I have never called myself a runner. In 1999 I trained for six months with my brother to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. I got up three mornings a week a 5 o’clock to run before work. I ran up to six hours on Sundays. I went to many a party and wedding in six months and didn’t drink a drop. I left my vacation a day early to drive home and run 20 miles. It was that Sunday that I blew out my knee. Weeks before the race I begged my doctor to do whatever he could so I might finish. He shot me up with enough cortisone to stun a small farm animal but not before making me promise him I would never do this again. I could have kissed him on the mouth. I wanted to finish that marathon and then walk away and never lace another pair of Nikes in my life. He had just given me the excuse I needed. I gave my life over to running for six months. I completed 26.2 miles (Don’t ever forget that .2-it is the worst part of the race.) and I still didn’t consider myself a runner.
Lately, I have been working out in some capacity every day. I have yet to run. First, everybody was running. Moms were on You Tube and updating Facebook with race photos. I turned my nose up and used the excuse that I didn’t want to follow the mama herd. Then, I decided I didn’t need running. I had all these other exercise options that were providing visible results.
Yet, in spite of all these stellar excuses, I fought this nagging pull (be it desire or insanity) to get back out and hit the streets. It is not that I love running. I am not one of those who has ever experienced the endorphin rush. In fact, I hated every single pounding step and gasp for air that comes when I run. Yet, I do remember the feeling I had after my runs. That is when I felt the euphoria. I felt it in the car driving to work. I would smugly look around in traffic and think-you suckers haven’t run this morning and I have. I walked a bit taller those days. Even puking up Saturday’s dinner on Sunday afternoon, I felt it. I was strong. I was powerful. I was unafraid. I could get through anything. Lately, I’ve been looking for that again. I needed that again. Still, I didn’t run.
I was scared. Even in 1999, crossing the finish line of a marathon I didn’t think of myself as a runner. Now, I am not even that girl anymore so how can I be a runner? I am heavier. I am not the same young thing who could just get up and go whenever she felt the urge to jog. I don’t have hours to spend in the bathroom recovering. I have a hard enough time fitting in a shower without my kids much less a run and all that entails for me.
So it was this beautiful July day when I hit the sidewalk with no particular destination in mind. In my mind I heard myself say, “What are you doing? You are old. You are out of shape. You don’t run. This body can’t handle this.”
This berating went on for the first couple blocks. Then I stopped and had to walk. It was funny. My body held up but my lungs, the lungs that are so big a doctor in college once asked if I was a cross country athlete, (ha!) they failed me. I was struggling to breathe so much I started seeing things. So I walked and I fought the urge to just turn around an go home. I figured a walk was better than nothing.
Then the iPod switched to a new song and I’m not sure if it was the song or those mythical endorphins but I started jogging again. My feet matched perfectly in time with the back beat of the song. My thoughts started to match it too.
“This body ran a marathon. An effing marathon.” Over and over again I said it.
Then came this: “This body carried three babies. This body birthed three babies. These legs moved a family to a new state-almost alone. These shoulders carry the weight of decisions that affect three small people. These lungs? They sing and scream and breathe through triumph and challenge. These hands started businesses. These hands type to inspire. These arms calm, and soothe and support.”
I ran a little faster. Sometimes I still had to walk. I even went back to the thought that I might cut my route short. I had nothing to prove. I remembered I was capable. Now, I was tired. I was hot. I was still struggling to breathe. I thought sure I can do it, but if I am not enjoying this run I should just go home. Then I ran up against a line of cars led by a black limousine. Each care with the tell tale headlights on. The orange signs in the windshields. The black car at the end that you can never look at directly. A funeral. On this beautiful, celebratory day. My perspective was clear. My dialogue became this:
“This body is capable while others are not. This body is free to move while others are not. This body can be fit and healthy and strong if you choose to fight your fears and to make it so. You owe it to those who are not capable or free.”
So I ran home. All the way home. It wasn’t pretty but I think you can still call it running. I did not puke when I got there, but it was close. The Baby asked why my face looked funny-it was that red. I pushed myself harder than I have in a good long while. My lungs still hurt hours later. But I will do it again. I am still not a runner. But I will run because I will not be scared. I owe that to people, most especially myself.
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