8 min read

I'm a Runner

Team Taco™! It's a new week! We're somewhere in May! For some reason! If I add exclamation points instead of periods it makes my existential dread feel like excitement! Is it working?!

I'm just tired. We're all just tired.

Spot the difference?! We're fine!

On Running

I'm a runner.

I've been a runner since I was a youth, a little preteen shithead who had too many hormones polluting my veins. It started with taking a walk. We lived next to multiple different farm fields, so I wandered beside the irrigation ditches. Out the door and right, left, left, right, long curve, cross a bridge, left, straight, right, right, left, right, left.

It felt long. It was long. My legs hurt, partly from the walk, but mostly from growing a foot in the last few months. But it felt good. Fresh. The calming noise of the irrigation water rumbling by. Smelling whatever was growing next to me.

So I did it again the next day. And the next day.

The following week, I wore better shoes for it. I jogged as far as I could before walking. It kept being a new spot — make it to the end of our street before walking. Make it to the abandoned farm building. Make it to the highway. Make it to the bridge. C'mon man, you're so close, just make it to the last street. The last turn is so close. You're almost to the driveway. You're home. You feel fine. You can do this. You can do this. What's one more lap?

By the time I was 13, I was running between 4 and 7 miles a day. One Saturday morning — early-early, before church — I went for a four mile loop. After church, we were spending the afternoon with friends, and I, an obnoxious teen, was an obnoxious teen to my mother. She responded by saying, "Daniel, just go play in the street." I listened. I just went out the front door, barefoot, still in my church clothes, and went for a run. One more loop. Returning half an hour later or so, my mom asked where I had been. Why I was dusty and sweaty. "I went and played in the street, mom."

I kept running. Every day. In and out. I started running in the morning before school and again at night after everyone went to bed. I'd sneak out my ground floor bedroom window and run under the moonlight. The high desert of southern Idaho at night? Perfect weather for running. A brisk, light wind, but never cold enough to make you uncomfortable. During the winters, when the irrigation ditches were empty and everything was frozen, I'd run in them. It opened up a whole new set of routes and distance. Sandy floor? Perfect, harder to run on.

This continued for years.

The first quarter of my freshman year of high school, our physical education class consisted of running a loop around the school four times. If you did it in a certain amount of time, well, good job, you get an A. What a stupid class. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't thrilled. Mr. Davies wasn't a very good gym teacher, but it worked for me.

The second quarter, since it was freezing and miserable outside, was indoor sports. Basketball, indoor soccer or hockey, gymnastics, making out in the supply closet. But we started each class with running around the gym four times. When I went to turn left during one of those sprints, I fell over. One moment, upright and thrilled. The next, on the ground skidding into the wall. Weird.

"Daniel tripped! Get up, idiot! Go, go, go!" Mr. Davies shouted.

I wasn't in pain. So I got up and kept going. A little slower.

A week later, it happened again. And again, a joke and encouragement to get up. The third time it happened, I told my parents. They said to pay attention and let them know if there was pain. Mr. Davies wasn't a very good gym teacher, but it no longer worked for me.

There was never pain. Maybe the pain of hitting the floor, but never pain in my knee. I kept running. Mr. Davies kept shouting. I'm young, I'm dumb. But finally I can't ignore it anymore. We go to the doctor. They schedule a MRI. They call me back in.

"You're fine. Your knee is fine. Well, no. There's damage. Your meniscus is fraying. Just a bit. You're fine. We caught it early. You can keep playing sports. Just... take it easy. It'll heal itself over a couple of years. Two years max. Oh, you run? How far? Wait, every day? Yeah, okay, we found the cause. Don't do that. Your body isn't developed enough for you to run that far right now. Take it easy for the next few years, keep it light, and it'll heal itself. Of course we can do surgery right now. But then you'll have four to six months of hard physical therapy and likely need some form of knee surgery every five to ten years for the rest of your life. Just... stop running for awhile. It'll come back. Should come back. Sure, there's a small chance that you won't be able to run again. Not like you want to. But it's small. You'll be fine. It'll come back."

I do the hard thing instead of the dumb, easy thing, and I don't run.

I'm a runner who can't run.

My coping mechanism transforms into writing poetry, photography, making out, cooking. But I still wake up every morning at 6AM, ready to run. I remind myself I can't. I die a little as I fall back asleep. I don't run.

For years, I don't run.

I wait longer than I should. Longer than the doctors told me to. I'm a runner who can't run right now. But if I go for a run and my knee gives out? If it doesn't come back? If it doesn't work? Then I'm a runner who can't run ever again. A core part of me will be gone forever. And then what's left of me? Someone who can't run. So I don't run.

