Editorial: Taking Up Running to Slow Down

I’m in my mid-30s, and “getting fit” is something I think about more now. It took me a long time to come around on the idea of exercise for exercise sake — but it has become something that I actually enjoy (even if I don’t do it as often as I should).

In middle school, if memory serves, I was literally the last person to finish our required “mile run” in gym class. I don’t remember my time, but I remember walking for most of the several laps around the soccer field we were supposed to do. I was slow with everything then, slow to get ready in the morning, a plodding homework completer, a slow eater … being a slow runner or walker was just one more item on the list.

Since then, many things have changed. I’m a journalist. I have a family. Life seems fast, and it can often feel like I’m rushing to keep up with it. Consequentially, my speed has quickened, at times to a breakneck pace — speeding through meals and rushing to complete everything that has to get done, and on deadline!

Ironically, I took up running in part to slow things down.

I started a few years ago when I was living in Somerville and writing for the Boston Globe. I stepped outside my apartment after a tough day still wearing my work clothes and just started jogging. I don’t think I even made it to Davis Square, just a half a mile away. I was huffing and puffing when I had to stop, but the stress of the day did seem to melt away.

Since that attempted mile in middle school, I don’t think I had run any further than around a set of bases in pickup softball games. But that short Somerville run felt good, and I found myself out there the next day – still in work clothes – trying to get a little farther than I did during the previous run.

I didn’t run every day, but I tried to get out and do it as much as possible. My lungs adjusted to the new routine and my legs started to ache less often. Running became a short time-out during the day. It was exercise, yes, but also a way to see my neighborhood and connect with others out doing the same thing. Other joggers would make eye contact and give me a short grunt and a wave. I was being welcomed into a club.

Always one for data, I tracked my routes on Google Maps and figured out how far I had gone each day. Passing one mile without stopping, which took some time, felt significant. It was something I’d never done before.

On those frustrating days at work when the source I really needed to hear from didn’t call or I didn’t get as far into writing a longer piece as I wanted, completing a run felt like an accomplishment I could count on.

I learned the streets around my block. I learned which ones were shortcuts and started taking different routes than would be possible by car. Eventually, I was able to jog out of my neighborhood and even cross city lines to get to Cambridge or Arlington.

Running has been a tough habit for me to keep, and I’ve seldom lasted more than several months at a time. The weather eventually gets too hot or too cold, and once you’re out of it for a couple weeks, it becomes difficult to start it back up again. One wonders why bad habits seem so hard to break while good habits are so easily discarded.

In at least one way, it’s a good thing to have periods when I’m running and times when I’m not. I really do notice the difference on my legs and stomach. When I don’t run, I’m a lot less “fit.” It can also be harder to work through the stresses of the day.

Running is a bit different now. As often as not, I’m pushing my nearly one-year-old in a stroller when on a jog, so I mostly stick to the Northampton Bike Path rather than the roads. Every so often I have to stop to adjust a pacifier or otherwise soothe him. But at the same time it is nice to have the company and get to show him the scenery as it goes by.

Following the Hot Chocolate Run last month — my first ever road race — the snow and cold have pushed me into a bit of a lull.

But with the New Year behind us I’ll be starting again soon.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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