4. The Side Effect of Fear

4. The Side Effect of Fear

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Side Effect of Fear

The greatest stimulator of my running career was fear.
 ~Herb Elliott

Who in their right mind would think that terror could be good? Granted, it’s mostly bad. But it can be a marvelous stimulant in the young life of an aspiring runner, even if the reason he’s running is sheer terror.

I have the ignominious distinction of having been chased home by a girl nearly every day of my third-grade life. I suppose I ought to thank Laura, wherever she is, for being the catalyst for my running habit. Those who lived along Highland Street in Laconia might have remarked, “What a healthy young man! Always running!” But if they were patient, they might have perhaps seen, far in the distance, a tall young woman in a black leather jacket trotting along. And perhaps if they studied my pale face, they might have seen the telltale signs of fear: the quivering lip, the wide eyes. Perhaps they even saw me looking back over my shoulder every few steps.

I was small for my age. Hell, I was small for any age, up until the eighth grade, when I shot up six inches. But up until then I was pretty miniature. And so even after Laura tired of chasing me (I heard later that she thought I was cute, though I still believe she wanted to kill me), I stuck with my habit of running to and from school. The school district had determined that my house was just a bit too close to the middle school for me to be able to take the bus. So I would run there in the morning, and run back after school. It was the after-school runs that were harrowing.

A kid running to school simply suggests lateness, which is acceptable. Even tough kids don’t want to get detention for being late all the time.

But a kid running home from school; well, there’s no sugar-coating that one. He’s just plain old scared. And those curious hooligans at Memorial Middle School got awfully suspicious. They must have thought, why in the hell is he running all the time? So, ironically, they began chasing me home because I was running. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Winter was the worst. For one thing, it’s harder to run in the snow. And then there’s the added trouble of snowballs. The availability of snowballs meant that not only must I outrun my aggressors, but that I must keep a cushion of at least forty yards between myself and them. Also, if I cut through a backyard, it became easy to track me.

When I sprouted up to 5’10” in eighth grade, they stopped chasing me. But I kept my habit of running anyway, and naturally I joined the track team. I’d found that in my daily flights of terror from school to home, I’d built up decent stamina. Not only that, but thanks to the prevalence of stone walls in backyards around Laconia, I’d been inadvertently practicing hurdling the whole time. I ran track all through high school, specializing in hurdles. While I didn’t break any records, I became captain of the track team, and prepared myself for Army Basic Training, a large part of which revolves around running. And running. And running.

Even as a teacher at a school for kids with ADHD I’ve found a use for my long-lived running habit. I highly recommend that you try catching a kid with ADHD who’s running away from you through the forest at top speed. You won’t forget it. Those kids don’t tire, let me tell you. But luckily for me I’ve been running my whole life, and even though I’m past thirty, I know how to pace myself, and they always give in eventually. I’m all done being afraid. But the running, the running has stayed with me: The lovely, unlooked-for side effect of fear.

~Ron Kaiser, Jr.

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