My freshman year of college, nearly four years later, it's time. I need to try it. It's time to run. It takes me a month to work up the courage. For the final week, I suit up and don't go. My fingers tremble every time I lace up my shoes. They're too tight. My shorts fit strange.

It's time to go. Today is the day. I wake up. Wait, why am I awake? It's too early. That's not an alarm, that's my mom is calling me. I answer.

My grandfather, my favorite grandparent, died last night.

I go for a run. My lungs give out before my legs. I keep running. I break down, but my legs hold steady. I'm a runner who weeps, but I'm a runner.

Years pass. My relationship to running has changed, but not my love for it. I casually run now. Work, relationships, drinking with friends, parties — they've replaced a lot of the time that I used to spend running. But I still run. Here and there.

And every time I go for a run, I think, "I should do this more."

It's 2016. My life is falling apart and I have no control over anything. I can't fix anything. Everything is slipping through my fingers, and I want to die. But instead of dying, I run.

I run hard.

I run far.

It's taken 12 years, but it's back. Every morning, I go for a run. I run down our street to the riverfront in Portland. I cross a bridge. I cross another bridge. I run home. Four miles, six miles, nine miles, 13 miles. I run.

Left, left, shuffle left then right, cross a bridge, right, up stairs, down stairs, cross a bridge, left, right.

I sign up for the Portland Marathon in October.

I move to Austin. Left, left, right, tiny trail through a forest, hop a creek, left, right, straight, hop a second creek, left, right, right, right, left, right, right.

I injure my foot in July. I can't run. But it's okay. My base is strong. I can wait it out. I did four years, what's two months.

Three weeks before the marathon, I go for a run. 3 miles. I'm exhausted. The next day, I run 4 miles. The next day, I can't move. I wait a week. I run 9 miles at a steady pace. If I can do this, I tell myself, then I can do this for 26.2 miles.

I fly to Portland. I run my old loop around the river four days before the marathon. I'm a runner. I can run. Just don't stop.

It's 4AM on a cold morning in October. I'm going for a run in the rain. I'm a runner who runs 26.2 miles without training or stopping. Somewhere along the way, I stumble upon not wanting to die. I'm a runner.

We move to Montana. New place, new marathon.

Right, right, left, right, left, over a bridge, up a mountain, down a mountain, right, left, left, left.

I drive up a mountain the night before runs to stash Gatorades and snacks along the trail. People stop along the road to ask if I'm okay because "Who runs up the mountain?" I run through fire season. We get a gym membership to run on treadmills when the air is toxic for humans if you spend more than 10 minutes outside. I injure myself early one morning. I change my Missoula Marathon entry to the half marathon. I run it without training. I finish it. Nothing tastes better than the post-run beer at 9am.

We move to Amsterdam in 2019. I sign up for the Amsterdam Marathon. I run through parks and down canals. I'm a runner who runs.

Right, right, left, right, straight, over a bridge, right, right, straight, right, loop, right, straight, cross a bridge, right, cross a bridge, right, straight, under a bridge, straight, right, left, right, left, right, left.

I break my rib one morning in a bicycle accident three months before the race. The day after my accident, I try to go for a run. I'm a runner, you see.

I weep 100 meters into the run. From the pain or from the realization I can't run right now, I'm not sure. The tears come and I let them.

I don't run. I sell my Amsterdam Marathon registration.

The morning of the race, the man who bought my registration found my name in a mosaic of all the participants and sent me a photo. "I'm running for you today, my man." I sit on my couch and cry a little — it hurts my ribs to do anything more.

It's February 2020. My ribs are finally healed. I go for my first run. I weep while running along a canal, gasping for air. I can run.

It's March 2020 and the world shuts down.

It's the beginning of April and I wake up gasping for air. I'm a runner who can't breathe — who can't walk up the stairs.

I try to accept this reality. I don't do a good job of it.

It's December and we move to Mexico. There's no marathon nearby for me to sign up for, but it doesn't matter because I can't run. My best friend sends me an article about how some #longCOVID patients are seeing their long-term symptoms improve with the vaccine. I don't get my hopes up. I can't get my hopes up.

I'm a runner who can't run. That's fine.

It's April 28th. I get my first vaccine shot. I expect to cry, but I don't. My symptoms get a little better, but not as much as I would like. Maybe the second shot.

It's May 20th. I get my second vaccine shot. I don't cry.

It's June 4th. I'm lacing up my shoes. I'm going for a run.

If it works, I'm a runner who can run. If it doesn't, I'll wait another few months and give it another go. I've been a runner who can't run for a long time.

But one way or the other, I'm going to cry.

TACO TOTAL — 935/2021

This Week's Taco Total — 48
May Taco Total — 118

Spending five days during this coming week's Taco Count in Texas, and it's going to be brutal for my total. But on the flip side, I may be able to run again. So. There's that.