January 2nd – the first day of 2013. (We don’t count January 1st, just to accommodate everyone with a killer hangover.) A brand-spanking new calendar, a good time to make a fresh start of things.
I have a weird relationship with new year’s resolutions. While I have done them in the past – quit smoking one year, became vegetarian another – part of me also really dislikes the idea that the entire Western world will get up today intent on fixing what is wrong with ourselves. It’s a nice marker, offering ease of calculation, in the same way that a small business might choose the calendar year as their business year, just to make things easier at tax time. But other than that, it’s essentially meaningless. Only the whims of the Gregorian calendar determine the “new year”. Logically, it would make more sense to tie the new year to the Solstice on December 21st.
In any case, we all get a little crazy for a few weeks in January, trying to become better people.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with self-improvement. Setting goals for the coming year, planning to cut out the bad habits and create new ones. But the motivation has to be meaningful, and it has to be personal. And ultimately, whether it’s the addition of a new habit or the subtraction of a bad one, it has to be something that makes you feel good about yourself.
The problem with personal goals is this – most everyone else around you doesn’t really give a shit. They may admire the overall goal and the achievement of said goal. They may be envious of your devotion and willpower, but unless they share that exact same goal – and are currently working towards it – they are probably bored to tears by hearing you talk about it.
And so we come to running. A number of people of my acquaintance, well into their middle age, have taken up running. Their reasons vary. Their goals are also all over the board – some for general fitness, some for power and personal strength, some to run races. Be aware that I am not dissing them at all for their dedication to getting/staying fit/strong. I am proud of them for their efforts and achievements. But every time I see or hear someone talk about their running hobby, it makes me cringe inside.
In the mental health world, it’s called a “trigger”. It’s unintentional, of course. Nobody knows that what they’re saying is causing me hurt. And on a very large level, it’s not really their problem. At all. It’s my issue to deal with. But anytime anybody starts talking about the rush they get from running, I want to stick my fingers in my ears and scream LALALALA!
See, running = humiliation. Sure, it’s easy enough to look at me and think snarkily about how a fat lady doesn’t like to run. Things bounce uncomfortably. The knees can’t take the pressure. But my hatred of running goes back past middle school. Even as a close to regular-sized kid, I was never athletic. I was never encouraged to be; while my peers were all out at little league, I was home learning to embroider or knit.
I had kept this trigger well-buried for years, decades even. But over the holidays, Greg and I did a marathon viewing of the TV show Freaks and Geeks, and one scene where the students are made to do ten laps around the gym set me off in a really uncomfortable way.
Because those ten laps around the gym – they were my greatest fear. The rest of the class would be finished and waiting while I and the other fat kid in the class had a couple of laps to go. Egged on by the gym teacher, the other, more athletic kids would taunt us. Lard ass. Fatso. Whale. Blob. I’d finish in tears, every time, humiliated, ashamed, full of self-hatred.
The funny bit is that it wasn’t that I didn’t have the energy – at school dances (and well into adulthood at nightclubs), I could spend hours on a dancefloor, leaving only to rehydrate. As a teenager, I’d regularly spend an afternoon riding my bike for 10 or 15 miles at a time. When I wasn’t on a bike I had ice skates or rollerskates on my feet. I walked the two miles to school most days.
I just wasn’t ever, in any capacity, sporty.
So while my friends all excitedly talk of their running goals and exploits, I get very tense. In my experience, the only thing runners like more than running is making other people run – and yelling at them in a humiliating way to “encourage” them. Even from people who profess to prefer running alone, because it makes them feel all zen, I am always inwardly cringing, waiting for the inevitable, “You should try it, I’ll bet you’d really like it!” even if my friends who are runners aren’t really pushy in that way.
Maybe, if I could get past that trigger, that might be true. But no amount of enthusiasm from someone else will ever overcome the really bad feelings I have embedded in my brain when it comes to running.
So for 2013, I resolve to never ever run – unless something that can kill me (and which I am not able to overpower) is chasing me. I ran once to save my life on the sandflats in the Bay of Fundy as the tide rushed in. I ran from a street fight in which headbangers came after – and outnumbered – my punk rock crew. I ran for the last bus to the suburbs from downtown Halifax on a Saturday night because I knew missing it would result in a screamfest and a crack upside the head when I eventually got home. And once, my maternal instinct kicked in, and I ran like the fucking wind to pry my dog’s neck from the jaws of a pitbull. (I don’t actually remember the running part of this last incident – I was at Point A and then at Point B, like magic, although observers say I did, in fact, run, with some great level of speed.)
But you know what? That’s enough running for me. I doubt I’ll ever get past the trigger that makes my brain associate the sport with feeling like a big, humiliated loser, and while I may well be wrong – we’ll never really know – I am doubtful that it will make me feel all alive and energized like it does for others.
To all my friends who have taken up running, either as a New Year’s resolution or at some previous point – good on you. I applaud your decision to include movement and fitness into your daily routine. Just please, please, please… don’t make me listen to you talk about it.