Sunday, June 05, 2016

Burn

I don't like pain. I can't imagine anyone does, but I actively avoid it. I especially hate the torture that is running. With all my heart, body and mind.

My heart tries to escape its cage, my body screams in agony, and my brain twists trying to fathom why its container is wasting all this energy for no good reason: running in circles just to get back to where it started, or worse, running in place!

Some of the aversion may be attributed to my belief that running hates me back. This may or may not have something to do with an exceedingly embarrassing incident involving a treadmill throwing me off like it was an ill-treated horse. I think treadmills can smell fear. I learned to stay far away from them, preferring instead the non-threatening cross-trainer, which is rather kinder to those of us who are weak of cardiovascular strength.

I've heard of the runner's high: some people actually experience exhilaration from the activity, apparently. But then, people in general are strange. I've also read that running comes naturally to humans. I considered writing to the author telling him of the counter-example I had found: me! After a while I just assumed that perhaps my fight-or-flight response is simply more geared towards fight: I don't like violence, but it can't be worse than running.

A month ago however, a strange feeling came over me. I wanted to learn to run. I am not entirely certain why, but it may have to do with pride. I refused to yield to a simple, mindless machine - and here I speak both of the treadmill and my body. I shall conquer.

And so, I ran. The first day, I managed an entire minute of jogging before clutching my side and fearing I might be having a heart attack.

The next day, I made it to two minutes.

The next, I ran for three.

And the next - well, you get the idea. Each day, I ran just a little bit longer. The last minute was always the hardest. The minute after, always the most triumphant. I was setting new personal records each day. They may have been rather modest as records go, but they meant the world to me.

I used loud music to distract my mind from the senseless exercise, and tried to trick it into thinking this was actually fun by smiling to release dopamine. And in this manner, I conquered first my mind, and then my body.

I can now run for about a half hour before giving up. I still strive to improve each day, either in speed or endurance. I may never run a marathon, and I may live with perpetually sore legs, but I can proudly say today, that I can run.

I realized that to run, you need to be in a Zen state of mind, one where you do not think of the result of the activity, and forget that you've been running for what feels like an eternity, and instead learn to live in the moment. You pretend that each minute is the first, that there was nothing before, and there is nothing after. There is only now. It gives you a feeling of freshness, of newness. Something to keep the pain away: both in cardio and in life.

Of course, there is pain. I can fool my mind, but I cannot fool my body. My calves burn every evening. But, it's worth it, to grow, to learn, to be stronger.

To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, it is a pleasure to burn.

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