Running: From, or To

David Atwood Points of the Compass
Posted 10/4/13

Over the past several months, I have been running. I do not like running, never have. I do it to be in better shape. Among exercises, it is the easiest to perform. I don’t need a pool, a bicycle, or any other apparatus. All I need is a pair of …

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Running: From, or To


Over the past several months, I have been running. I do not like running, never have. I do it to be in better shape. Among exercises, it is the easiest to perform. I don’t need a pool, a bicycle, or any other apparatus. All I need is a pair of shoes, my two feet, a willing mind, and I am off. The willing mind is my problem. I do not like to run. It harkens back to my sport playing days when running was punitive.

The first organized sport I played was baseball. My dad had taught me the basics of the game much as he had the other sport that would follow me through life, boxing. I remember my first baseball practice at the age of 8.

I was so excited. I was the member of a real team, playing the very real game of baseball just like Mickey Mantle, my hero at the time. I had my new glove, my bat, my team cap; green with a big, white “C” on it for the “Cats.” I was so proud and happy, ready to hit, field, and throw. I couldn’t wait to get started. Imagine my shock when the first thing our coach said was, “You boys run a lap around the field. Whoever finishes last gets to run another one.” See, running is punitive.

I ran for boxing, football, and more baseball, but not for fun. Never did I sit around with nothing to do and say to myself, “I think I’ll go running.” Well, that is not entirely true. I did do that once, and ran until I puked. I think I subconsciously did so to reinforce within myself that there was nothing enjoyable about running. I have not run for fun since. I do not like to run.

In high school, playing a sport is more serious because there are scholarships involved. Those with skill, thus hoping for the scholarships, ran with intensity, wanting more at the end of the run. I was looking for the water fountain. Our baseball coach was an insane sadist when it came to running. You could make a horror movie starring him, no make-up, or acting required.

Beginning in February, long before the season, he would have us running, and I don’t mean laps around the field. We would run on the streets for miles. The certifiable coach would have an assistant drive his Cadillac while he sat on the hood with a bullwhip following behind us. He would be hollering as if he was on a roundup herding cattle, and cracking the whip at the slowest of the bunch. Guess who was among the slowest of the bunch? Yeah, I felt the sting of that whip. Now, I hated running.

When we made a mistake in practice, our training and instruction was achieved through the running of laps around the field until told to stop. I spent a lot of time on the perimeter of the field. The maniacal coach would never cut anyone from the team. He made you run laps until you quit. I never quit. I probably still hold the record for punitive laps at my high school.

In college sports, guys would go to the track to run in a group and push each other faster and faster. I was not among them. I ran, but only as much as was required in practice and that, slowly, and never a step more than necessary. I do not remember ever coming in first, or even close in any of these runs, but I would bust a gut to not come in last and have to run more. I was hating running.

My mindset in those days was that I was running from something, such as the tip of a bullwhip. I never thought about running to something until I got into the Marine Corps. There, we ran everywhere, and always “to,” never “away.” We ran to class, we ran to the head, we ran to chow, we ran to sleep, we ran to battle.

When it was necessary to run to safety, I came in first. With a 70-pound pack, running through flooded rice paddies with the mud sucking at my boots, I could sprint and clear the ground in a single bound into the open door of a hovering helicopter, land on my feet, shed my pack, turn, and yell for the others to hurry up. That running had purpose, but I did not like it.

Today I run and still do not like it. I am slower than I was when I was a kid. I bring up the rear in the boxing classes when we do roadwork. The closest to me in age is 25 years younger, so in my mind, I am justified. I plod along, happy to be doing so until I hear that Cadillac and my deranged coach, cracking his whip, and I can’t help it, I pick up my pace. I wonder then if I am running these days “from” or “to”. The sweat dripping off my shirttail is the same either way, and does not care, and neither do I. I just do not like to run.

David Wilson Atwood may be contacted at