[NOTE: To mark the publication of my new book, I Hate Running and You Can Too, on March 16th, I’m re-posting the original essay that inspired the book. You can pre-order the book here. ]
I hate running, three to four times a week if I have time. I hated it yesterday for a little over an hour.
I have three different pairs of shoes I hate running in. Every time I run, I pick one pair, and I go out and run in them, and I enjoy it about as much as I enjoy brushing my teeth in the morning, except running lasts way longer.
I hate running until I run for 50 minutes. There is some magical thing that happens right around the 50-minute mark, where I start feeling like smiling at people I see and/or petting their dogs, and I absentmindedly forget that I am not having fun.
Running is tiring. A couple times last year I did it for eleven hours straight, and man, was I tired afterward. Most days I do it for about 11 minutes before I’m like Fuck This. But I just keep going.
Sometimes I do some math in my head and think about being faster, and how much less time I’d have to spend doing this if I could run, say, six-minute miles instead of nine-and-a-half-minute miles. Then I think about something else, like how the outside of my ankle hurts. And I keep running.
Lots of people are excited about Fitbits and other fitness tracking devices nowadays, trying to get to 5,000 steps every day as a sort of baseline goal for fitness. I wasn’t one of those people until my friend Dan showed me the “Fitness” app on my iphone and told me there was no way to shut it off. Then I realized what a lazy piece of shit I am every day—except on the days I run, when I dominate that 5,000-step count thing by three or four times.
All the shirts I wear running smell like B.O. I wash them, and when I head out for a run, I put on a clean shirt, and it smells nice for a few minutes. After approximately 40 strides, something in the armpits awakens, and they smell exactly like they did at the end of my last run. It’s like I didn’t even wash the shirt.
I also hate when, while running, I get about two or three miles from my apartment or the nearest trailhead, and I experience what I call “The Drop.” The Drop is that rumbly belly pain indicating something is a bit amiss in your digestive system and it’s giving you a warning shot, that you have probably a 50/50 chance at getting home or somewhere else private before you need to sit on a toilet. Although the idea that it’s 50/50 is misleading, because some of the time it goes away without further event, some of the time the end of the story is more thrilling than the first chase scene in Mad Max: Fury Road, and some of the time you end up squatting behind a bush somewhere. Anyway, The Drop basically only happens while running. You never get halfway up a route at a climbing gym and have something like that happen.
My friend Syd hates running, too. He’s run in a bunch of New York City Marathons and other races, which he occasionally claims to enjoy. I asked him one time how much of his years-long running career he’d enjoyed, and he said, “You mean like total hours and minutes?” I said yes. “About fifteen minutes,” Syd said. Which sounded about right to me.
Maybe the sickest thing about the whole idea of running is when you sign up for an organized run, like an ultramarathon, and in order to run 50 or 62 or 100 miles in one day, you basically have to spend about six months running all the time just so you can run that far in one day. You get to the finish line of a 50-mile race and people are like, “Congratulations, you just ran 50 miles.” And you’re like, “Fuck that, I just ran 750 miles—you just saw the last 50. Anyway, let’s go get a pizza.” And then you hate yourself and make strange noises every time you stand up from a seated position for about five days and then you start thinking, “That race was so fun, I should do that again soon.” Sometimes I like to say, “I’ve done dumber things for worse reasons.”
I also like to say, “I’m not sure that I like running, but I like having run.” Which is kind of a joke, but not really. I mean, have you ever just let yourself mouth-vacuum deep-dish pizza and not stop until you were ashamed? Yes. Way more fun than running 31 miles.
So there’s that, the calorie replacement, and a handful of other things about running that are likable. Chocolate Clif Shots, for instance. Sometimes I think about filling up a Camelbak reservoir with Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and going for a long run, and how awesome that would be, but the cleanup would be a pain in the ass, so I’m glad someone has thought of my needs and carefully packaged chocolate energy goo in small foil packets so I can hate my life decisions a little less approximately every 30 to 45 minutes while running.
Also, there’s a sort of meditative quality in the rhythm of it, when you do it for long enough. You can’t make a good action sports film about it because it’s not sexy like hucking cliffs is, but there’s something to plodding along at a 10-minute-mile pace for hours at a time, and getting to a point where you just stop thinking altogether. Around Mile 10 or 12, I often think how fucked up it is that this is what I have to do to get away from the three-minute circuit of checking my email, then Instagram, then Twitter, then whatever, then my email again, then finally going back to that thing I’m supposed to be working on. Someone has no doubt done some research on why this is satisfying—I haven’t, but I can tell you it’s vaguely enjoyable. Here we are, literally running away from our damn phones in the year 2017.
Some people hate running so much that they don’t run at all. They stay in shape riding bicycles, or doing circuit workouts, or using other machines at the gym. I’m not quite in that category, although I was for a decade or so. I guess I’m now in a category of people who hate running, but not enough to stop doing it. I imagine some people have the same feeling about prescription painkillers or day trading.
Maybe running is that pop song you know you absolutely hate, but if it comes on the radio when you’re in the car by yourself, maybe you’ll listen to the whole thing without changing the station. Or it’s that super-cute guy or girl you just can’t stand, but if they asked you out on a date, you’d drop everything and go out with them. Or maybe that’s too philosophical, and running is just better than getting soft.
So I’ll be over here, lacing up my shoes, wondering how my running clothes can smell so bad when I just washed them, procrastinating my run until the last possible minute, not really understanding why, just doing it, thinking of Denzel Washington in Fences yelling at his son, “Like you? What law is there sayin’ I got to like you?” and wishing it was over before I even start, the whole time with a deeply buried subconscious awareness that there will probably come a day when I can’t run anymore and I’ll miss the hell out of it.
Anyway, I hate running. But you should totally try it.
You can pre-order a copy of I Hate Running and You Can Too through Bookshop and independent bookstores here or through Amazon here.