The anti-jogging column threatens to become a mainstay of such literature as we have, perhaps replacing Watergate memoirs. As I imagine it, the anti-jogging writer packs his slanderous tendencies into a briefcase and goes to a place where jogging is committed -- a trail along the Potomac, say. He waits.
A jogger thunders by in $65 waffle rubber shoes, $86 jogging suit of parachute fabric crafted to reduce wind resistance, and Navajo jogger's sweatband. He carries organic dextrose pellets and several pounds of electronics -- an integrated-circuit wrist pedometer, a digital blood-pressure indicator and a solar-powered pulse-counter with built-in coronary alarm. The well-equipped jogger has the circuitry of a small fighter plane. He also has a certain amount of philosophical baggage. He is jogging to find out Who He Is, information that he might have gotten from his wife or his driver's license. He is Probing the Limits of Self.
The writer tries to make this sound ridiculous.
This is to misunderstand the jogger. He is usually over 30, and has noticed that stairs are getting perceptibly steeper. He is a bit disturbed by it, suspicious that something new has been slipped into the contract. The moment of truth usually comes when he realizes they aren't really letting girls into college at age 14. He looks uneasily around the office at men 10 years older. They have smoker's cough, liver conditions and look as though they are smuggling medicine balls. In all important sense they are sessile.
At this point he acquires a deep desire to go white-water canoeing, to try rock-climbing or to go on a commando mission into Botswana. By the end of the afternoon he is persuaded that he has only a few hours to live. That evening he wheezes around the block while his wife shadows him in a rented ambulance.
There is something noble, tragic and silly in it. The jogger lives for 30 years on a diet of lard and french fries, plugging up his arteries and taking years from his life. Then he jogs to expand the arteries around the lard, getting the time back. The anti-jogging writer sniggers at this inconsistency, as well as the mystical hoo-ha that surrounds jogging -- the confusion of crumbling cartilage with enlightenment, the Oneness with Nature, and the High, which is in fact indistinguishable from the onset of flu.
The jogger tends to be a fiercely competitive fellow who is not about to be intimidated by God, metabolism, time and destiny. He persists, that being what the fiercely competitive do best, and, lo, soon he is running five miles a day. The American male believes that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth overdoing. The children slowly forget him ("Ma, who is that guy. . .?"). His knees fill with bone fragments and his kidneys begin to loosen, so he buys shoes.
By now he has noticed that running is work. The jogger tries to conceal this behind a fraudulent jauntiness -- "Yes, ran 40 miles today, just didn't have time for a good workout. Usually do it on one leg." Yet it is most dreadful work. Worse, it is boring. The body really can be brutalized into condition, after which it will go on forever. To have a reasonable expectation of cardiac arrest, one must run for hours. The nirvana promised after Mile 5 doesn't materialize. Stir-craziness comes. He still doesn't know. Who He Is.
Nobody but a thorough-going damned fool would suffer so much without an analgesic and a reward. The analgesic is toys. It is fun to get a new piece of running instrumentation -- preferably with LEDs, the sine qua non of spirital experience. He may not go faster in his new, absurdly expensive, helium-filled shoes, but it is so nice to unwrap them, like having an extra birthday.
The reward is showing off. Face it: people get very little recognition in this anthill society. It's a kick to be lean, healthy and 45, to be 11 miles into a run of 20, to be bounding along at an easy lope and sticking his chest out at the high school girls. They never notice -- they figure a fellow of 45 belongs in the Smithsonian -- but there's hope that their mothers will come along. And he feels so pleasantly superior to the majority, who would collapse at anything more arduous than relaxed breathing -- among whom one inevitably finds, heh heh, the authors of anti-jogging columns.