I've come to the conlusion that running is like drinking. The experience starts off the same way: "Wow, this feels great. Why don't I do this more often?" Getting to the bottom of a bottle of Keith's makes me feel warm and fuzzy and makes all my troubles go away. Similarly, after the first 15 minutes of a nice jog through the forest on a crisp autumn day, I feel at ease and pretty pleased about my existence.
It's strange how both alcohol and exercise can bring about a kind of euphoria and a weird sense they both should be pursued on a more regular basis. But that's where the similarities end. Unlike a good run, pushing myself and then feeling full of life and possibilities afterwards as I stretch, the final result of downing more than two drinks (yes, I'm a lightweight) is more likely to make me want to wretch. Not fun. Doesn't make me feel better about myself. Sometimes even one glass of red wine is enough to make my pillow feel like a vice the next morning. Who doesn't want to erase the past 12 hours and do away with the pain? And who has ever regretted lacing up and going for a short lope around the neighbourhood? No one's ever woken up after jogging, stumbled over to the mirror to wince at his or her pasty, gaunt face and said, "Oh, man, that was stupid." It doesn't happen. It's not easy to push your workout too far. You can't black out and slide down the slippery slope of losing count while binging on the perfect poison of lactic acid. No one's ever heard a runner on the phone at work, holding her head in her hand, saying, "Damn, I should have just stopped after that eighth lap. I can't believe I did another four. I just couldn't help myself." Injuries aside, there's never a reason to not run as much as you want. There's never enough muscle pain to equal a bad hangover.
Of course beer is lovely and I'm not going to give up alcohol and start running twice a day. But it's funny (and maybe frustrating) that the things that really are a challenge, that don't feel easy and good all the way through, end up making us feel great when they're done. Nothing worth doing is easy. Anything worth doing is hard. Tension and balance and all that.