Running and The Writing Life

Each summer I run. I run to lose the winter pounds, to deal with my migraine headaches, to still my mind when life becomes hectic, but most of all I run to take care of Stella, my silver Labrador. You see, she has a problem. She’s an adrenaline junkie. She must run until she’s exhausted or she has not had a good day. The above picture is what she looks like when she wants something. Each day I see “the look” from her until I put on my hat and sunscreen and tell her it’s time. If I don’t consent, she gives me no peace.

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Thanks for the run, Mom! Love, Stella

When I write, Stella knows my routine. She knows once I settle into my loft, I write for several hours at a time. If I haven’t exercised her, she pesters me until I do something with her, ANYTHING! Normally we run or run and walk (depending on how hot it is) about five and a half miles. When she and I were both a few years younger, we each had loads of energy. Now, however, Stella who will be seven in December, needs more time to recover. So do I. Growing older together is not a bad thing.

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Peaceful Stella after our morning run.

Lately when we’ve been out, we’ve run across three Sandhill Cranes, two of them are in the picture below. They are beautiful birds that normally keep away from us, but the couple who live here have a baby crane in tow, which is still huge. I’ve run into them in our neighbors’ yard, along the highway, in our backyard, and along our street. They eye me suspiciously as I pass. These birds stand an impressive four feet tall, so they are pretty intimidating when they posture and look me dead in the eye as they have done lately. I think the only reason they don’t come after me is that Stella is with me. She regularly chases them from our yard. The same pair of cranes attacked my youngest son’s car last year when he was on his way out of our neighborhood. I don’t think those birds are terribly bright, or maybe they are just incredibly territorial.

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Cranes aren’t the only creatures we see. When we are out on our normal route, we run across deer, blue herons, Canada geese, snapping turtles occasionally, and sometimes a fox.

Another reason I run is it tends to jog (sorry, couldn’t resist!) something loose in my brain. If I’m stuck on a problem in my manuscript, I usually can work out what is wrong when I run. Occasionally, I forget the solution I came up with–still trying to figure out a good way to take a pad or paper and pen with me–but usually I come back and remember the fix to the problem once I am at my desk. Today wasn’t one of those days, but my morning went well in other ways. I had only planned to walk with Stella, but the morning was cool, and I felt rested and strong, so we covered about three miles running and about two and half walking. Stella also swam three times, at each river crossing.

With both of us physically content, I sit at my desk to begin the last section of this pass on my manuscript. My head is clear, my brain is medicated with endorphins, and my body is relaxing with a cup of Lady Grey. I am optimistic about life, about writing, about everything. Stella and I are content to spend the next few hours right here in my writing space. She’s doing her job of keeping me company, while I’m doing mine, writing the best story I can.

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Sneakers with Implications

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My birthday present this year was a brand new pair of Nike running shoes. Purple ones! I love them, but I didn’t think about the implication of having a snazzy pair of running shoes. Think about it. Who has really cool running shoes? Either a serious runner who is pretty fast or really in shape or someone who really isn’t a runner at all, but likes the fashion statement. I see myself as the former, but I’m afraid I might just be the latter.

I’ve had to face some pretty sobering ideas as I’ve aged. Gray hair has been hard to get used to especially when I see myself in photographs. Gaining weight around my waist has been no picnic since I always had a small waist until I turned forty. Not being able to have a couple of drinks without getting a migraine has put a real damper on my social life too especially since I live in Wisconsin (the state with more taverns per square mile than any other).

Maybe the most egregious insult of aging though is my lack of stamina. I just can’t work out the way I once did. I used to be able to go for a long run, then come home and work in the garden for a couple of hours, shower, cook supper, and then help the boys with their homework. I told Bruce the other day how I felt about my lack of energy and stamina after I had taken Stella on a run. Afterwards I could only shower and collapse for a couple of hours. He just looked at me skeptically and said I needed to get into better shape so I would have more energy. Can you see my crabby face?

Anyway, back to the purple running shoes. I fell in love with them instantly, but today when I was running, I had the notion that since I had such spiffy shoes, maybe I need to be able to back up the implication that I’m a good runner. I had this notion while I was walking, of course. My friend Amy and I are in a challenge of sorts to get back in shape after the long winter of sitting on our duffs. I end up doing this every summer, but at least this year I don’t have my usual five to seven pounds gained from teaching every year. So far Amy and I have stuck to the plans, and I’m seeing gains in both my energy and my fitness. It’s a painful process but the rewards will be evident long before the end of the summer when I disappear behind the walls of my house to prepare for the winter season of indoor activities.

Although the discomfort I still have after I run will last  a while longer, I am beginning to like running again. I started logging miles when I was sixteen to get in shape to play basketball and have been at it off and on over the years. Later in my life I ran to feel good, to sweat out too much beer in college, to shed weight after having babies, to be healthy. I have even run one marathon, The Chicago Marathon, and one half, The Fox Cities Half.  But the best running memory I have ever had was when I had the elusive runner’s high. That wonderful rush of endorphins made me feel as though I could run forever with no effort. It has remained the holy grail for me and is the reason, I think, that I remain in a pair of purple sneakers with implications.

What I realized today as I watched my feel hit the asphalt beneath me is that no matter what color my sneakers are, no matter how old I become, no matter how energized I feel, I will always be a runner whether that means I am svelte and competitive or plod along the breakneck speed of a turtle. And I love my purple sneakers!