August 27, 2009

No Pretending, No Excuses

It's time to stop pretending. Ever since I became pastor at Bixby Knolls Christian Church, I've walked or ridden my bike to the church most weekdays. This, I figured, was good for the environment, and made up for the fact that I was no longer running.

Well, there's no doubt that it is good for the environment. However, a one-mile bike ride that--at a leisurely pace--takes just five minutes, doesn't quite equal the three-mile runs I was doing before coming here.

I stopped running because where I live now--on Signal Hill's northern border with Long Beach--just isn't as pretty as where I used to run. The rice fields of the Sacramento Valley, with their flat dirt roads and calming agricultural scenery, were perfect. I'd bring the dog, and she'd chase rabbits, and I'd chase her, and all was good. But here, in the city, it's a world of hard pavement, car exhaust fumes, and too many red lights and don't walk signals. Plus, it's just not as pretty.

Well, as I say, it's time to stop pretending. It's time to stop making excuses.... A few weeks ago, I plotted out a running path that crossed the fewest major streets as possible. I was surprised to discover a 2.5 mile loop that only crosses one major street, although I do have to cross it a second time to return home. Heading south, my route goes a few blocks through a quiet, residential neighborhood with tree-lined streets. Nice. Then it leads to a bridge that crosses the busy and noisy San Diego freeway ("the 405," as we locals call it), and up to Spring Street. Busy street crossing #1.

After Spring Street, my route goes a full 1.25 miles before it crosses another street of any size. Not bad!

After plotting it all out, I grabbed my running shoes and took off. I figured that 2.5 miles would be a good run, even though I used to run 3 miles; having not run a whole lot over the past year, I didn't want to overdo it.

I headed through the residential area, crossed the freeway, and headed up the hill to Spring Street. Then it was downhill, then uphill again, to the cemetery at Willow Street. I turned left, running along the edge of the cemetery until I reached Orange Street. I turned left again, and headed up the steepest hill of the route. They call it Signal Hill for a reason, and I gave myself permission to walk this short stretch. Then, on the gradual downhill back to Spring Street (busy street crossing #2), I resumed running, and kept running all the way home, crying "wee wee wee wee."

OK, maybe I didn't cry all the way home, but I very nearly did the next day, when my leg muscles told me I should have taken it even easier for my first run, or at least done a better job stretching. It was almost a week before I ran again. I needed that time to recover.

I have run that route several times since, with little or no pain afterward. And, I have discovered a number of pleasant surprises: 1. Much of the land I run past is leased to oil companies, and aside from a number of oil wells, is largely undeveloped. Parts of it contain native and wild plants, and there's this one spot, near the crest on California Street, where the aroma of some of these plants is wonderfully intoxicating, and instantly transports me to some of the places I went camping as a kid. 2. Because the land is undeveloped, there are stretches without sidewalks where I get to run on dirt. 3. The crests of the hills afford some wonderful views. Heading south, I see the port of Long Beach and the ocean. Heading north, the San Gabriel Mountains rise up in the distance (although this week, the mountains are hidden behind a blanket of thick smoke from a large brush fire that's burning near the Bridge to Nowhere, which is unfortunate).

Of course, there are some drawbacks to running in the city. I'm limited by summer smog to running only in the morning. Even then, a passing truck or bus sometimes leaves me choking on its exhaust. Another drawback is that the dog doesn't get to come.

What motivated my return to running? A desire to stay healthy, of course. Also, a noticeable increase in anxiety; some difficulty getting a good night's sleep; and, yes, vanity. Vanity is always a motivator, is it not?

However, I'm sure that having my palm read (reluctantly) by an elderly lady on the occasion of her eleventy-first birthday a few weeks ago and being told that I had better take care of my heart had nothing to do with my return to running.

So there you are. No more pretending, no more excuses. And yes, I'm still riding my bike to church, and on Labor Day, will be participating in a 25-mile Unity Bike Ride. I welcome you to join me, or at least sponsor me as I raise money for my church and the South Coast Interfaith Council.

In the meantime, I'll be running.

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