PUMPING IRONY: The Antsy Gene

Motivation is a mysterious phenomenon. After a pretty sedentary week (a little commuter cycling, no lifting), this morning I climbed out of bed, unfolded my exercise/meditation mat and slid inexplicably back into my routine: a few sun salutations and other pretend yoga poses, some stretching, 30 push-ups, a little zazen.

And then, for some reason that still escapes me, I pulled on my favorite red hooded sweatshirt, laced up my running shoes and announced to My Lovely Wife that I was taking the dog for a run.

Some context:

Taking the dog for a walk is MLW’s job, a task she dutifully performs nearly every weekday before she has her breakfast. The dog, Brigit, lives for this moment. She loves it more even than chewing on used Kleenex — and that’s saying something.

So, my announcement was met with some surprise from MLW and with some glee from Brigit, whose 10-year-old bones leapt off the couch and headed happily for the back door.

Some more context:

I never do this. Thirty years ago, my body was allergic to sitting still. I can remember routinely bursting out of my St. Paul apartment and simply running down to Como Lake, maybe a half-mile away, circling it non-stop and dashing back home — feeling that if I didn’t do so, the energy vibrating throughout my frame might just cause me to spontaneously combust. I have no idea what that was about, but I’m no longer thus afflicted. I can happily sit still for hours at a time. It’s like someone switched off the antsy gene.

Still, I felt compelled this morning to go outside and run. I was already sweaty from my workout and I’d been wondering for some time whether outdoor jogging might be more appealing than the vertigo I experience every time I climb on the treadmill. Would running on the soccer field up the street be easier on my knees? Would I be able to sprint in a way that my treadmill-phobia prevents?

So I hitched up Brigit to her gentle leader and leash, and we set off . . . into the coldest Saturday morning since March.

By the time we made it to the end of the block, my calves were already cramping and I was sucking wind like nobody’s business, but I jogged gamely on, Brigit barely breaking into a trot. My knees were holding up quite well, I noticed, and my bright white running shoes were finally getting dirty. On the down side, it was beginning to snow.

At the soccer field, I paused to stretch my annoying calves and noticed that someone had deposited a soccer ball in the netting of the goal. It occurred to me that it might be more interesting to dribble the soccer ball up and down the field than to simply slog along with no particular goal in mind. Brigit, a big soccer ball fan, was cheered by this turn of events and did her best to impede whatever progress I might have been making toward the defenseless goal at the other end of the pitch. Despite her best efforts, the ball and I and she arrived together at the other goal, rounded it smartly and dashed back upfield, dodging imaginary incompetent midfielders and indifferent defensemen until, maybe 10 yards from the goal, I drove a shot just over the head of the imaginary 3-foot-tall goalkeeper and into the net.

A little more context:

The soccer field upon which my dog and I were cavorting occupies a bit of green space on the campus of the Minneapolis Veterans Administration hospital. And it only just now dawned on me that, had I collapsed from a massive coronary, my status as a Vietnam Era veteran would’ve been pretty convenient — had anyone actually been watching me kicking a soccer ball around in the mud and snow, which I fervently hope was not the case.

I was pretty winded by this time, but Brigit and I made one last run up the field and back — emboldened perhaps by the knowledge that I was still vertical. Then, on the way home, I actually turned up the speed (so to speak) until I could feel my quads protesting, which persuaded me to give Brigit a break and walk the last block.

The whole experience (which I fear will show up on YouTube at some later date) made me wonder whether I need to learn how to run all over again. Nothing really felt comfortable; my gait seemed weirdly off-balance, my body seemed sort of misaligned. It was mildly exhilarating, I’ll admit — a kind of temporary insanity. But I’m OK now that I’m sitting down again.

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