So it’s not news that I run now. It’s really hard for me to call myself a “runner” but apparently that’s what I am. At age 35, in the year I would get cancer, I decided to get a sport. A real one. A sport that I had, for the previous, oh say 30 years, shunned, hated, associated with people NOT ME. I thought that everyone who ran 1) loved every second of it; 2) was a size 0 rabbit food eater; and 3) most importantly, NOT ME.
Last year, when I decided to get all uppity and try to check something off the old bucket list, I signed myself up for a real 5k. I even invested in fancy shoes (which, incidentally I found out yesterday were the entire wrong SIZE.) I ran that 5k last Mother’s Day weekend and absolutely wanted to cry/puke/scream the whole time. Except when I heard people cheering. Except when I saw women several pounds heavier/years older/whatever the *thing* more/less than myself out there and making it happen. Except when I saw the finish line getting closer. Except when I ran across that line and a woman from a local running group shoved a flower into my hand. Except when I felt like I would cry with pride.
And there it was, the elusive runner’s high. I don’t know if it was endorphins, or exhaustion, or the sense that I had narrowly escaped death (I have a flair for the dramatic at times, go with it). But I was FREAKING IN LOVE WITH RUNNING.
The thing about running is that you are out there with only yourself as competition, but surrounded by incredible buoyant support. The running community, for the most part (there’s an asshole in every bunch, just like life), is the most team-loving, comrade-in-arms group of crazy people I have ever met. Cause when you cross that line they ALL know you just went to battle with some serious self doubt. With some pain. With some “I cannot do this and I am going to puke or die but I have to put one foot in front of the other.” There’s no one stopping me from just sitting down, except me. Ok, I have a coach or two who might come grab me– but that’s the good news too. There are people out there willing to slow down their OWN race and run with me. To go back for a friend who needs a boost across a finish line. My favorite moments in races have been watching friends I know who have had personal struggles get across that line. It’s better than my own finish. I cry, every time.
I am not the most graceful, elegant, skinny, fast, or talented runner. But I get out there and do it. And the “just doing it” (yes, Nike, way to grab that one early on) is the whole thing. It’s so cliche, but it applies to all of the other life stuff too.
Flashback: me, in elementary school, huffing and puffing around a freezing cold track. Like every other American child in the 80’s I was subjected to the “Presidential Fitness Challenge” where only the 2 lithe, freakishly fast/strong 9 year olds got all the prizes every year and the rest of us shuffled into PE, terrified and awaiting certain personal failure. I remember watching those gazelle-like friends and thinking “how the hell did they just run like that? what is wrong with me? why am I fat/slow/ugly?” Turns out, growing up in a house with smokers and having exercise-induced asthma and then being chucked out in the cold in the NJ spring = not awesome for my little lungs. But I took it so personally. And I started to write my inner story of “not an athlete” and “not a runner” right there on that track. I gasped around and made it to a 13-something mile. And then had to gulp down the tears.
If I could go back to that awkward little pre-pubescent me, here’s what I’d tell her:
1. You are going to live an amazing life that is so far beyond the confines of this track.
2. You are going to be 35 and regularly run a sub-10 minute mile and feel awesome while doing it.
3. Fuck them. Cause they don’t matter. You being awesome is what matters.
Life lessons all around.