(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on October 20, 2011, and in the Fairfield Sun on October 27, 2011, both in my “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)
Jogging is right up there with chainsaw juggling on my list of favorite hobbies. Unlike chainsaw juggling, however, I keep trying to talk myself into liking the jog.
Like most things in my life that I consider failures, I like to blame it on my upbringing. (Keep this in mind for the future, kids: Works every time). Growing up as one of seven children in the “sticks” of Greenfield Hill in Fairfield, my mom logged thousands of miles shuttling us to our various swim and soccer practices. By the time we reached fifth grade, we all understood that if it wasn’t raining, we were on our own to get where we had to go. Our coaches must have wondered why the Walsh boys always arrived to soccer practice in a lather, never realizing we’d just biked six miles to get there. When our bikes were broken, we had only our feet upon which to rely.
As a result, my two older brothers decided to become triathletes, and I decided to become bitter. Instead of using this situation to its best advantage (using this travel as training sessions for their future races), I took it as an opportunity to whine every time I walked to work at the beach.
My brother Chris began pinning articles about Mike Pigg, a famous triathlete, all over our shared bedroom bulletin board. I retaliated by creating Mike’s fictional younger brother, Tim, and tacking up my own “articles” and “inspirational” quotes. Where Chris posted Mike’s quotes such as, “Whether you’re first or second, you have your pride,” I posted Tim’s: “Running hurts my toes and takes away from Twinkie time.”
I cultivated my snarky attitude toward fitness even as I desperately tried to “catch the fever.” Figuring prominently on the family bookshelf was a copy of Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running,” the seminal text of the running craze of the early 1980s. I leafed through it many times hoping to discover the zeal of the recently converted, only to put it down and grab another cookie. Not even his death of a heart attack (at the end of his daily jog, no less) could free me from the nagging notion that I should be out there running if I was serious about staying in shape.
What followed was about 20 years of sporadic “training,” three or four-week bursts in which I’d attempt to convince myself that running could chase away those unwanted pounds. Many of these bursts ended right after a series of kind souls pulled their cars over to the side of the road as I was running — to ask if I needed help, or maybe an oxygen mask.
It’s not as if recent news is helping my self-esteem as I try my hand at running again. Last week, even as I pounded away on my treadmill in a desperate attempt to complete a 2-mile jog, Amber Miller finished the 26.2-mile Chicago Marathon while 39 weeks pregnant. She gave birth a few hours later to a healthy baby girl, saying, “For me, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
On Saturday, Mark Ott finished the Hartford Marathon and did a handstand: He’d just finished his 51st race, one in every state and Washington, D.C.
As if this weren’t obnoxious enough, on Sunday 100-year-old runner Fauja Singh earned a spot in the Guinness World Records as the oldest person to complete a full-distance marathon when he finished the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. In my early 40s, I lose my breath when looking for the TV remote.
One thing keeps me from giving up, though, and that’s my brother Chris. He went from reading Mike Pigg’s inspirational quotes to becoming an inspiration himself as he fought off the ravages of colorectal cancer. Rather than rail at the injustice of getting this disease despite a lifetime of clean living and elite athletic training, he responded by preparing for his next marathon even as the radiation and chemotherapy robbed him of energy. Even when surgery threatened to permanently end his pursuit of Iron Man triathlete status, he found himself running in a series of events to support other cancer survivors. Today, he is not only a cancer survivor himself, but also one of the world’s foremost cancer care consultants (cancertreatmentsurvival.org) and, yes, an avid triathlete. Let’s see Mike Pigg top that one!
So I keep buying blister pads and trotting onto the treadmill in the hope I might someday be able to run four miles without stopping. While I’ll have to trade my Thanksgiving Day goal from the Pequot Runners 5-mile Road Race (pequotrunners.org) for the more attainable Stratford 5K Turkey Day Trot (hitekracing.com/turkeytrot), I keep training in the hope that someday running will grow on me. At one point I hoped to be able to match my brothers and finish one full marathon. At this point, I’ll be happy if I make it to the Thanksgiving table without a side trip to the emergency room.
I’ll keep training, though. Fauja Singh ran his first marathon at age 89, so I figure I have a few years to get this whole running thing down. Even Tim Pigg would have to admit that’s within reach.