The Oft-Missed Pleasures of Running

Late into the night of my 28th birthday, I was doing a passable impression of a dancing fool. It was almost four in the morning, I had consumed enough alcohol to administer local anesthetic to a small platoon of foot soldiers, and I was blithely unaware of impending danger. But there it was, in the shape of a hurtling body that belonged to a friend of mine, and which mysteriously, after traversing the length and breadth of the living room in whose corner I was safely dancing, placed itself in a load-bearing position on my right ankle.  When bodies had been moved, I found a rather large protuberance where my ankle used to be. Ice, an emergency room visit, crutches, in that order. And the end of my running career.

Before my right ankle suffered that disastrous third-degree sprain, I used to run. Respectably long distances in Central Park, with an eye on completing the New York Marathon someday. My longest run was eleven miles (2 laps of the reservoir, one loop of the park, and then another lap of the reservoir); my usual run was a morning six-miler, the classic loop of Central Park. I ran in summer afternoons and winter mornings alike; I ran in the rain and I ran in the snow. (My late winter evening runs through Central Park in the winters, when I could see the lights come on in the buildings that line Central Park West and the Museum Mile were as enchanting as anything else I have experienced in this great city.) I ran with professors and graduate students; I ran with roommates. Running made my financial insolvency easier to bear; it provided easy entertainment on days and evenings that sought diversion. (One summer, with my impecunious condition  making it ever harder to indulge in even the occasional beer or large meal, my running transformed me into a whippet-like creature, with sunken cheeks that enabled a resemblance to a prisoner of war at a not-particularly salubrious holding facility.)  I was never a particularly graceful runner but on a good day, I always felt like I glided through Central Park’s beauty, experiencing it in a way that was distinct from my interactions enabled by riding on a bike or by walking.  Running was yet another way to discover New York City, a physically and mentally transformative one.

But a busted ankle that made my right side unstable, and which necessitated the wearing of orthotics (to this day), coupled with sloppy execution of a rehabilitation program, meant that this running was first curtailed and then slowly choked off. I injured myself a year later, when I returned to running a few months later, and then again several years later when I tried again. I became nervous and tentative, and grew hesitant about lacing up a pair of running shoes. My running is now restricted to the occasional lap of Prospect Park, to attempts to run fast 5Ks.

Those occasional laps still manage, effortlessly, to transport me, even if only for much shorter periods, to those days when muscle-powered locomotion at eight miles an hour was mysteriously capable of inducing states of physical and meditative bliss.

60 thoughts on “The Oft-Missed Pleasures of Running

  1. Glad to hear that you can still get a run in every once in awhile. I did two laps in the park tonight and, as is often the case, it was the best part of my day.

  2. Hi Samir.

    My sympathies with your ankle problems. That is also my achilles’s heel.

    I’ve had several “seasons” with Marcelo, Renata’s husband and my savior physiotherapist. My last set of sessions, just before I came to the US, he only tried to teach me how to walk, from scratch.

    I rarely run here in Ithaca. But I walk and swim (3 times a week).



  3. I began running a couple of years ago. Have done a handful of half-marathons, hope to run my 1st FM in Bombay in January. Have been struggling with a calf muscle injury this season, hoping it doesn’t turn into something more serious and long term. I can imagine how you feel..sincere commiserations. Good to note that you haven’t totally given it up. Keep running!

  4. Commiserations on the injuries (my sister has sprained her ankle numerous times and doesn’t have the patience to let it heal properly) – I especially enjoy running early in the morning when it’s not that busy, somehow the peacefulness just takes your mind off everything and you feel utterly calm. That is until you return back home…

  5. I jogged to warm up for heavy Karate training. ACL and meniscus injury equals two knee surgeries and no more running. I miss the peace for that type of exercise

    I have found a similar species to that in the pool. I was never much of a swimmer but swimming laps has been a healthy challenge and brings similar peace.

    when age and injuries conspire against us limitations can be a bitch.

  6. If you are used to running and have to watch yourself when running, must be a hard thing! Thank goodness we have so many different options for exercise these days. Don’t you agree?

  7. Running 11 miles with one eye looking toward a Marathon was in my past, too. Nowadays, I’ll take those one mile sprints my body occasionally gives into, but in my heart–I run everyday. Thanks for sharing your thoughts–I thought I was alone. Lately, there always seems to be someone running past me. They are never alone though, for I am running along side them–if only in my mind. I know it’s not the same, but I will run there with you, too!

