At the age of 24, having completed several years of college, a cross-country journey and three books by Jack Kerouac, I decided it was time to move to New York and become a famous novelist. Once there, I secured a job in a suitably dark and smoky Greenwich Village bar and settled down to the daily grind of talking about writing.
At about this same time, I began to eschew any athletic activity that required actual participation. Whenever someone suggested a game of softball or a visit to a health club, I would hear an inner voice urging restraint. Sounding a great deal like Peter Ustinov, it would make sarcastic remarks on the grunting, sweating, thick-necked barbarians that one was like to encounter around a gym.
I also displayed a smug contempt for those running diehards who endlessly circled Washington Square. To me, “jogging” was just one more manifestation of the self-obsessed ‘80s. I believed instead that one achieved self-realization only through a demanding regimen of self-gratification. This credo, coupled with my ability to equate the telling with the doing, contributed to my feeling of physical detachment.
I didn’t have to stay in shape. For that matter, I didn’t actually have to write. I was a raconteur, a bon vivant and a hell of a fun drunk besides.
Then, as I approached my middle 30s, I began to notice a few unsettling things about myself. The first was that I was approaching my middle 30s. The second was that the youthful bounce in my step had begun to migrate to more specific parts of my anatomy. While not exactly corpulent, I had moved into the realm of the “big guy,” and for the first time, the scale was inching past the double century mark. As I gazed into the mirror one fateful, foggy morning, I realized that not only had I lost credibility, I had gained a chin. The time had come to take a stand.
My reformation began slowly, literally, with leisurely walks around the reservoir in Central Park. The next few weeks found me gradually increasing my exertions until one day, huffing and puffing enough to terrify your average storybook pig, I triumphantly ran the entire 1-1/2-mile circuit.
I felt victorious, virile, positively predatory, which is how I now feel after almost every run. For me, this post-run, endorphin-fed euphoria can only be described as Errol Flynn-esque. In fact, sometimes I find myself throwing back my head, jamming my fists into my sides and laughing heartily. I just have to resist an occasional urge to leap out in front of people and cry, “Welcome to Sherwood!” (Although I suspect that in Central Park this is not that rare an occurrence.)
Over the past three years, running has become an almost daily ritual and an integral part of my psyche. I especially love to run at sunset and watch the myriad lights flicker on as New York dresses for the evening. It is at times like these, at dusk in the early fall or spring, that the reservoir takes on the aspect of an enchanted lake surrounded by a feral wood and encircled by a city of gold.
These epiphanies are admittedly short in duration, lasting only until the next terrier-sized rodent scurries by. But while they do last, as I hurtle through the night, wild and serene, I feel a far more vital part of this city than I ever did spending my nights filling ashtrays and leaking aspirations in some dimly lit Soho bistro.
So now I run. Of course, when the occasion demands, I can still exercise my prerogative of urban condescension, curling my lip in suave disdain. But ultimately New York despises poseurs. In the end, running around in circles is a lot more satisfying when done uptown in Central Park than downtown in the dark.
Runner’s World April, 1994