Racing the Noonday Demon

I never understood runners.

I never believed them when they tried to tell me about the highs that running offers. I thought they were a group of closeted masochists, able to indulge their particular perversion because they had somehow convinced people that running was “healthy.”

I know this will reflect poorly on me, but…I experienced some real schadenfreude back in 1984, when running guru Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, dropped dead of a heart attack. He was only 52, and he died while running. I actually said “Now I never have to do that. If it couldn’t save him, whom could it save?”

Apparently, there is more to being saved than living until you are 80.

I always hated to exercise—I am uncoordinated and I hate to sweat with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns. I could find 10,000 excuses to avoid anything remotely physical.

But last winter, I started walking 3 miles three days a week, mostly in a desperate attempt to stave off the 40s “spread” I was experiencing. I quickly realized how much better I felt on the mornings I walked. Over the summer, I moved up to 5 days a week. And recently, I added another mile. I’m pretty religious about doing it.

Now I’ve started to run.

Just short stretches--I’m 42, not 22. I doubt I’ll ever be marathon material…but someone I admire told me that running was one of the things that helped to cure his depression.

I figured it was worth a try.

You would laugh if you could see me pounding the pavement in those last few moments before dawn arrives. I’m sure I look ludicrous—-a middle-aged woman in baggy sweatpants, lurching gracelessly forward, panting and gasping for air.

But I am racing the noonday demon, and in the morning I have a head-start on him.

I have come to relish the pain of running—-the struggle to breathe, the knife-edge of indrawn air ripping into my lungs, the pounding of my heart against the wall of my chest. These things hurt less than the things the demon whispers in my ears—-that life is pointless, faith is ludicrous, love is a mirage.

This pain is clean and sharp—-a good and holy pain that cleanses and heals. Running does not leave the jagged wounds that the demon inflicts—-does not leave me full of doubt and despair, a void into which every dark thought ever whispered pours in like the tide.

The demon is slow, and I can outrun him in the mornings. But he is relentless. I do not yet have the stamina to stay ahead of him all day. By the time dusk comes, he has drained the color out of the world and unleashed a cacophony of laments that drowns out music, the call of birds, and children’s laughter.

But I can sense that he is vulnerable. He is not happy that I run. He tries very hard to tempt me into giving up, but—-perverse woman that I am-—I have become more determined.

I will keep running. I will race him. And one day I will win.

Because there is grace in that kind of pain, and hope, and salvation. I can feel it, rising up through the pavement as my shoes hit the ground. I will keep running, one foot in front of the other, until I can look behind me and see nothing but the empty road.