  8. I need to start running again… in the days before children I used to run two or three times a week – only a few miles each time, but it was something I enjoyed. “Finding time” now seems to be almost impossible (unless I get up at 5am, and run in the dark)…

  9. I was so sad when I was reading this story. I am really happy that you can run a little bit still. Is there anything that you could do to allow yourself to gradually increase your distance? I am currently injured from a marathon and it is killing me to not run right now!

  10. having just come back from a four mile run during my lunch hour at work, your post reminds me that rather than grousing about whatever it is I find distasteful about doing the actual run I should be thankful that I am able to do it. Thank you for the perspective and for reminding me that I should be grateful to be able to lace up my shoes and hit the road.I hope that you are able to find meditative bliss in other ways.

  11. I am so sorry Samir. I started running late in life…early 40’s, slightly overweight and with five children. I really love the motion, the meditation and the freedom. I was so tentative however, so hesitant for fear of injury that I stopped. Now I’m considering a couch to 5k program to jump start… I hope I don’t regret it. The rush is calling me…..

    1. Reading Samir’s post, I was reminded why I enjoy running so much — even though mid-life work and family demands make it difficult to get in a regular routine. Even if it is only 2-3 miles at a slow pace with the dog on a trail or paved path, the time for reflection and gratitude for the ability to move however slowly, always makes it worthwhile. I am sure you will not regret the couch to 5K program, mama. Thank you for the lovely visions of Central Park on a run, and I hope you are able to continue enjoying running at whatever distance and pace you can ~ Kat

  12. Thank you for reminding me to be thankful for my Central Park mornings. When it’s particularly freezing or particularly humid or (let’s be honest here) I’m particularly hungover, I can find myself forgetting how lucky I am to be able to run.

    Tomorrow’s runs for you. Wishing you a speedy and full recovery.

  13. sorry about the pain..been there..but I love your spirit! keep at it! there surely is nothing like a good run…or an attempt at one at that…take it easy..I hope you fully recover and get back to ‘gliding’ 🙂

  14. Hello,

    Running is a freedom of the mind. Meditative bliss indeed. I’m just getting back in after a summer off with runner’s knee (ish) complaints. I went out tonight because I had to. I used to go out for ten or twelve miles for fun (and I was a stone & a half lighter – not running means I party and drink ale, when I’m running things balance out). It’s the right knee that’s buggered this summer’s session up, the left a few years ago. Then I joined a boxing club & enjoyed incredible fitness without the running induced ‘bliss’, more a ‘clean’ honest sweat.

    At least we can manage what we can.

    Make time for it. Make the time you do run a priority. My intention is to build slowly again and tonight’s run helped me regain the ‘medative bliss’ for a few minutes. For now that’ll have to be enough.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on running as I feel exactly the same.

    Be well

  15. I can sympathize. I’m battling an old ankle injury myself that keeps threatening to end my running career. Why I keep struggling with it when it bothers me so, only another runner could know. Good luck man. May you have a good run every once in a while at least.

  16. I have run all my life, run fast, run well. And, like you, my career is now over. Unlike you, the end wasn’t sudden, and I was much older. I have spent the last ten years (if not more) trying to run as I once did, in the zone, effortlessly and with pleasure. however, injury after injury (due to old age before my time) made running an elusive goal. The little short laps may make your legs move in the same way, but the effect is nothing like what running used to be. You can’t lope effortlessly, mile after mile; you can’t trash yourself they way you once did by running so hard, so well, so far, that you empty your reserves…

    But, I have finally found a way out of the morass. Unbelievably, after starting a competitive running career in 1972 (yes, really), and competing through until 2002, I never thought I’d give running away. But I have: almost completely. I bought a mountain bike at the beginning of this year, and now spend as much time as I can on the single tracks pumping over hill and dale. It’s like a wheel chair! I have found my zone again, and I am no longer sore. I go on hard punishing rides, and lovely swoopy ones. I never thought I’d hang up my shoes without regret, but I truly have. If the weather’s truly horrid, or I am totally short of time, I’ll run instead, but that’s about once every two weeks, and it isn’t as fun as getting on my bike. Really!

  17. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown and commented:
    I can totally relate to this. On a couple of occasions, during my running days, I had bad ankle sprains – one of which took 6 months to heal; disastrous and say the least, as i could hardly walk for some of that time. Contrast bathings helped: immersing the foot for a few minutes alternately in very hot and very cold water, several time a day. This helped to move around the blood and take away the swelling.

