Following Josh’s prompt, I thought about how I came to run commuting. It is founded less in practical circumstance than his. My run commute, and distance running in general, is rooted in thoughts of green and health. Not the save-the-planet type: rather, the backseat progeny of thrift and paranoia.
Also, like any tale of any merit, it involves REVENGE.
I lived in rural western New York state. I rode a little commuter bus 12 miles to and from work. It saved money and wear on my car, and yielded more than an hour of reading time, ample opportunity to plow through nearly one-third a Choose Your Own Adventure. Then I started reading about peak oil; questioning why I drove a car around my small town so much (I could see the grocery store from my apartment, yet I would still drive there); and gained an interest in effective mass and public transportation, and alternatives to driving.
When the snows (mostly) melted in June that year, I adopted an abandoned bicycle from the university where I worked. I knew nothing at the time of bicycles: it was the first I had ridden in more than a decade but, with the earnest naivete of a swooning adolescent, I loved it from the first moment I put it between my legs.
Running and I had been on and off for several years, really only getting hot and heavy in 2007 when I moved from my beloved Empire State to Atlanta, Georgia. When I began my career, I for some reason became paranoid of heart disease. My runs were originally obsessive — several miles, sometimes twice daily — and later sporadic. Moving here, everyone to whom I spoke about running crowed, “You should do Peachtree!” This is an institution. Atlanta has a gigantic boner for the Atlanta Track Club’s Peachtree Road Race, a 60,000-person stampede each Independence Day along 6.2 miles of the city’s signature street.
Eager to learn all I could of my new city, I was gung-ho from the start about Peachtree; I threw myself into Peachtree training with the single-minded focus (obsession) for which my family is renowned. As my miles piled on and I was able to run three, four, then five miles, I decided I could run the seven miles to my office: I would commute to or from. “WHY?” my boss asked me.
I never considered the Why: it, like commuting by bicycle, just made sense. Because I could. Thus, I answered: “Because … I can?”
And that really was why: I could. I can! Bicycle commuting was long the routine. My car was more a giant wagon, used almost solely for groceries; my bike was for commuting, running errands, exploring all corners of Atlanta, socializing and all else. I ditched the car for good in late 2009 and went car-free, a decision I have never regretted (though I have sweated, an inevitable by-product of such a decision).
My first Peachtree Road Race was a disaster, one about which I was quite bitter, and therein lies my tale of REVENGE. This tale may be told in a later post. In brief: my expectations failed to align at all with the reality of it. I swore retribution; I was determined to have the next year the experience I expected.
That pushed me to do more than 5Ks and 10Ks: half and whole marathons, and, as of this writing, one ultra; long runs plotted through Atlanta’s most brutal hills and past its most prominent points of culture, history and architecture. Train trestles and cemeteries; parades and markets and abandoned factories; paths of Civil War conflict; botanical gardens and wild, crazy night life: I have run among these things.
I was all-in for running, not really for the health benefits or sense of accomplishment, nor for the smugness of running to work (smugness: another bicycle-only effort). It was a challenge through which I explored intimately my new home, something at which I could improve daily; it built a sense of personal strength. I witness Atlanta blooming in morning and getting strange at sunset; I can, and do, stop and smell flowers, yet can still put away a pint of ice cream guilt-free whenever.
That is the Why. If I can experience these things intimately, personally, at least once a week, why wouldn’t I? Later, the How.
P.S. I did have my revenge. I mean: REVENGE.