It was supposed to be a swim day. January 8, a Tuesday. I had several epic meetings and conference calls on deck, which would keep me chair-bound for six or seven hours. To gird myself, I planned a pool workout on the way to the office, but I hit a traffic jam and had to skip it. I'd also misplaced my wallet and been woken up by our 3-year-old at five-something. Right off the bat, one of those days.
It was also the day I had to write my Editor's Letter for our March issue, which is always more painful than it should be. I think the great sportswriter Red Smith was right when he said, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Also, I hadn't been running much for the past six weeks. I was in year-end rest, recharge, and blow-out-the-holidays mode. Uninspired by the prospect of writing about not running, I didn't know which I dreaded more: going into a double-marathon of meetings and phone calls, or coming out of them to face my version of Smith's typewriter, a blinking cursor.
At noon, while the second call went into overtime, I glanced out my window at the parking lot, where the daily lunch run embarks. There were five of my colleagues, all dressed in shorts. (Ah, the runner's optimism. Shorts in January!) Two of them held their wrists above their heads, waiting for their GPS watches to sync. The others stretched idly, shading their eyes from the sunshine. Then they were off. I like to join the run at least once a week. But I don't recall ever wanting to join it more than I did at that moment.
When the last meeting mercifully ended at 4:00, I returned to my desk, sat down, and prepared to open a vein. But I had absolutely nothing left. With my deadline looming, I glanced out my window again, to where I'd seen the lunch-run crew leave and then return, looking renewed, almost giddy. I decided to go for a run. A quick one. I couldn't. But I had to.
Of course, I'd only brought a swimsuit to work, so like a hopeless bachelor whipping up dinner using only what's in his fridge, I cobbled together an outfit from the odds and ends in my office. I threw on a lime-green long-sleeve shirt made of recycled plastic bottles, and over it a groovy, bright red, short-sleeved shirt. The only pants I had were red-and-black shorts; the only socks a pair of black compression knee-highs (I never, ever run in knee-highs). I grabbed my wear-tester's pair of green-and-red Saucony Mirages (a Shoe Guide award-winner). All stellar gear. But I looked like an overgrown Christmas elf. On my way out, one of our designers did a double-take, looked me up and down and said, "Lotta red."
I headed out to the deserted gravel trail behind our building, kneecaps prickling in the chill. The trail, a three-quarters-of-a-mile loop, was goopy and pockmarked with patches of ice. The sun was setting over the treeline. I pulled my lime-green sleeves down over my hands and felt my senses shift from desk-bound and stressed-out to alert and alive.
After the first loop, I glanced at my watch. A little over six minutes. I decided to see if I could do a loop in under five. Then I would get back to work.
The second loop broke the seal. Sweating, thinking only about my breathing and where to land my feet, I ran faster. But still 5:20, and then 5:12. I moved over to the grass lining the trail, and halfway through the fourth loop, as I cruised past the playground outside our daycare center, two boys at the top of a slide yelled, "Merry Christmas!" I laughed and waved, and realized that compression socks feel really good. Before I knew it I was back at the trailhead, glancing at my watch: 4:52. I headed inside, with new blood pumping through my veins, after just 21 minutes.
Running can be anything you need it to be, big or small. It can help you beat addiction or disease. It can burn off five or 10 or 50 pounds and change your life. Or in the time it takes to watch a few YouTube clips, it can clear the cobwebs in your head, give you a shot of endorphins, and salvage a forgettable day.
As for my Editor's Letter, you might say it wrote itself.
David Willey, Editor-in-Chief
For more by David Willey, click here.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.
Follow David Willey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dwilleyRW