had all the personality and value of a mass of tar and rocks. But to a runner, there's something else here; something deeper.
When I run, I'm not burdened by the expectations of others; what they might think of me. The road (or path, or trail) doesn't make judgements about my fitness as a husband, employee, father, etc. It's simply there, sharing the solitude broken only by the steady tread of my footsteps. The road is there in summer and winter, fall and spring. It's there when it rains and when the sun shines. And if my life takes me away for a day or two, the road always welcomes me back. The road takes me places, and shows me a world full of life, something quite invisible from a desk or a car. The road doesn't care that my creaky joints make it difficult to push much past a 12-minute mile, or that each day I stop by, I'm just a little older. The road doesn't judge me on those days when my knees make it necessary to walk instead of run.
And regardless of whether I'm with the road for a 2-mile quickie, or a 5.5-mile challenge, I can leave the road with a smile, richer for the experience.
Nike never used the ad from the movie, and I"ve never quite figured out why. It's a powerful message, obviously written by someone who has worn out more than a few pairs of running shoes. Every runner I've talked to about this has the same enthusiasm. Whoever the writer was, they get it.
For those of us who know The Road, who have shared it's miles, climbed it's hills, and sped along it's flat stretches, this idea is real. The road is real to us; something tangible and reliable.
Something that every day gives us the space to be free.