When I was a kid in high school, I dreaded the period of gym class in which we were required to run around an indoor track for a mile. We were always timed, and distance running was always a bit of a weakness for me. I didn't smoke too many cigarettes during that stage of my life, so it really should not have been overly difficult, but that last lap or two was always a killer. I was a hell of a sprinter, and I guess I always pushed myself too hard right from the start. It took me a long time to understand that I couldn't sprint for an entire mile.
Later on I took karate at the "bad school", with ex-marine instructors, and they put us through the paces. Every once in awhile the sensei would make us run through the trails next to the little school, and we'd be required to do so barefoot. The stones and rough terrain made this even less enjoyable than it might have been. This exercise was performed to the accompaniment of a steady stream of berating... What were we? A bunch of pussies?? I can only assume that our female classmates swallowed that turn of phrase with resignation.
After a couple of years testing my stamina with hard alcohol, I felt motivated to really give this running thing a try. With the hubris of youth, I chose the steepest hill I could find- a grueling 3/4 mile ascent to the Hill District form North Oakland. On my first attempt my entire body was overtaken with heat exhaustion, and I celebrated my cresting of the hill with several spurts of projectile vomiting. There's was nothing to do but continue.
The next day was a perfect repeat of my initial performance. I did, however, have the presence of mind to note the particular tones and texture of that day's purging. I had been expecting another bout of puke, and was quite at peace with its inevitability. On the third day, I only dry heaved a bit, and I had seemingly conquered my body's natural resistance to long distance torture.
As the weeks progressed I lengthened my route. Eventually I was entering a trancelike condition during which my mind was emptied of intention. I lost myself in the rhythms of urban atmosphere, and pushed myself further and further. I got to the point where I was running fifty minutes per day/ five times a week. It became obsessive. My chest got so thin that I had to supplement my exercise with a hundred push-ups a day, just so I wouldn't look bottom-heavy.
And then it happened... shin splints- the bane of any distance runner. I had never been shown how to run properly, and I was injuring myself. I tried to work through the pain, but that only made the situation worse. With ankles swollen, and a limping gait, I withdrew from my regimen. Soon after, I took up smoking in an ass-backwards attempt to get my girlfriend to stop. I figured that she was so poor that every cigarette I stole from her was one less that she would smoke. It didn't work out that way. Unfortunately, my new habit was more compelling, and I have refrained from running to this day.