Lang’s World: Running to Live

At some point, and I’m not entirely sure how this happened, what I liked doing the least became what I enjoy doing the most. These days, most afternoons you can find me out on a jog. This is something I never imagined myself doing, at least voluntarily. But here I am, carving out space in my schedule, pulling on my shoes and happily trotting out the door, day after day.

When I was a freshman in college, I lived down the hall from a kid named Lee, who was right on the edge between fat and husky. Lee once told me if I was ever out for a drive and I saw him jogging down the side of the road, I should immediately pull over and pick him up because something must be wrong. In other words, there was no way I should ever expect to see Lee out for a run.

Oh, how this spoke to me. There was something in me that immediately admired Lee’s deep commitment to unfitness. Lee knew that he was out of shape, and he promised no attempts at getting into shape at any time soon. Not long after, Lee tore his ACL during a touch football game on the lawn outside our dorm, and it wasn’t hard for me to draw a relatively straight line between his freak injury and Lee’s lack of conditioning.

It was a few years later that I made my choice: You couldn’t get injured if you didn’t try to be athletic. That was when I hung up my sneakers.

I’ve always been big boned, to put it kindly. I suppose it was fortuitous that I hit a growth spurt just as I got to high school, and for a few short, sweet years my ability to grow up outpaced my ability to grow out. I spent three years on the high school basketball team, running about 5 to 6 miles a day, six days a week, and I found that running wasn’t so bad as long as it wasn’t in a straight line—I needed to be chasing something or someone or zigging or zagging. Like a dog.

Even though I played point guard on my high school team, despite all that running my build was always more like Zach Randolph than Mike Conley. I would never be faster or quicker than my opponents, but as long as I could get the ball past half court, signal a play and pass it to one of my teammates, I could compete. I was smart enough to be in the right position most of the time, and I worked tirelessly on my three-point shot, so I had something of value to offer.

Early on in my senior year, my coach asked if I wanted to pursue basketball in college, telling me I could probably get a scholarship at a smaller school. But I could read the writing on the wall, which said in huge letters: YOU AREN’T THAT GOOD LOL! I knew I could probably keep playing, but I also knew that beyond smaller college basketball, there wasn’t a huge demand at the next level for slow, six-foot-tall point guards. So, I went off to the University of Georgia to study writing, but kept playing basketball every day, at the rec center or gym or a playground, and my friends and I managed to keep that going even beyond college.

I played basketball every day of my life from the age of about 5 until I was about 25 years old, either in my backyard or in a church gym or an outdoor court somewhere. I sprained my ankles countless times, broke my right ankle, popped a ligament in my left ankle that I never bothered to get fixed, sprained an MCL, broke my right hand, had at least one concussion, split open my left eyebrow, jammed basically every finger and by the time I quit, had arthritis in both of my knees. I was in my 20’s and there were days where it felt like I couldn’t get off the couch, and when I did get off the couch, I sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies.

And then one day, I stopped, just stopped. I was tired of being tired. I’d been running and jumping and hustling and sweating for the majority of my life, and I was exhausted. It was time to give my body a break.

What I didn’t expect was how thoroughly I would embrace the sedentary life. Having never really explored what it meant to be un-active, I really went all in, spending the next decade of my life not only devoted to not raising my heart rate above resting, but also discovering a proclivity for food and cooking. In retrospect, I believe I only avoided pulling a full Violet Beauregarde because I lived in New York City, where I walked three to four miles a day just as a function of the urban environment.

Times Square

I was at the exact age when most people are doing the opposite — getting out of college and working out like crazy to present to the world the best version of themselves. But like I said, I’ve always appreciated zagging and zigging. Sure, there were occasional fits and starts, like when I got an iPod and started walking everywhere, and eventually I got to where I was walking an extra twenty miles a week. For a while. And then I retired back to the couch.

By the end of last summer, when the NBA 2K League season ended and my players went home and my son went back to school, I knew that something needed to be done. I wasn’t looking to become Christian Bale in “The Machinist,” but I wanted to at least fight the fight. I wanted to drop some weight and feel better.

So one day last September, I started running. Well, at first it was mostly walking, but I figured it was important to just move and sweat, regardless of the pace. My wife had joined a nearby gym a few months earlier and in what was either a hint or just wishful thinking, purchased a family membership. At first I went every other day, walking almost four miles as quickly as I could. The problem with this is that it took almost an hour, so I eventually built myself up to where I could run a couple of miles without stopping, and developed a daily routine where I run about three miles, which I could knock out in about thirty minutes. After going two days on, one day off, I built it up to where I can now run every day of the week, taking maybe one day off each week when life or work gets in the way.

That’s what I’ve been doing the last eight months. I do not own a scale and am not really interested in what I weigh—I know I’ve lost weight, and my clothes fit better, and my belt size is down a loop or so, and that’s really all I’m going for. Now it’s about maintaining. I feel like it’s taken me a few decades to meander my way to this point, but I’ve found a system that works for me. It’s free, it doesn’t take all day, it makes me feel better both physically and mentally. And gives me the leeway to crank out “Cooking With Lang” videos without feeling too guilty.

I know there’s no way I’m ever going to look like Mr. Universe, but I can at least make an effort to not look like Shoney’s Big Boy. In my case, maybe the goal was the journey. Maybe the point isn’t winning the race but just competing? If that’s the case, then I’ll just stay winning. And running.

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