The Casual Runner

My first Mile: Tony Degenaro

My first Mile: Tony Degenaro (Guest Contributor)

Tony DeGenaro is a part time barista and full time poet.  His work has been seen in coffee mugs in San Francisco, Oakland, and cafés in Poland, Ohio, as well as various publications, including Rusted Radishes and Writing Without Walls.  He is a native of Ohio, where, since 2015, he has been a Casual Runner.

622623_10151476260429056_211370343_o (1)As a creative writer, I’ve made it my vocation to create meaning, often where there is none to begin with.  While it is in my nature to occasionally take this mission a little too far, save for some playful guff I catch from friends and family, I can hardly say I’ve been discouraged.  I cannot, however, say the same for my relationship with exercise.  Somewhere between my junior year of high school and the beginning of this year, I completely stopped running.  I joined my high school’s cross country team as a way to stay in shape (read: meet girls) and help transition into the public school of which I was a stranger at (read: meet girls).  Despite the fact that I’ve never owned a car, have walked or cycled most places I’ve needed to go, I just could not take the plunge into running.  Save for a few shallow goes at it, new years, post-break ups, self-improvement binges, and one very long Lent, I restricted my exercise to walking, being a barista (don’t knock coffee-cardio until you try it), and occasional games of pick up soccer.

If I mark the timeline during which I lived in California, major points include two ankle injuries.  My MFA classmates loved playing in beautiful Golden Gate Park, but our amateur status (seriously, picture 12 poets playing the world’s sport) restricted us to the worst field.  I caught a pot hole in the grass and was off my foot for two months, having torn what my doctor described as “everything except the bone.”  Luckily, that healed strong but didn’t exactly turn me into a permanent fixture at the gym.  Those days I was biking back and forth to the ocean, so in my mind, didn’t need to be running at all.

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After I moved to Oakland we spent a considerable amount of time up in the hills, where one of my roommate’s parents lives. We would go for hikes or jogs and got some pretty killer views of the town.

After graduation, I moved from San Francisco to Oakland. During a pickup game of basketball, I sprained my other ankle, one which I had rolled and sprained several times during my cross country years.  That did not heal well.  Then my bike was stolen.  Between working on my feet and having to walk to work, I was in lots of pain.  If you asked me in November 2014 how soon I’d be up for running a mile, I’d slap you.

But now I am back in humble old Poland, Ohio.  Having pursued jobs in Detroit, all over California, and settling for an opportunity to take it easy and work on my book, I’m finding new solace in a place so familiar.  It is truly amazing how much things can change, while staying completely the same.  It is in between this complex paradox that I found myself struggling through a week of short jogs, laps at the middle school track, sweat and pain, I finally made an uninterrupted mile following Galloway’s run-walk method.

I’m told, and a few weeks into consistent Casual Running can vouch, that going out too hard or too fast not only can damage your body, but can cripple your spirit.  Following that concept, and switching from heavy hitting percussive hip hop to a more mellow blues rock record as my running buddy, I tried my hardest to slow it down, to cool it off, and to focus on the goal of distance out, up, and moving more than constant or speedy running.  Admitting that I wouldn’t out-pace old cross country days records was the hardest, but most rewarding step forward.  After finding the confidence to get around the track at all, not sprinting, not running, but still not crawling, I finally felt ready.

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This is the street outside of the cafe I worked at in San Francisco, Velo Rouge Cafe. It was a hangout for cyclists so lots of good physical fitness nuts in there at all times. Since I mostly lived at work, I did many a good run or two down Arguello St.

It was a day my brother (and Casual Runner Team member) Steve could not join me.  In anticipation for a concert I was going to the coming weekend, I had Gaslight Anthem in my headphones, and knowing I would trade mosh-pit-punk-rock-cardio for runs while away, I knew today had to be the day.  It was chilly, as mid-mornings in late March tend to be, but between excitement for the concert and the music itself, I was fired up.  One footfall ahead of the next, I was making my way around the track.  Distracted by the music, I was surrounded with memories: first cross country practices, middle school track and field, previous Gaslight Anthem shows.  Suddenly, and more importantly, with confidence, I realized I had ran a full lap, no sweat.  A second lap came as fast as an old favorite song of theirs came on.  It became systematic: my legs and feet and ankles felt great, I just had to make it to the next song.  Eight hundred meters were now behind me.  Another song.  One about resilience, fitting.  Another lap.  “We never going home until the song says we’ve finished,” and just like that, I was headed home.  I had finished my first mile.

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After a mountain climb in Tucson.

Today, after a heavy rain that satisfactorily backed off into a cloudless but chilly spring day, I am remembering the pulse of the Midwest.  During cross country, we often trained in the woods near my house, often long past my interest, or motivation would last.  Now out for a run only as long as a new album by a beloved band, I found new trails and old opening up in the landscape I knew so well.  I didn’t notice the quit I had smoked into my lungs begging me to stop, or the constant ache my ankle had feigned to stay lazy; all I noticed were the things I remembered.  Like how good it is to be home.  Like how good it is to know you can stop any time you want, and then to keep running.  Like how good it is to know the songs are never over, we are never finished.

Tony’s story is the latest in our series of First Mile features. You can check out the others below, and, if you are so inclined, we’d love to add your own story to this collection!

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Poland Woods, in Poland, Ohio, with me being all artsy.

– Jenny told us how she is successful in her Casual Running adventure, even though she admittedly was not the biggest fan of running. 

– Carly shared with us why she wants to be a runDisney Princess, and reminded us of the importance of setting personal goals and sticking to them.

Jake explained how he got himself onto the path of his own Casual Running adventure, which now includes a very creative race costuming hobby

– Jennifer is a mainstay of the Casual Runner Team, but she had to start somewhere. Here is her first mile story.

– Mike also had to start somewhere. As we mentioned above, it took him several times of trying and failing before he was able to succeed in his goal of becoming a Casual Runner, Here is his story.

– Starting from a different point of view, Steve, ran his first mile, and never looked back.

– In sharing her first mile story, Jen helped us understand the way we view ourselves as runners and running itself.

– Ryan’s compelling first mile involved conquering some personal challenges.

– Allison inspired us by sharing where she found her own inspiration.

– Kari’s first miles and race experience were unique and personal, and serve to remind us that we all have unique experiences and stories to share.

Like Tony, we all have great stories and messages to share. The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below.  To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and add us to your circle on Google+.  See you out on the running trails!

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