Somehow, nearly fourteen years ago, my wife saw a happy, healthy, 175-pound runner hiding beneath the 235-pound, combative, chain-smoking mess I was.  I am not sure how she saw it, either the fitness or the happiness, but she did, and with the help of running she saved me. 

That might sound a bit dramatic, but consider this:  I smoked a pack and a half a day.  I was drinking every day, often alone in my apartment, a six pack on any given night.  My favorite meal was a meatball sub with extra cheese, a full-size bag of chips, and a king-size Snickers.  Dessert (the Snickers was considered a side dish) was an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's.  I had an ego that pressed against the walls, a temper that stalked back and forth inside my chest, and a deep empty feeling despite what others saw as a successful life.  I argued with vehemence on subjects I did not know or care much about, simply because I enjoyed a fight.  I was angry at the world and had a sense of self-worth that left me hovering just above the precipice of depression. 

I remember the first time I went for a run with her, tagging along for the first mile of her five mile run.  I was out to impress her, and she humored me through the agonizing 11:50 it took me to run that mile, and then went out for her other, much faster, four.  I went to my balcony on that cold 15th of March, 2001, lit up a cigarette, and cracked open a beer.  The next run went about the same, as did the run after that.  I remember two things clearly: the hardest part was always getting out the door, and when I was finished I felt a sense of pride I thought I had lost.  As that first year of running continued, I got hooked on something positive to replace my Parliament Lights and beers, my obsessive longing for junk food, and to a degree my pessimism and anger.   

On that very first day, I started keeping a running log, recording distances, times, and temperatures. Eventually I started drawing maps of runs that were particularly enjoyable or beautiful or long.  I felt a need to record all of my running, to make it tangible as proof that I had done it.  Some entries remained just date and distance, while others became short narratives about what I had thought over the course of the miles.  Running was such a physical trial for me, black-lunged and overweight, that it emptied me of most of my anger and frustration, freeing up my mind.  It was, and continues to be, those long miles that have helped me navigate a path to a happier life.  Over the course of the miles I settle down, drain myself of the pressure that has built up inside.   

Through the simple task of getting out the door and putting one foot in front of the other, I achieved a lot that first year.  I celebrated my first run of over an hour and placed in my age-group in a local 5k.  I completed my first week of 30 miles, broke the ninety-minute and later two-hour mark, and rang in the New Year racing at midnight in New York City.  I ran along a double-yellow line of Central Park Drive and a shoreline path in Ogunquit, Maine.  I ran carriage trails in Acadia National Park and the hills of Middlebury, Vermont.  I ran the boards of Ocean City and the streets of LBI.  I ran with a headlamp before and after the sun, with all of my winter clothes and two pairs of pants in blustering snow, shirtless and sweltering under glaring hundred-degree skies. 

That first year, I cut down considerably on a drinking habit that had become concerning.  I finally quit smoking after countless failed attempts.  I lost sixty-five pounds.  More importantly, I stopped arguing with people so much; I started the process of looking at the world through kinder, more positive eyes.  I funneled the aggression I had always felt inside my chest into running, and it poured out through the soles of my feet.  I found a way to feel at peace, and through that grew stronger, and more confident, and more comfortable in my skin. 

On an overcast day the next March, my wife kept insisting on going for a run, despite my protests that I really didn't feel like it.  "It is your one year running anniversary," she told me when we were finished.  For a few minutes we sat and talked about the change I had undergone.  It had been an amazing transformation, but the picture we took to celebrate the moment hints at another chapter of the story.  Eyes up at the camera, we both raise our middle fingers.  The cheesy, yet heartfelt words around the border read: "Really did not want to run.  Really.  Dragging ass, hurtin' here and there.  But the point is we ran.  These are the moments from which runners are born, where our determination is tested, and victory begins." 
Running is hard, and sticking with it was infinitely harder.  Looking back at my running log from that year, there were more bad days than good.  While I look back now and see only a happy story, the truth has something different to say.  Here are some of the highlights of the lowlights from that first year as a runner, taken from the running log I kept with each run. 
5/22/01: ABSOLUTE SHIT.  Horrible mood, hating everything, running angry and frustrated, and like shit.
7/22/01: Complete shit.  Awful running.  Stopped.

9/5/01: Running is a joyless, endless, crappy pursuit of nothing.
10/13/01: AWFUL.  It is time to make this a priority again.  My weekly mileage is a joke and my body is responding accordingly.  Want to be good at this. 
11/22/01: Freezing.  Had to heat up cold running shoes from my car with a hair dryer.  Really cold.  Decent run - but difficult and feeling tired. 
12/10/01: In the dark with my headlamp.  7:45 min miles.
12/27/01: Icy cold.  Lakes covered with a clear layer of ice - cold breath.  A difficult run with a lot of wind. 
1/11/02: Extremely painful first 10-15 minutes.  Ran by Jenn's to drop off wind breaker and I quit.  I chucked the apartment key on the ground, threw my jacket at the car, cursed and quit.  2 minutes after Jenn went back out I couldn't stand it so I started again.  Wound up running the whole thing and ran it well.  Hurting after. 

Running was the most difficult thing I had ever done, and it demanded a level of follow-through that was not my strong suit.  I cursed my way through entire runs, questioning why I was putting myself through something so miserable. On more than one occasion I punched a street sign and made what can only be called a habit out of giving people the finger.  But week after week, I managed to keep heading out the door.  To paraphrase one of my favorite poets: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I busted my ass running down one.  That has made all the difference.   To paraphrase Nike: I just did it. 

I am mostly happy these days.  I have mellowed, like a nice wine, with age.  Slightly.  I have done a lot of growing up, and logged a lot of miles.  It surprises me still to know just how low I felt back then, when I was getting drunk on cheap beer alone in my apartment on a weeknight.  There was a stretch of time when I hated what I saw in the mirror.  There were times when transitioning my addictive personality from cigarettes and beer to running and healthy eating felt nearly impossible.  There were back slides and failures and countless moments I fell short. 

I still have all the flaws I had when I started running nearly fourteen years ago, but running helps me keep the worst of them at bay.  And, running is still a great challenge.  The ads you see of people trotting along in their beautiful clothes and a big smile are crap.  Running is hard.  But after a run, I am a more patient father, a beer is just a drink I enjoy rather than an escape I need, food is fuel rather than a fix.  Running has taught me humility, and given me a place where the normal stresses of life drop away with every footfall. 

I hope to see you out there.


  1. Dude, great stuff, jenn just showed me your blog, really enjoyed it, Anth

  2. You're so awesome!!!


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