Sunday, April 17, 2011

Will run for Tastykakes

I cannot tell a lie, dear readers.

I made this clone of the Tastykake Peanut butter Kandy Kake.  And while you could probably put peanut butter on shoe leather and I'd lick it off, I did NOT have 100 percent success with this recipe. A number of bloggers stated that you could use chocolate chips with a teaspoon or two of oil stirred in as a substitute for the candy bars when making the topping. But I found, like one of the reviewers on All Recipes, that this created a chocolate 'shield' on top of the sponge cake. When I tried to cut the bars, hideous cracks appeared on the surface of the Kake.  The effect was tasty but unless you were eating it as a 'serving for one,' I'd have to rate my attempt as a fail.

One of the reasons I started running many years ago was that I wanted a way to deal with failure.

I reasoned that, regardless of how bad the day might be, if I went for a run, it couldn't be rated as entirely wasted. I started running when I was sixteen, and was still ashamed by the guys who would shout "fatass" at me as they whizzed by in their cars. I ran the year I wasn't speaking to my parents and stayed over Thanksgiving break at Wesleyan to work on my senior honors thesis. I circled the track as a family that looked like it had walked straight from the L.L. Bean catalog played in the woods beside the gym, complete with puffy vests, flannels, duck boots, and two Golden Retrievers. Working up an appetite before their feast. 

I ran around the reservoir  in Birmingham, England, padding my way on streets crunchy with condoms and needles from my apartment, 'round the water where I had to be careful not to breathe at a certain specific point because of the hordes of flies that made their home in that area of the marsh.  I ran through the months of April and September the year my mother died.

"You're so dedicated," people will tell me.

People rarely compliment me--since I work as an editor and pretty much everyone thinks they can write, and write well (I've had people ask me why I can't suggest their retired mother to some of my clients, so she can pick up extra income), I'm usually greedy for praise. However, the idea that I'm dedicated because I run 6-8 miles seems very odd to me.

First of all, I genuinely love running so it isn't a chore. How can you be dedicated at something you love? I love the rush of ideas that comes to my head, I love being in nature, and I love what it has done to my body--because of running I'm no longer the dorky, fat girl who refused to participate in gym class because she was afraid of looking foolish if she tried.

Second of all, I suck. The reason that I've never tried to run a marathon is that I'm so slow, I'm sure I'd only serve to confirm the opinion people who hate running that they'd be better off on the couch.

Thirdly (can you tell that I used to debate), if I could be good at a 'sport,' running would be the last activity I'd pick.

Note the quotes around the word 'sport.' Because truthfully, unless you're racing at a very high level and strategically pacing yourself, running is a conditioning exercise, not a sport. It's wonderful for losing weight and increasing your endurance and mental toughness. But it won't increase your agility, upper body strength, flexibility, coordination, ability to communicate with your body, and all the sorts of important things other sports can teach you.  And teamwork--most people who only run are serious Introverts, and not in a good way...

If I could pick a sport in which to excel, it would be horseback riding. Followed by figure skating, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, gymnastics--hell, even field hockey.

I know there are some runner-types who 'just run' and become ultra-marathoners, running races in excess of 120 miles or running a marathon a day.  But I question making such an investment into 'just running.'

Don't get me wrong, if I couldn't get in my 6-8 miles a day, I would be miserable. But for me, running is a way of enhancing my other activities in my life, and my life in general. Although some day I may run a marathon, I can't imagine giving up the other things I enjoy doing--riding horses and even my bike or yoga--just to run as long as I possibly could, every day.

Ask yourself: who runs?  Usually, it's not the most talented kid in gym class. He's off winning glory on the football field, or she's beating up football players with her field hockey stick after school. Runners are usually total dorks like me.  To me, running doesn't say 'how dedicated' but 'yes, I am so physically inept I have chosen a sport that requires no more coordination than putting one foot in front of the other.  Please don't hurt me because I have minimal upper body strength.'  Especially distance runners like myself, who can't even run away quickly if you chase us.

Running, I love you. But even some of America's greatest runners only chose the sport because they were too thin and frail to play football and the other 'glory sports' and took up cross-country and track instead.  Or they didn't have the financial means or time to pursue other activities.

Running is, after all cheap (another big plus in running's favor).  All you need are shoes and a place where you won't get shot or slip on ice to do it.

So yes, I did run this morning and I'll run tomorrow, and more importantly I will enjoy my run--which means, no matter how slow I am not a failure and I have still won something in my daily struggle to maintain my sanity and make my life better--but I am under no illusions that it makes me a great athlete.

In fact, most genuinely talented athletes I know find running quite boring and do the minimal possible to stay in shape play their totally badass sport of choice. I could tell you some good running stories, but all pale in comparison to the rugby player I knew who got one of his ears bitten off while playing his freshman year.

Any additional suggestions on cloning the perfect Tastykake and increasing my coordination are always appreciated.  Enjoy the day--enjoy some sport, please--but run only if you feel like it and actually like to run.  Oh, and if you play rugby, please remember to tape your ears properly before heading out onto the field...


  1. That reminds me of an unhappy lawyer memoir I read years ago called "Double Billing." The story was typical big firm sweatshop stuff, but the author did a lot of running as a way of coping with that lifestyle, and he got so "good" that he won some corporate race on behalf of the FIrm and then everyone LOVED his running and actively encouraged it. He went from being looked at as weird by his co-workers for coming to the office in running clothes to being accepted as an "eccentric" because his activities looked good on a corporate brochure. But that thought makes me want to eat a lot of snacky cakes!

  2. That's awful! I don't know what's worse--the fact that the other lawyers were totally weird-ed out that he actually exercised(what are those shoes you call 'sneakers') or the firm capitalizing upon the 'hobby' to prove that 'lawyers have lives--look, they run their brains out to prevent themselves from jumping out of the window.'

  3. "I am so physically inept I have chosen a sport that requires no more coordination than putting one foot in front of the other. Please don't hurt me because I have minimal upper body strength.' Especially distance runners like myself, who can't even run away quickly if you chase us."

    I was laughing so hard at this!!!
    Keep on running!

  4. @Thanks, Peabody! I am totally in awe of your ice hockey skillz--the closest I will ever come is getting into a good debate over who is the best goalie in the NHL....

  5. Mary, I've come to see failures as signposts- the things that help us know we're going in the right direction; seems like a happier way of looking at these things anyway:-)

  6. @Julie--I suppose as long as you keep 'moving forward' that is the most important thing--although every now and then it's nice to see a streetlight shining in a dark alleyway as a sign of hope...