Jonathan Quist is a lifelong resident of Chicago where he works in Information Technology by day and writes by night. He was going to say more, but had to run out for a bit…
Across the Line
Our lives are defined, divided and delineated by lines.
Lots of lines.
Propertly lines. Boundary lines. Party lines. Border lines. Battle lines. Date lines. Enemy lines. Bloodlines. Deadlines. Soup lines. Bread lines.
There are phone lines, FAX lines, modem lines, dialup lines, and other lines of communication.
Transportation lines: bus lines, rail lines, airlines, cruise lines, freight lines, shipping lines, ratlines, shroud lines, bowlines.
Lines of credit. Lines of inquiry. Lines of demarcation. Isotropic lines. Foul lines. Redlines. White lines. Yellow lines. Double yellow lines. Center lines. Product lines. Bathroom lines. Squall lines. Lifelines. Panty lines. Lunch lines. Waistlines. Waterlines. Fishing lines. Septic lines. Pickup lines. Putdown lines. Opening lines. Straight lines. Punchlines. Pipelines. Gas lines. Brake lines.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Many of these lines interweave and intersect. In the past year, in part because of my bloodline, I have taken an active interest in reducing my waistline, which led to interaction with center lines, white lines, starting lines and finish lines and a few observations along the way.
To state it a bit more clearly: I watched my father lose his connection to reality through the side effects of long-term diabetes. I was diagnosed around the same age as he was, but I began my married life later than he. I still have a lot of things left to accomplish, a lot of life left to live, so smiling and nodding when the doctor says “diet and exercise” was no longer an option. This was another wakeup call, and rather than hit the snooze button, I had to get off my butt and get to work. I used to run in my youth, and enjoyed it then. A running friend encouraged me to give it another try. So, I did.
As I crossed the line from a sedentary to active lifestyle, I decided that to succeed, I had to avoid boredom at any cost. To those who can walk or run on a treadmill or other stationary machinery for an hour at a time, I tip my cap to you. I cannot. Boredom has derailed past exercise programs; I need the variety found out-of-doors. (I used to pass time walking on a treadmill by reading, until the heart-rate-controlled machine performed an emergency shutdown when I reached the climax of a Nelson deMille novel. As Detective John Corey found himself in dire peril, I forgot to breathe, my heart rate shot through the roof, and were it so wired, the machine would have dialed 911.)
In Suburbia, USA, running outdoors pretty much means running on streets; in early morning darkness suburban sidewalks are hazardous places to walk, much less run due to kids’ toys, uneven seams in the concrete, and neighbors who insist on parking their cars squarely across the sidewalk rather than in their driveways. (If anyone has insight into this behavior, please enlighten the rest of us!) To preserve my neck, I took to the streets.
Heeding advice of wiser souls, I crossed the line and ran on the left, against traffic. This affords the advantage of seeing the car before it hits you, which is useful if you survive and the driver leaves the scene. Given the number of drivers I see using their mobile phone line rather than their line of sight, this advice is far more practical than one might hope. The addition of a reflective yellow vest moved most of the cars back across the line. I attribute this to the prevalence of “Fines Double in Work Zones” signs in Illinois.
It’s a sad comment on our society that to some drivers, I did not exist unless I presented an obvious threat to their wallet. Many behave as if they value their personal convenience more highly than another human life. One positive thing I can say about that: When you’re running on the edge of a narrow road hugging the white line by a ditch and a Chevy Suburban comes hurtling toward you, your exercise session is not boring. But I digress.
I had never run competitively before, so competition was not part of the original plan, but organized races provide some benefits to running as exercise. For one, they provide a reason to set a goal. The goal could be to complete the race below a certain time, to set a new personal record. Or to finish without walking. Or to finish at all. (I learned pretty quickly that “finish in the top three” is not a realistic goal. There is always someone younger and faster running the race.)
Organized races also provide a fun atmosphere. After running mostly alone for 3 months, it was a blast doing so with 500 other people. And the sponsors give you free stuff! And post-race snacks! After carefully controlling my food intake, it was nice to have someone offer me a half bagel with peanut butter and be able to accept it with a smile, because I knew I’d already burned those calories on the course.
There was an unexpected side effect.
By the time I registered for the Vernon Hills Loop the Lakes 5k, I had already started thinking of myself as a runner, rather than just a guy who liked to watch TV with a cold beer in hand. By the second lap I crossed another line in my head, and began to think of myself not as a runner, but as a racer.
I’m not racing against other runners – as I’ve said, there are plenty of fast people out there. I’m not going to pick up any medals. I am racing against myself.
And I am winning.
I have run in four 5k races, and finished just above the middle of the pack in all of them. I was not in line for any medals, but my personal physician gave me a prize anyway. She said I don’t need to bother with the prescription meds for diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol anymore.
I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, though, the only shoes I hear are my own. Meanwhile, I’m signed up for a couple of 10k races. I expect to be ready for a half marathon by next summer, a full marathon in a year or two. (Note: There are “Couch to Marathon in 16 Weeks!” training plans available. Don’t believe them. Start small. 5k races are cheap and fun. More fun than physical therapy.)
This is not all meant to garner “Attaboy, Jonny!” replies. It’s more of a “Who? Me?” story. A year ago the very notion that I’d not only be moving, but that I’d be running 20+ miles every week would have been far-fetched. But here I am. And it all started with a simple decision to go for a walk. If I can do it, nearly anybody can do it. You can do it! If you can’t run a mile, run around the block. If you can’t run around the block, walk around the block. If you can’t walk around the block, walk to the mailbox. Or walk across a parking lot rather than waiting 20 minutes for a space next to the door. Or just walk past the snack aisle on your way to the produce aisle. You can do it. And crossing that line can change your life.