Fiction: The Jogger

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The Jogger had only been The Jogger for eight minutes.

For those eight minutes, The Jogger felt amazing. He had once been an athlete, had even found intermittent joy in athletics (mostly when there was no pressure to win). During those brief early moments of movement, it had felt right to ignore reason (which told him to pace himself) in deference to the rediscovered joy of simply going. Life felt simple — perfect.

As the ninth minute approached, he devolved (his words) back into A Walker. After about two more minutes had passed, spent breathing and checking in on the seriousness of a number of bodily alarms (no emergencies), he returned to being The Jogger again. Then, once more, he had to walk.

This was his first jog as a man over thirty.

The ease of those first moments, of this “first” jog, that muscle memory had afforded — they gave way to the reality of his condition. Not only was he “jumping in” as a non-twenty-something, but, more and more time, in recent years, has been spent sitting behind desks, at computers. And had he taxed his body in other ways, for too many hours at a time, for too long.

His feet began to ache. Their bottoms burned a bit, from the sudden, foreign friction, as well. The Jogger wore rough old socks, and new sneakers that had hardly been broken in at all, despite a few days of warm-up speed-walking with the dog.

The Jogger thought about the dog, while fending off the decision to become A Walker again. He wondered if he should or could have brought her.

He quickly decided against it. She couldn’t be trusted to keep pace without pulling away against the leash, potentially running ahead of him and into the street. His path, which he was letting the cross-lights dictate as he wove among the relatively quiet, tree-line streets in his Brooklyn neighborhood — there was still too much traffic.

And there would bikers, at some point. Men and women on bikes. Even before he became The Jogger, he had learned to regard bikers with distrust (to put it mildly).

Some were probably fine people, but the majority seemed all too prepared to skirt the city’s traffic laws, to constantly take risks with their lives. They too often risked the lives of others, as well, in the opinion of The Jogger.

After over a decade in the city, he had long ago lost count of how many times he had almost been hit by a bike. It had only gotten worse during The Reign of Bloomberg — especially in Manhattan, where The Jogger worked. Bloomberg had liked bikes. He’d made more room for them. The Jogger wasn’t against this; he hardly understood it. Bikes didn’t affect him directly. But there did seem to be more bikes, and except for the dumbly moving CitiBikes (which often moved in slow motion, under the direction of tourists or inexperienced citizens “just trying it out”), they seemed hungrier for human flesh.

The Jogger was conflicted on the legacy of Bloomberg. Manhattan seemed to no longer belong to most New Yorkers, but the cause and effect appeared complex and unclear.

To be fair, much of what ailed The Jogger’s New York (he was a transplant) was not unclear.

The Jogger decidedly believed that his city and country could take better care of its general citizenry. But he also saw the world getting smaller and faster, every day, and wondered just where the threshold began to fall between meeting the needs of globalization, of leveraging the ability of capital to bring speedy change and growth and progress, and the responsibility of each individual to himself and his closest neighbors.

He knew that much was out of proportion, politically, and in terms of the national power dynamic, which had all but consumed local dynamics as well, through politics and via the media. But he also felt change occurring slowly beneath his feet. It’s pace couldn’t yet match that of money and fear, but The Jogger had hope.

He couldn’t quite identify any concrete solutions. Things still felt too big. His younger self, as younger selves are meant to do, had bristled against the clear injustices of it all, had responded with anger and indignation.

But, now, he kept his head down, and he worked. He fought, from his own corner, and sought to match what progress he could identify. Indignation, he had discovered (without much surprise) was mostly a trap. He found motion — any motion, honestly undertaken — a much more effective reaction than anger, when met by examples of personal endangerment and social injustice.

Such as the threat of bikes.

The neighborhood where The Jogger lived wasn’t, on average, considered completely safe. Some areas were safer than others, depending on what block you were on, the median income of the residents on said block, the rate of gentrification on your street and its related effects on police presence and strategy. But, generally, The Jogger still felt his life was more likely to end via bicycle than gun.

He walked again. For two minutes. Then he jogged again, then walked again, and continued back and forth in this way until twenty minutes had passed.

That had been and would be the goal. Twenty minutes. He wished to remain focused on the process, on the more important benefits of exercise, and not some competitive standard of results.

He went home.

***

The next morning brought soreness, but The Jogger had slept well and had actually been expecting to wake up in worse condition than he had. After a long day at work, he returned home legitimately looking forward to His Second Jog.

His wife made him run earlier than the night before. Someone had been shot and killed on a nearby corner, twenty minutes after the jogger had passed it.

He exited his building and nodded to a few neighbors sitting outside in lawn chairs. One had brought out his dog. The Jogger pet the dog quickly, toggled a workout playlist on his phone, and, when he saw the crossing light begin to count down across the street, started jogging.

The Jogger considered his route, but he was not afraid of being shot.

***

A delivery man on an electric bicycle almost hit The Jogger, who leveraged his resultant anger to run faster, for a while, before quickly burning out and slowing down to a walk.

It was day three of jogging. Earlier that afternoon, The Jogger had remarked to his therapist that he was proud of his ability to slow down and take the walking breaks, in between the quicker-paced jogging. He expressed a sense of being more in tune with his body than he ever had in the past, despite not being completely satisfied at present with his endurance or shape.

