“Begin running!” chirps the voice in my ear, gleefully, maybe sadistically.
No, seriously, fuck this. I’m a quarter of a mile from home and on my last leg of this workout and find myself staring at a huge incline just as the woman in my ears commands me to run.
A few years ago, I would have crushed this part of the workout, just billy-goated my way right up this steep, rain-slicked street without a second thought. A few years ago I was running 10Ks and half-marathons and logged six miles most days a week as easily as tying my shoes. Now I’m doing the Couch to 5K app, fighting the sting in my calves to try to string together five minutes of running at a time, and have developed a deep loathing of the peppy voice in my ear who coaches me to “start running” (too long, always too long) or “start walking” (cruelly short).
This isn’t my normal route. I run exclusively on flat ground during daylight hours, predictable and safe even in the nonstop onslaught of this excessively wet winpring, which is a word I just made up. But tonight I’m out under carbuncle-yellow streetlights in a rain that started off a tambourine and has developed into a timpani drum on my head, because tonight the Mariners blew a five-run lead in what’s becoming an unpleasant pattern.
So I run. And I curse.
I curse the houses I pass, their prim white trim and their docile Northwest paint stories, their overly-manicured yards. I curse the bag of dog poo tied up in a green compostable bag at the edge of the sidewalk, and I curse the owner who left it—what sprite do you think is wafting through the neighborhood, merrily collecting your dog’s shit? I curse the 60s-era MGB that’s been sitting, sentry-like, at the corner of a certain block for as long as I can remember, a film of dust and pollen on it thick as ice. I curse the recently redone sidewalks that my shoes slide over, forcing me into the pebbly, puddly road. I curse anything and everything that comes into my field of vision. And mostly, I curse the Mariners, whose performance tonight drove me out onto these streets to try to put some distance between myself and the abject failure of the team. I curse, and I curse, and I curse as I push up the hill. I am an engine of hate, the little engine that couldn’t give a fuck.
I get to the top just as the voice in my ear commands me to Start Walking, spent and empty. I have no more curses to give. I hold my sides and try to catch my breath. In some part of my brain, I know I’m still mad about having to live in the world as it is right this moment. But right now I just need to find my breath again. You read about runner’s high—this isn’t that. Mostly I’m just trying not to throw up on someone’s expensive landscaping. This is more of a grim satisfaction. I could have quit. I didn’t quit. The world may suck, but I didn’t quit.
Sometimes, though, you need to know when to push on, and when to quit. Part of what has made taking up running again such a challenge is knowing when to back off, when I am not up for something, when I need to quit. Quitting gets a bad rap in our achievement-focused culture, but there are times when quitting is both healthy and necessary. Quit the job that’s making you miserable every day. Quit the relationship that isn’t satisfying you. Quit trying to be someone else’s picture of success. Quit saying such mean things to yourself, okay? Quit that.
And if you want to quit on this team, you should. Baseball should be fun, and the Mariners aren’t playing fun baseball right now. Correction—they are sometimes playing fun baseball; it’s just being overwhelmed by all the shit baseball they’re also playing. Every night seems to offer a few moments of joy offset by many, many more moments of pain. Every night seems to offer a choice: you can say, “fuck this,” and turn off the last few innings and go do something else, like exercise; or you can say, “fuck this,” buckle yourself in and ride it out to the top. Both choices are equally valid. But, no matter what, if you care about this team, you should also make a space for yourself to get really mad about how they’re playing right now. You should make a space to say “fuck this,” however you want to say it. Because seriously. Fuck this.