I was talking with a good friend who is going through a rough patch on Friday night and he had just gone running and I launched into a helpful little monologue about how important exercise is to his emotional well-being – healthy body/healthy mind – and all that good stuff and it didn’t occur to me at the time that I had not done any exercise myself for months.
I’ve been a runner, which is a serious misnomer, since I was about twelve or thirteen. It’s a misnomer because what I do is not running, but jogging mostly, sometimes just glorified walking. Unless bears are chasing me, or cops (“the fuzz” as they were known then), I really don’t ever actually run. So yesterday and today I did run (jog), inspired by my own words of encouragement or embarrassment for having talked so glowingly about it while not actually practicing what I was preaching.
On my run today I was thinking about the early days and remembered the first time I set out to run for running’s sake, but it wasn’t exactly that even. You see, I had the great fortune of growing up on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, which is a lake smack dab in the middle of the city, part of a string of lakes actually that include Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and the other one, the name of which escapes me and always has for some odd reason.
Back in those days, and this would have been around 1975, very few people ran for the sake of running. Kids who ran track or cross-country in high school ran and other athletes ran but mostly on or around the field. You could sit on a Saturday in summertime and see few if any runners circling the lakes. There were certainly some, but nothing like the throngs that now pack the paths like some circuitous mass journey to Mecca.
I remember my buddy Ben Johnson, two doors down, and I deciding to “run around the lake.” I put that in quotes because we would never have said, “Let’s go running,” and then run around the lake. In the same manner, no one would have said, “Let’s go painting,” when in fact they wanted to “paint the shed.” To “go running” came about later, I don’t know when, at least within my worldview. We weren’t running for running’s sake. We were running to run around the lake.
So we put on our crappy flat-footed Converse All Stars, which at the time had not yet been inducted as the quintessential icon of alt-rock coolness by our neighbors (who lived closer to Isles than Calhoun), The Replacements. They were simply all we had. Pumas, Adidas and Nike were just about to explode onto the scene, but at this point it was the Converse, or a shoe we called Bumpers, or P.F. Flyers to choose from, as far as I can remember. And they all came in only black, white or blue. Mine were blue.
And then we ran around the lake, which set into motion a lifetime of running (jogging, glorified walking) for me. It’s cool to distinctly remember a day almost 40 years ago that was only unique at the time in that we ran around the lake, and yet profoundly changed my life.
I’m still a little old school (although I definitely wear better shoes) in that I tend to be in sweats – real sweats, gray or blue or whatever, the same style as I would have in 75, rather than any sort of tight, bright, modern, expensive running gear. I honestly cannot imagine my butt in those “pants” if that’s what you call what looks like spray-on nylon. Nor do I think anyone else should have to imagine it, let alone actually witness in real-time bouncing down the street.
I often wonder standing at a red light who looks more ridiculous: Me in my baggy sweats looking like a Rocky wanna-be on his way to sprint up a long flight of stairs punching at the air, or the tall, skinny, rainbow-ed Oompa-Loompa next to me running in place, apparently unable to stop moving lest his legs turn to ice beneath that thin veneer of elastic something or other. It’s probably a wash.
Speaking of ridiculous, I spent a month in a smaller city in Serbia, Jagodina, back in the 90’s. For some stupid reason I got it in my head to go running. Now at the time, this was a place where personal health and exercise had evolved to mostly smoking, drinking and fighting. I took off in purple shorts and a t-shirt (I had not at that time seen a single human being in shorts throughout Serbia despite the fact that it was in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit) and ran by some guys who said something in Serbian, which I did not speak and no longer remember. When I got back I told the people who I was staying with what the guys had said and they laughed. “Fucking purple underwear.” I didn’t run anymore in Jagodina.