Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


What I’ve learned from running

Since May, I’ve been in training to do an AIDS marathon this fall. (If you’d like to sponsor me and haven’t already done so, please click here.) In that time I have learned many things — things so astonishing to me that I’m considering collecting them into a book. Maybe it wouldn’t be this generation’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” or even close, but it would be by me. Here’s just some of what I’ve learned.

1. Your achievement is your own. No one else cares.

On Sunday, I ran my furthest distance yet — 13 miles. To me, this is an amazing accomplishment. I came home and told my little boy and he said, “Oh, yeah? I can run a thousand miles.” His dead certainty was disconcerting. I told my wife I had run 13 miles and she looked at me said, about my forthcoming marathon trip in the fall, “I guess you expect me to change my work schedule.” Nobody at the training site was impressed either, because they had just run the same 13 miles.

2. The foulest place on Earth is not where you think.

Is it the bottom of the world’s largest garbage pit, in Lagos, Nigeria? No. Is it the drinking water beneath Pittsburgh, PA? No. It’s not even the dark thoughts in the furthest corner of Larry Flynt’s mind. The foulest place on Earth is the freestanding porta-potty in Griffith Park next to the training site. It is so foul that if I were to post a photo of its interior, the internet would shrivel and die. If I were to describe it in terms too readily understood, you would never return to this blog for fear I might do it again. Just imagine the very worst toilet situation imaginable, extending your imagination to all surfaces within (including the ceiling), and then add in the stench, then multiply by infinity. That approaches the state of this, the foulest place on Earth.

3. The laws of physics don’t apply to running.

I’ve been running since May, and I’m now running between 14 and 34 miles per week, depending upon what week I’m on in the training schedule. I don’t eat fast food, I don’t drink soda, I eat fish twice a week and plenty of fruits and vegetables, and I’ve cut out most alcohol. Guess how much weight I’ve lost. If you said “none,” you win. Not one ell-bee. Not a gram. Inevitably when I tell people this, they’ll say, “You’re gaining muscle.” I haven’t seen that. I have large calves, so you’d expect it there, but nope — same level of (or lack of) definition. How is this possible? Yesterday on that long run, I shared this question with a fellow runner. She replied, “Well, your ass looks great.” I didn’t ask if she meant it looks better now than it did, and whether therefore I had a saggy ass or maybe fat ass before this. In fact, I dropped the whole matter, though I did feel compelled to first respond, “Uh… yours too.”

4.  It may indeed be true that your parents walked nine miles uphill both ways to school through three feet of snow.

I say that because the training course — through Griffith Park, through the Equestrian Center, through the Rancho District, into Burbank and back — is uphill both ways. However, I can’t vouch for the three feet of snow.

5. Bum smell is mostly sweat.

You know that smell that bums get? Of course it comes from poor hygiene, unclean clothing, and bad diet. But I now suspect that, specifically, it’s mostly sweat. That’s because I’m smelling it on myself after long runs. Yes, after a long run I smell like a bum. (Or someone from a distant land with different bathing rituals. Say, France.) Of course I take a shower when I get home after one of these runs, but first I have to come inside. My children greet me this way: By covering their noses. Literally. This Sunday, my daughter and my little boy stood in the room adjacent and looked at me, each of them peering over an arm stretched across to cover a nose. They wouldn’t come any closer. At one point, my daughter added a comment:  “Ewwwwww.” I had suspected the situation even before getting home, when I stopped at the Smart ‘n’ Final two blocks from our house to get orange juice and hazelnut creamer so I could enjoy the sort of breakfast I now felt entitled to, having run 13 miles. Still wearing my soaking running clothes and staying respectfully distant from others, I grabbed what I needed, placed it on the checkout conveyor belt and backed up several feet. The cashier, a man in his mid-20’s, greeted me. Then there was silence as he scanned my goods. Finally I said, “I just ran 13 miles.” Without looking up, he said, “That explains it.”

More observations to follow, I’m sure.

4 Responses to “What I’ve learned from running”

  1. Kim Says:

    Oh, god Lee, that is funny. I laughed so hard I snorted. You definitely write Zen and the art of running.

    BTW, the reason you haven’t lost any weight is that you have gained blood volume. Running long distances makes your heart bigger, I guess because you’re cycling through so much oxygen to your muscles? At least that’s what I was told when I trained. It’s little comfort, though. At least your in great shape, eh?

    My friend had a similar experience with a foul men’s bathroom near the beach in Venice. That was the day we were running 24 miles, in the pouring rain. So, when he went in, all the homeless guys who normally would have been snoozing or whatnot outside, were all huddled in the bathroom. He came out looking scared and very disturbed. I think he had nightmares afterwards.

  2. Lee Wochner Says:

    If my heart has grown bigger, it’s because of the growing love I feel for all humanity. Including even Pooty-poot and the guy in the slow van hogging the fast lane this morning on Olive Avenue.

  3. Grant Says:


    After I peed my pants over the description of the Griffiths Park Porta-potty, I felt really proud of your accomplishment to date, forget those others that don’t give it a second thought (or ask your son to run 1000 miles uphill both ways!)

    Finally I was fairly nauseous over any thought of you having ‘buns of steel’, smelly or not, way TMI

  4. Isabel Storey Says:

    Congratulations on the 13 miles! (I’m sure you’re family is proud too. But they’re not going to tell you every day :-)).

    As for the lack of weight loss, that sounds discouraging. Maybe you unconsciously upped your caloric intake to match what you’re expending. Healthful food doesn’t necessarily mean fewer calories. However, you’re undoubtedly healthier!

    Keep it up.

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