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My Longest Mile

by John Corrigan

My life took an unforeseen turn this past January. In a mixture of “Groundhog Day” and “The Longest Mile,” my wife, an avid runner with a few marathons under her soles, inveigled me into a Faustian deal. She thought my fourteen year old son and I, avid non-runners, should run one mile a day every day of 2007. She said this would be good for us because running is great for the body and soul and we just didn’t know what we were missing. My wife has been after me for years to run with her. I had successfully resisted until now, but she hinted that an official t-shirt from some running club was a distinct possibility if we were successful. I love a challenge, and I’ll do just about anything for a t-shirt. This would be an opportunity to show her that running is overrated, so I accepted her ludicrous proposition.

On December 31st I thought, “No problem, one mile, just thirty minutes of my life each day and it will be over.” On January 1st two minutes into our first mile my thoughts were, “I can’t breathe!” and “Does my son know CPR?” After twenty minutes of staggering, wheezing, limping, and whining we finally completed our first mile.

My wife promised me that running would eventually feel great. She promised me that running is the path to existential bliss, but now I suspect she has been rendered non compos mentis by some sort of endorphin overload. Running has yet to make me feel good. I never smile. I have yet to find peace, my center, or even my second wind although I do pray a lot, usually something along the lines of, “God, let this be over quickly.” My sinews, tendons, bones, and lungs start up each run sounding like my ’78 Mercedes missing a cylinder. My only consolation is that every step forward is a step closer to finishing.

My wife now thinks I am a wimp because I only run one mile. She gleefully mocks me by telling me that the seven year old down the street just completed a half marathon. I knew this would happen. I knew it would never be enough, but I reminded her that so far I had run six marathons! Of course, it has taken six months.

She whips out hackneyed running bromides to encourage me such as, “It clears your mind. It feels so good. Doesn’t it make your body feel alive?” “@#$%&* no!” is usually my response. Sex, surfing, and, Peanut M&M’s- they make my body feel good. Not running. How about sex once a day every day for the whole year? How about a t-shirt for that!

It is said that the Eskimos have forty words for “snow” and that Bedouins have fifty words for “sand.” I have about a hundred words to describe how much I loathe running. Not only do I hate running, but I suspect that running hates me. The elements seem to conspire against me as I run my daily mile. Gravity surely exerts more force just on me. I can hear the barometric pressure chuckling as it quickly doubles along only my path. My feet pull away from the ground like sweaty thighs from a hot vinyl car seat. The wind actually blows at me from opposite directions.

According to my wife, I have two major problems- my right and my left shoe. I refuse to buy running shoes. I insist on wearing my old, chunky Timberland mountain boots. They weigh about three pounds each and the heel counters are hideously deformed with one actually protruding into the shoe. I have stubbornly drawn a line in the sand of my life, no cell phones and no running shoes. If Lasse Viren could run barefoot, and Marines can run in boots, then I can run in my old Timberlands.

I don’t wear running clothes either. I eschew hi-tech wicking shirts, vented shorts, and special Antarctic grown cotton ankle-high socks that allegedly prevent blisters. Sometimes I run in my jeans. I may wear shorts, sweats, or wear no socks. Whatever I have on is what I run in.

I gaze at the running lunatic fringe, always chiseled and hairless, in the slick running magazines smiling and gliding effortlessly through the miles. They never sweat, never frown, and always run in good weather. I’m convinced it is all fiction staged to torment me. I sweat profusely. I am always in agony. It is always raining, usually sideways, when I run. It is no coincidence that in real life no one ever smiles or laughs while they run. This is why I love surfing. We can paddle, splash around, and catch a wave. Basketball is actually fun. You can dribble, shoot, and trash talk while keeping score. The only time a runner smiles is when the run is over and he realizes he is not dead.

I ask myself what must motivate runners. Why run if you’re not being chased? It is a fact that the first marathoner dropped dead! Runners remind me of those medieval monks who practiced self-flagellation in order to purify their souls. Are runners simply neurotic always shouting “On your left” as they race through life? Are they fighting high cholesterol? Are they control freaks trying to manage a world beyond their control? (In that case I could be the next Dean Karnazes). Are they just sick of the noise and clutter of life and need some quiet time? Runners must have deep psychological problems, right? They can’t really enjoy running, can they? Ye fools, God invented SportsCenter and surfing for our pleasure, not running.

So why do I continue to run this accursed mile every day? Am I just testing myself? Am I trying to prove something to my wife? There is one thing that has made it all worthwhile: my son and I have a new shared interest. He is in better shape, and he is a much better runner than I. He also has my undivided attention for twenty minutes which gives him a chance to tell me all about computers, software, and other incomprehensible technical things until I am praying to be lightly clipped by a truck’s mirror. Just kidding. This makes each mile worthwhile. It is our time together, and we will remember this forever. He’ll never admit it, but I suspect he actually likes running with me.

I will finish this twisted experiment in just a few days. We have run in the snow, wind-driven rain, ninety-five degree heat, at midnight, and in other cities just to keep this streak going. Not really for a t-shirt, and not really for my wife, but because running, this hurts to admit, is not quite as bad as I thought it was.

I must confess that I broke down and finally bought running shoes. They’re orange and gray. My wife had a very smug smile when I bought them. But I’ll never wear those little ankle socks.

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