Since I was a junior in high school, I've tried running. Just simply dragging my "wanna be eating in front of the tv" self into my blue and white Nikes seemed like it took an eternity. But eventually I'd do it and heave down the road at a lumbering pace huffing red faced and bent over. All passer bys and onlookers shook their heads in pity and had only one thought. Why bother?
My sister and I even helped start the women's track team that year; although neither of us was tall enough to do anything but long distances. And since no one else volunteered for that, the coach grudgingly agreed that we could race in two events. We'd trade off. One race I would pound around the track for four laps and she would run eight, the next race we'd switch...never coming close to breaking any records; although we may have set them for longest events in history. But we kept at it. Every Saturday was a new race, always finishing at a different line. And the next year we did it all over again. Watching the clock became an obsession. Beating the time before was essential. But for some reason, my stocky little legs would not break a 9-minute mile pace. Could be the reason it took another five years before that school finally started a cross country team.
And in college I ran in a club that more resembled an Army platoon than a club. The lead runner screamed my butt all the way to kingdom come for two years before I'd had enough. My beloved Nikes were worn through before Christmas the first year. Given that we ran five days a week, that's probably believable. By far, I was the worst runner and being the shortest at not even five feet tall, I had to set the pace during group run day. Me, setting the pace for these super macho, skinny, tall run fanatics who could all outsprint a cheetah. It made a little faster but I never broke 8-minute miles. And let me be clear. Group running is NOT my thing. And neither is running to a predetermined finish line only to have the screamer leader shriek at me to keep going right passed it. I would break down in misery as I could not eke out another step. I took a year off.
Then I ran "the loop." It was 1.8 miles around campus. Right passed my boyfriend's fraternity house so I got to wave to all my friends as a sprinted by. No jogging on that section of the loop was allowed. Occasionally my roommate would run with me and it was a nice easy pace. If I could do it in 15 minutes or less, then I belonged in a runner's hall of fame. It was thrilling to have the wind whip my hair skipping away on the pavement down roads I had known for years. People honked. I waved. I was a runner. Then it happened. Volleyball at the fraternity house one late summer afternoon. Not too many people around. Enough for fun and a couple of beers. But then she ran by. A deep voice behind me commented in an extremely appreciative tone about how that was the second time he'd seen her already. Yep, Ponytail had shown me up. She ran the loop twice. Everyday. And my boyfriend had noticed.
It became my goal in life to run that loop twice and after years of on again, off again running three miles or less, I did it this past fall. Ten years after Ponytail had impressed my boyfriend (a guy I of course quickly dumped after that), I made it an easy 3.6 miles. Two laps around familiar territory that I had not seen in a long time. That fraternity house was now owned by someone else and there were no people there I knew. But the motivation was the same. One lap was ordinary. Two laps was impressive.
Wearing down the Nike tread, pushing passed three miles. Over and over again. Even after making the two laps, I realized what I had actually discovered was that I love running. There were no cheering fans or old boyfriends around when I crossed the finish line; although a couple of trucks honked as they drove by. And I don't need to run half marathons like all of my office mates. Discovering trails and watch-free wrists increased my enthusiasm for aching lungs and sweat-clung hair. Feet on gravel or dirt or road, air racing into my lungs. An overwhelming feeling that I can run as far as I want. Oh, I still time myself to see if I'm improving but having fun with the rhythm and the scenery is much more important now than mileage. Times have gone down and distances have increased because I've understood that it isn't a chore to run. It's a blast and I love the way I feel when I'm done. All hot, sweaty, tired and all of a sudden, at the same time exhilarated and full of energy.
And now I get to run with my husband which makes it even more fun. It helps that he was impressed when I made it further than my brother the other day. Guess the competitive spirit didn't totally go away after all.