During stints of either jogging or regular weightlifting, in his twenties, The Jogger had been narrow and unforgiving in his focus. As opposed to what he was doing now — the twenty minutes of exercise, almost every day, without attachments to pace or distance — he at that point in his life would have set a minimum distance and a minimum duration of his run. Then he would have pushed to scale those minimums up, sooner and faster than was healthy. Looking back, now, he realized that this had removed much of the joy from the activity.

He did not talk with his therapist about his anger towards bikers.

Despite this growth and maturation, however, The Jogger still wanted to learn, and to get the most out of his runs. He focused, on this third occasion, on finding a pace whereby he could begin to shrink his intervals of rest, even if his intervals of higher exertion were less pronounced.

The Jogger’s wife had months ago summarized for him an article she had read, the core concepts of which had made sense. He had entered into this new stint of jogging with the advice in mind. The gist of it was to run until you could hear your breath, to then pause, and walk, until you no longer heard your breath — and then to repeat this pattern for as long as you can or would like to proceed. He found the advice helpful.

The jogs had not been going perfectly, though. He had been growing consistently irritated by the propensity of the stopping and starting to cause his earbuds to pop out. It broke the flow of the activity.

In the past, this would have been an opportunity for anger, or, worse, fuel for an excuse by which to pause the jogging until he could find a better headphone solution — which would eventually become a smaller and smaller priority, day by day, until jogging itself had devolved from an active goal to a taboo subject at home.

Instead, now, he chose to experiment for a brief interval and found that if he held the lengthy cord to the earbuds loosely in his opposite hand (from the one in which he held his phone), that the held slack precluded any yanking caused by a sudden change in pace. The tactic would work until he found (bought) a better solution.

By the time The Jogger had figured out The Headphone Problem, and resumed a steady cadence, his third run was almost over.

He paused, raised his phone, and snapped a quick photo of the sight before him.

Dusk was in process. A large corner apartment building stood, tall and atypically alone from its spot beside and above the neighboring bridge that crossed over the subway train tracks. Deep yellow light glowed steadily, invitingly, from a few east-facing apartment windows, as well as from the entrance.  Across from the building was a large, thriving, well-shaped tree. Both were wrapped in warm, soft, purple-pink light.

***

On the fourth day, The Jogger struggled mightily. It had simply been too long since he had last exercised regularly, and on top of that his body seemed to be bouncing back from exertion more slowly than it had in recent years. He chose not to dwell on this. There was no way to stop aging.

Still, The Jogger felt he had to keep going. He did not want to keep going.

His feet, which had been cramping up painfully at intervals throughout the day, felt swollen and heavy. His calves — which he had been stretching, along with other parts, before each run — felt tight. His quadriceps were holding up, but this otherwise balancing factor was offset by the tightness in his upper arms and shoulders. He had been forgetting to stretch his upper body. His knees felt swollen.

He initially lasted only four minutes, on his fourth jog. The early goings-on of the experience were further sullied by the decision of the music app on his phone to sputter consistently, as it failed to buffer a “stock” workout playlist. The Jogger walked minute five, then jogged again. The music continued sputtering in his ears and his thinking became fractured. His mood sank.

He wondered if he was going to fail already. After four days.

Then, The Jogger remembered his reflections from days before. He recalled The Way He Had Been, and re-considered that version of himself.

For all his supposed faults, his previous incarnations had been able to keep going. For the first time in such a context, The Jogger began to recall memories of his earlier self through a lens of compassion, pride — and respect.

He saw himself, fattened and stupefied and depressed, at eighteen, entering the spring semester of his first year of college, having already gained his freshman fifteen (and then some) after only four months. He remembered how he had responded then, by changing his eating habits, beginning a workout routine — and running. On one day in particular, he remembered, he had run five miles, loop after loop after loop of the short indoor track at his college’s gym in Manhattan. It hadn’t even been planned. Something had just shaken loose that day. He felt glad to remember it now.

His current pace got easier. The Jogger breathed deep.

He thought back, also, to a only few years before. He had began running then, at a difficult time in his life, in pursuit of some taste of freedom, to direct an angry and desperate, trapped energy — one that had felt almost demonic — towards an outlet that could hurt no one.

The Jogger had used a treadmill, then. He had really ran. Several times per week, he would rush from work to the gym, would begin slowly — but then he would let loose, with the treadmill elevated, increasing speed every few minutes until his chest burned and the dark thing in his soul slouched back temporarily to its deep, hidden home.

The sputtering of the music suddenly seemed fixable. He decided to check his phone to see what playlists or albums he had downloaded, that had a quick tempo and would play uninterrupted.

Only one. Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life sat waiting. So, that had been the problem. The jog had wanted Iggy.

In the end, the fourth jog went smoothly.

***

The Jogger took a day off from jogging. He went to work, got home, and ate dinner and watched TV with his wife. He took Advil for his knees, went to bed early, and slept well.

***

Saturday arrived. After breakfast and coffee, The Jogger invited his wife to run with him. She appeared surprised, and touched, and accepted. She asked — with some fear in her voice, he thought — whether he would be all right running with her, if she had to proceed at a slower pace than he otherwise would on his own. The Jogger said that it would be fine and he meant it.

He did end up having to keep a slower pace. He didn’t mind. The jog went by much more quickly with her there.

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michaeldibiasio

Writer and Filmmaker

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