My old friend running
For some reason or another I’ve been meaning to have this conversation with any number of my running friends and exclusively them as I would be afraid of anyone else questioning my sanity on this matter but here goes nothing. My old friend running and I go way back and I can safely say that now as I’m slowly nearing the 20 year mark when we first met. I was 19 and in college and in need of some scholarship money. I don’t necessarily remember all the particulars which set these events in motion of my obtaining a spot on my colleges cross country team. Running at the time seemed like a small price to pay for closing the checkbook on some mounting debt. Hold your laughter but it never occurred to me at the time that there would be certain expectations involved. I was asked to crawl my teenage self out of bed at 7 am and put in a few miles around campus. At the time this was a serious commitment. We did sprints, we did long runs. Its 3 miles, how bad could it be? I was about to find out. Two weeks before our first cross-country meet we were taken down to the University of Kentucky where we would be examined and measured to determine our success probability. I’ll never forget that day.. the lady assigned to my case holsters her measuring tape to pocket, gives me a small shake and informs me that my numbers “weren’t so promising”. I could have told her that. Our next stop was the shoe store where we were all equipped with the same uniform Nike. Aside from that the shorts were a little much and when I say “little” I’m not being modest. It took me weeks of tireless prodding to convince coach into letting me wear compression shorts underneath my napkin sized bit of a race day outfit. I’m no fan of my thighs and I can safely say that I don’t regret the fuss that I put up. Remember when your parents taught you about “putting up the good fight”??...well this was one of them. I can’t remember the last time one of my girlfriends asked me to go shopping for smaller running shorts so they could display their fabulous upper thighs. Right? So we arrive by bus to our first competition. I have a powdered donut in one hand and a banana in the other as I step off the bus. I scan the warm- up area and I know already that this isn’t going to go well for me. Besides the fact that I’m the only one with compression shorts on, I soon realize that I’m a kangaroo in a sea of gazelles. I AM NOT a gazelle BUT I do have a pouch in my running shorts. I’m praying quietly to not be last and that’s not an exaggeration. I’m looking for that person who I’ll beat because as hard as they might be to spot there had to be someone. Sabatoge wasn’t out of the question either. Long story short, I was annihilated. I didn’t finish last but first can’t be associated with my performance either. It was that bad. My coach beckoned me to “push harder” and “hurry up”. I threatened to throw up on him and that was the end of that. As soon as the season was up, so was my running. As the old cliché goes, I was only running when chased. Fast forward 15 years, one marriage, three kids and 85 lbs. I’m living just outside of Gainesville, Fl and a new acquaintance of mine( who was an avid runner) and I end up having a random conversation about running. I inform him that once upon a time I was a runner. I looked like a slovenly slob at the time but there was a gleaming moment when I got hammered upon in collegiate cross-country competition. I was fit, just not fast. He convinces me that maybe I should take another crack at it, I mean, it’s healthy and it’s healthy and I’m breaking a sweat at the very thought of putting one foot in front of the other at anything quicker than a walk but I know I should. And I do. That afternoon I pulled into my local gyms parking lot and signed on the dotted line for monthly installments of pain served up via stair climbers and elliptical machines. I’m embarrassingly slow and I’m carrying years of chocolate, tacos, extra mayonnaise, bacon, you-name-it. They’ve staked their claim on my hips and fabulous upper thigh area and of course across my mid-section and as the old grade school saying went “I had more chins than China town”. I’ll never forget week one, I put in almost an hour every day at the gym. I didn’t leave until pure exhaustion and smell had set in. I cut out half of what had previously been going in and the weight began to fall off. I was slowly shedding my scales and becoming a swan. What had once been so cruel, yes running, was now a dear friend, an ally in my quest to commandeer back my old self. I subscribed to Runners World and read through each edition at least three times. I wanted to know how others felt, how I was gonna feel, what to expect, etc. I perused the pages until I wore the edges down to tufts that felt similar to Kleenex. I even clung tightly to the New York City Marathon Map insert dreaming of the day when I would be navigating through the cities burroughs. So after a few months into my regimen I had completed my couch to 5K program and my best friend agreed to run The Midsummer Night’s Run with me. I was 200 lbs at that point. I’m a big believer in signs and now that I look back this was one of the biggies. We had a great time that night finishing up in 39 min. After that I was hooked like a fresh catch. Races were my new frontier and I was no longer going to read about others lining up for halves and fulls across the country. If hundreds of thousands of others could, well then so could I. And I did and I kept doing. After a year or so I realized that running wasn’t just something that I was doing, it was something that I had a relationship with. I wanted to be better but that was never something I could depend on. Some days were great but most days were just average. The quicker I got the more tender my legs became and setting my feet down on the hardwood floor at the crack of dawn sucked (for lack of a better word). It was unpleasant but I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was lathered down in extreme herbal heat balm and ice bags and hot rags and clutching the remote with the dark realization that I had another 8 on my plate the next day. I secretly dreaded the sight of my watch. I even cheated on running with swimming. That Garmin was proof of what I already knew. And it led me to ask “why am I still doing this?” The time to reevaluate was near. And so lately I’ve been thinking about my old friend running….what it means to me? where are we going? what are we doing? are we casual or are we serious? I have all of these great memories from the past couple years. I think my reasons might be quite similar to others… in fact I know they are. My new beginning came with a 5 am run, I’m not awake nor am I a morning person but there’s something about running in the dark under the stars and having Michael Buble narrate the entire event. I set out to just put one foot in front of the other and get back to the basics. I had set out all my clothes the night before in the kitchen, I grabbed my nano and was going to think of nothing beside the happiness that guides me from mile one to mile two and so on. This was the plan and for the next hour I thought of nothing but the Team in Training people that cheer so loudly for each other that it makes you green with envy and cry all at the same time or the man with Bible scripture on the back of his shirt, he’s running for something more than a medal and you want nothing but to follow him on his journey. I get behind people and I think about their story, what might have brought them to that moment or for that matter what brought me to that moment. It’s the little kids in the neighborhoods who spent hours setting up their stand perfectly with apples and juice for those of us who pass by or the college students who are quick to shower you with last night’s Coors Light. It’s metaphorical, it’s amazing and it’s super cool. It’s leaving my entire day behind and traveling around with air in my lungs and realizing that a car isn’t always the answer in getting from point A to point B. I love knowing that I could run to the store to get something and run home, even if that store is in the next town. It’s empowering amongst other things. I met a friend the other day who said that after awhile you need to find your “running chi”. I wasn’t sure what that meant or where I could possibly find mine but be sure that I’ll put that on my to-do list immediately!