I never ran a mile in my life (at least, not with running shoes on a course) until I joined the Army in 2002. Since then, running has been a necessity for me, not a pleasure; the yearly physical fitness test, featuring a 2-mile run, has made sure of that. Luckily, I’ve never had a problem with running my required mileage: no injuries, no lung problems, no particular hatred for the activity, just no desire to do it any more than necessary.
Riding a bike, on the other hand, became an interest of mine a few years ago; it’s exercise, but you go fast and buy expensive stuff! What’s not to like? Running is drudgery and takes a seeming eternity to cover much ground; riding a bike, on the other hand, is as hard as you want to make it, and cruising along at seventeen miles per hour means the miles just fall away under your spinning cranks.
The bike also means solitude. Alone in the saddle, the sounds of the trail or the city mix with the rhythmic thrum of the drivetrain and the measured in-out-in-out of my breathing, obliterating conscious thought and enveloping me in a bubble-world that no one can penetrate. For that reason, I lugged my bike twelve hundred miles to my last Army-sponsored vacation, at scenic Fort Gordon. It proved a worthy companion, carrying me around the range road loop in the fort’s back forty on sunny winter weekends; more importantly, it gave me an escape from the press of barracks life. I’ve become considerably more outgoing since I enlisted, but I remain an introvert at heart, so being alone is an essential part of my routine.
Kuwait posed a special problem. Obviously, shipping my road bike to the war was a non-starter; likewise, acquiring a $99 Wal-Mart bike on the camp wasn’t going to happen. It might make me sound like a snob, but that would be like driving a Chevette after owning a Ferrari. Furthermore, where would a guy ride? Do loops on the sand-blasted roads around the camp, with three or four laps to make twenty miles?
My new idea came, as it often does, in pursuit of a shiny new thing to buy. This time, shoes: the New Balance Minimus Trail, a low-profile “minimalist” shoe, caught my eye for some reason. This unleashed a flurry of internet research and next thing you know, I’m reading about running technique and minimalist running and proprioception and all kinds of weird shit I hadn’t known about, let alone cared about, just a few days before. Thus did my nerdiness intersect at last with running, and a new interest was born.
So here I am in Kuwait, running around the perimeter road after dark (when it’s still over 100 degrees), and actually enjoying it. Living in the refugee camp and working at the HQ being constantly bombarded with questions, the windblown perimeter at night is literally the only time I can be truly alone.
I look forward to my runs now, and I’m considering voluntarily running when I return home. This transformation concerns me for some reason – it doesn’t match with any facet of my personality, unlike all of my previous hobbies. Mrs. Melobi is similarly weirded out, about a similar transformation. I’m sure we’ll both integrate our new fitness routines smoothly; it’s not like we joined a cult or something. Still, I felt a serious unease when I walked out of the hooch for my run last night and realized that my shoes matched my shirt, I was wearing no socks, and I had dedicated running shorts on. Maybe it is some kind of cult after all…