I am an athlete. Sometimes I pretend that this is a relatively new development, but the truth is that some type of regular athletic activity has been a constant in my life. It keeps me sane. I have a lot of anxious energy, and exercise helps take the edge off. I have also suffered from chronic depression, and exercise is a necessity in keeping it at bay. Besides, all the things I love to do, hiking, kayaking, camping require that I stay in shape.
A guy on Match.com rejected me because he said he’d just broken up with a runner, and “you runner types are strange.” That’s what he said….as if all runners are the same…haha. I know all kinds of athletes – lazy ones, skinny ones, overweight ones, serious ones, socially motivated ones, ones that “dress up” for runs, those that haven’t washed their gym clothes in months. I know runners that approach running very scientifically and keep all kinds of data and charts to predict and track their progress. I also know runners that refuse to run in the heat and runners that refuse to run in the cold. I know one runner that dresses up as a hot dog. We are as diverse as the non-athletic population.
Memphis is a very active running city. Its known to be one of the fattest cities in the country, and, it definitely has its challenges in the health department. The Memphis Runners Track Club is the fifth largest running club in the country. It has over 3,000 members. It’s summer running program for women attracts some 1500 plus runners year after year. In fact, they’ve had to cap it at 1500 because it is just too difficult to handle more than that safely. There are numerous races every weekend in this town. Its definitely a great place to be a runner.
But, I’m not hard core. This is how my athleticism looks for me. It’s really self-care. I don’t run fast, but I do run far – that’s where the endorphins kick in, and I run to feel good. I don’t push myself when I’m tired, sick or am busy having fun. I balance my running with strength training and yoga because it keeps me healthy and injury-free. I’ve run three full marathons and a host of half marathons, and I’ve never even had a blister. I also get regular massage and acupuncture. It’s all really very sane, and it probably takes up about 8-10 hours a week on a “perfect” workout week.
I love my long runs. My favorite hometown course is what I call my tourist route in downtown Memphis. I get up really early so that I can run the 3 miles downtown before dawn. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll take a short detour down Marshall and run by Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis among other greats spent a great deal of their time. At dawn, I’m usually running down the Main Street trolley line, waving at the street sweepers and cops. I run from there down Beale Street where I encounter some late night/early morning partiers still enjoying themselves. They usually look pretty rough, and they always have to yell at me and my dog. Some of them have even called me their hero. Through all of this is the overshadowing aroma of BBQ cooking already in the wee morning hours. It seems so odd to be smelling BBQ before breakfast, but the smoke is billowing out of all the restaurants I pass.
After I get through the short stretch of Beale Street, I like to take a break and hit the Starbucks across from the FedEx Forum. A small friendly crowd from the Westin is usually gathered there for their morning lattes, and they love to chat me up about running with my dog. We take off past the Gibson Guitar Factory where legends buy their custom guitars and we run down Main Street, paying our respects at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed. There’s a fire station on Main Street, and I can usually catch a smile from a cute fireman out drinking his morning coffee. We run past the oldest restaurant in Memphis, the Arcade Diner, Ernestine and Hazel’s and the Amtrak station. If we’ve timed it right, the train dubbed the City of New Orleans will be in the station taking a midway stop between Chicago and The Big Easy.
My favorite part of the route is running around the corner onto Riverside Drive in the morning sun. I can literally feel the energy of the mightiest river in the world dragging me to her. There is so much history on that river, and every time I’m near it, I can just imagine the lives and heartbeats of all who have seen her before me. It’s really powerful. And…dang it, it’s just a beautiful sight with the Pyramid and the Mississippi River bridge laid out before me. I just love it. When I pass through that stretch, I thank God for bringing me to Memphis with all its quirky, soulful charm. Despite its problems, Memphis is a cool place to live.
The final stretch takes me back to the Garden District in Midtown Memphis where I live. Beautiful old homes and perfectly manicured yards greet me at a time when I’m getting pretty fatigued and am ready to stop. I get home, take a hot shower or a cold one if its really hot outside, gulp down a chocolate milk and maybe a light breakfast. A mid-morning nap revives me and helps me recover. At noon I’m up again and ready to start a regular day, with my long run done and the weekend stretching before me. It just doesn’t get much better than that.