When I got home from work, I was really tired. My first instinct was to crash on my comfy bed to take a nap but grudgingly changed into my running gear instead. After putting on sunscreen and my new running shades, I did some stretches and then started chugging down my street.  “I’ll run to the library and back,” I told myself as my body started groaning in protest. “Two miles. That’s it.” Let’s just say my heart wasn’t in it. 

Dodging traffic, I ventured into a residential neighborhood with hills you never notice when driving but do running. After a mile, I looked at my exercise monitor and saw my heartbeat was 120 but, even though I was pleased my ticker was going strong, I felt like the rest of my body was falling apart. Remembering that the first and last miles are always the hardest, however, I pressed on. If I’ve learned one thing since beginning this endeavor, it’s that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

I’m the kind of guy that craves the comfortable and familiar, cherishing the predictability of routine. I can’t stand it when plans go awry or when my wife sticks unplanned additions into our itinerary. Basically, I hate change, which is a problem because, as the last months have shown me, change is inevitable. This week, I will celebrate my first birthday without my father. Since my birth, my father had always been there; whether it was hosting kiddie parties, giving me presents, birthday cards, telephonic well wishes or, when I was in my hardscrabble twenties, that very welcome check. Now there will be nothing – and that is a most unwelcome change. 

Bored with my route, I took a detour and started jogging up another road I’d driven over a thousand times but, to my hamstrings’ chagrin, I realized it’d be an uphill slog for almost a mile. “Fuck” I grunted but, instead of turning around, I plodded on, feeling my heart thudding in my chest as it ramped up to handle the increased workload. At the halfway mark, I felt very uncomfortable and noticed my breathing getting ragged. “I don’t remember this road being that long,” I thought to myself. Feeling starved for air, I forced myself to calmly breathe deep from my belly and the panicky feeling soon dissipated.  Then, before I knew it, I hit the crest of the hill and was rewarded with a gravity assist as I made my way downwards. By the time I reached the library taking the long way. I was feeling pretty good and decided to take advantage of their water fountain for a hydration break but, when I got to it, I saw it was only good for filling water bottles. “If you need a cup,” a sign over the fountain read. “Please ask the front desk.” 

“May I have a cup?” I panted to the librarian. Looking at like I’d just returned a book twenty years overdue, she fished one out of a cabinet and handed to with what seemed like an air or resentment. Since I work for the town, I’m known to all the library staff and wondered why I was getting suddenly getting the hands off treatment. Then a light bulb went off in my head. Covered in sweat and wearing shorts, a long sleeve t-shirt, and my new Terminator sunglasses, she didn’t recognize me. I can imagine the staff here get annoyed when runners use their library for water breaks and urinary pitstops – kinda of like using a restaurant as a public restroom and not ordering anything. Maybe I’ll check out a book next time. 

Thirst quenched, I headed outside and checked my exercise monitor which told me my detour had already taken me over the three mile mark. Feeling rejuvenated from my short break, I turned the timer back on and started jogging for home and, by the time I was a few blocks from my house, my legs felt like they were running on automatic. When I finally reached my porch, I looked at my monitor again and saw I’d done four miles. While my pace wasn’t going to break any records, it was my new personal best. Feeling loose and full of oxygen, I stretched my legs and then hit the shower.  As the hot water relaxed my muscles I realized if I’d taken that afterwork nap I’d probably still be asleep, and my circadian rhythm shot to hell. Now dressed and standing in my kitchen with my child home from school, I drank a bottle of beer to replenish my electrolytes and started preparing supper while Natalie practiced on her flute in the living room. The turkey chili prepped that morning was almost done in the slow cooker, so I whipped up some up some baking powder biscuits, prepared a salad, and set the table. 

Waiting for my wife to come home from work, I passed on a second beer and guzzled some mineral water while listening to Natalie inexpertly play her instrument. Feeling pleasantly exhausted, I looked at some books on jogging my wife had found for me at a used bookstore. Written in the 80’s, the books had a bit of a New Age bent, opining that running could be an avenue to spiritual growth; claiming that, if you could overcome the mental and physical challenges running entails, that would help you meet whatever challenges life threw at you. Chuckling, I put the books down. No matter the endeavor – whether it be fly fishing, baseball, knitting, or pumping iron – there’s always some wag out there who’ll claim it’s the path to enlightenment. But there’s no sense in over thinking things because that usually just takes the fun out of it. Running is just putting one foot in front of the other.

Later that night, I felt my brain powering down almost as soon as I slipped under the sheets. As I drifted off, I could almost hear my dad wishing me a happy birthday as my mind crossed into the nether regions of consciousness. Was that what his voice sounded like? Ah, for in this sleep of death what dreams might come.Goodnight dad, wherever you are. Then my eyes popped open, and it was a new day.  Slipping out of bed so as not to disturb my wife, I got dressed and headed out the door, running down familiar streets that, freed from an automotive perspective. I now saw with new eyes. But that’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it? The old passes away and, while that can be painful, you just have to keep plodding on to see the new. Maybe those 80’s running gurus were on to something. Pacing through the downtown, I passed by the owner of the luncheonette I frequent as he opened up for the day. Smiling from behind my mirror shades, I said hello – but he didn’t recognize me either. 

Maybe I was also becoming something new. 

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