  18. I myself only ran when I had to in the military but my father is called ” the original runner” by the local track club. he began in the sixties when NOBODY ran. There was no running apparel so he ran in blue jeans and combat boots. We lived in a rural area so the sheriff used to stop him all the time to find out why he was running.

  19. I enjoy running and I do it a lot! It makes you feel good and you end up looking good too but I am always scared of getting hurt. I run along the curved roads by a lake and I always picture myself tripping and falling in or stepping into a pothole and twisting my ankle…the dark side of running I suppose! Great post though and congrats on FP!

  20. Love your writing style. I’m soooooo sorry to hear about your ankle. If I had to stop running I think it would almost kill me. The pleasures in running are so vast. I am centred in myself and the world around me without all of the nonsense in my head or from others. Just pure pleasure. I run for fun and release and have been doing so for 15 odd years. Never professionally though and don’t want to. Isn’t there anyway you can find to run again? Maybe softer ground, different shoes bandages…I don’t know?? Take care!

  21. not being able to do the things you love really sucks, sorry man, I believe you probably will get better in time, but it is true there are other options to get out there and get exercise at the same time, there is this guy around here who rides his bike for hours on end, even in winter. I worry about him sometimes, once I had forgot to put my trashout and the trashman comes early like 7 am, so I got up at 3 am rememberd it and went and put it out, guess who I seen riding his bike then? that same guy, his head light got my attention then he wooshed past me, I was like wow either he is dedicated or truly a nut. who

  22. Don’t know fully how you feel. I just twisted my knee playing american football ( A rare sport here in Ireland) but before I started this I was running and cycling playing as many sports as possible. Not being able to do anything for a few months feels mild compared to this. Great to see you can do some running still though.

  23. I can’t manage running much but I do brisk walking and it helps clear my head and makes my body feel lighter. I hope you continue finding those opportunities to run.

  24. I love running as well. I have sprained my ankle six times, but thankfully they were minor sprains. I can relate to physical and meditative bliss. It is the main reason I continue to do it.

  25. I miss running too. I had to give it up in my late 20’s when all the cartilage in one knee was gone.

    Growing up, I played too much football, baseball (catcher) and hockey and all the hard contact wore the cartilage away.

    I’m reduced to walking/hiking with my daughter and skating only once a week with my hockey team.

    What I’d give for my old high school knees back …

  26. I enjoy running as well but never did I do it in central park. Sounds quite glorifying to say the least. Nice post! As long as you are running in your heart or should i say meditating in other ways, you will always have a certain satisfaction.

  27. I come at this from the opposite direction. When I was a kid, I suffered a pretty serious skeletal injury that resulted in my being, with regards to any kind of significant physical exertion, essentially disabled for nearly 15 years. It taught me to distrust my body and to resent it for not being what I wanted it to be. But recently I’ve developed a new relationship to my body that I’ve found to be remarkably freeing. I don’t know. It feels totally cheesy to be saying this to a complete stranger, especially one with a very different story (of which I know virtually nothing), but still. It sounds like you expect your body to perform how it used to perform. You start running and push too hard and then injure yourself. If you really want to get back to a place of health, I think the best thing to do is to forget what you used to be capable and build back up. Don’t have expectations. Just listen to what your body is saying now, not your memories of a past that’s gone. It’s about mourning for and then moving on from a lose. Hell, I’m no doctor, so this may be total BS, but as someone who viewed himself as irrevocably crippled, that’s how I learned to get better. I’ll never be a star athlete, but I’m getting stronger every day and after so many years thinking I was a broken thing, that’s an incredibly empowering achievement. Anyway. Best of luck.


  28. I can’t imagine a life not being able to run. So easily the things we love are taken from us sometimes. I hope you are/were able to find another activity that is just as freeing for you. And so glad you’re able to run once in a while – that in itself is a blessing!

  29. i screwed both my ankles playing football so whenever i do anything now i have to wear supports and tape up the ankle so it hardly moves.. BUT i now use a treadmill and that cross-country ski exercise thing in the local gym so i can expend some energy and not impact on dodgy ankles. ok so this isnt as interesting as running in fields/forests or road running at night but at least i get to do something and i normally get the runner by the window so i can look at something outside that isnt a wall!
    ah yes.
    I find it odd when i see people with their ipods or watching tv in the gym as running allows the mind to wander and burns off its excess and resolves or work things out. Who needs the distraction of gay-dance or some awful tv channel? People are odd.

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