Thursday, February 23, 2006


This was originally posted on November 3, 2005, two days before I did my first 5K race.

You've seen them. You know the people I mean, the dedicated athletes who are out there running on the downtown sidewalks and the shoulders of the back roads. They run in the dark, in the rain, in the fog, and in the blazing heat of a summer afternoon with their sweat-shiny bodies reflecting the merciless sun. Some are old, some young, men, women, the occasional teenager who's not just running because his coach told him he had to. They all somehow look alike, though, because under their baseball caps and ponytails and bald heads they have the same focused, determined expressions on their faces, mixed with a satisfaction that is inexplicable to the rest of us.

I always just kind of assumed they were crazy. I mean, honestly, getting in shape is one thing, but this is ridiculous. Wait for a nice day and go for a walk, folks. Get in out of the rain, take off your windbreaker, and go to the gym like normal people.

Be like me, with my exercise philosophy: All things in moderation. Rest, pasta, good books, good music, good movies, high-quality chocolate, and perhaps a bit more rest. If I need some fresh air, I'll go read on the porch. I might take a walk now and then with the kids to get a change of scenery, but none of this foolishness with running shoes and track pants. I get plenty of exercise chasing my kids, right?

All right, so I walked a marathon. Your point? It was moderate! You didn't see me rushing about hither and yon, sweat dripping in a most unfashionable way. No, I walk -- fast, I'll grant you, but just walking, like sensible people have been doing for millennia. You'll never catch me running.

I finished my marathon, and started looking for other walking events online. I kept seeing the phrase "walk/run". I wasn't really planning to start running, but it seeped into my thinking and after a while it didn't seem so unreasonable. Maybe just a little bit of running. I checked with my doctor, and she said my hips and ankles were recovered from the summer's attempts at running (see, I knew it wasn't a good idea to overdo things) and I could speed up a bit if I wanted to. Just for some variety, you know.

Last week I tried incorporating some jogging into my walking routine, and wasn't too sure I liked it. The speed was nice, feeling the wind in my face and watching my too-familiar landmarks fly by in a most unaccustomed way, but my ankles protested and it was hard to breathe. See, I was right. Only crazy people do this. But rock-headed stubbornness was what got me through the marathon, and it hadn't disappeared at the finish line. I decided to finish out the week that way. It got a little easier by the end of the week, so I thought I'd try another week's worth of moderate running.

This morning I realized that I could not tolerate another three miles' worth of abuse to my ankles, and did something somewhat counterintuitive: I sped up. All of a sudden, my weight moved forward, my breathing fell into a comfortable rhythm, and the scenery started sliding by instead of bumping dizzily up and down. I finished my workout with more energy than I'd ever had after running, and if I'd had time to hold still, something would have clicked into place in my mind -- but I'm a mother, and there were lunches to make and hair to braid and oatmeal to prepare to order, and the breakthrough didn't quite happen.

Later this morning, I got in the car to pick Peter up from school, and as I drove down the familiar road from which most of my walking routes begin, I wasn't thinking about much of anything. It was one of those Northwest fall mornings that I have always enjoyed from the inside of a car -- 48 degrees outside, 72 degrees inside, comfortable seats, radio playing softly, and the windshield wipers making a pleasant counterpoint with the splashing rain on the windows. "A good time to be indoors," as my mom liked to say on a cold, wet day.

However, I found myself with my head oddly cocked, watching the sidewalk. I snapped my eyes forward when I realized my attention had wandered, but my subconscious had had enough time to produce the following highly unexpected thought: "I'd rather be out there running."

The clouds didn't part, angelic music didn't issue forth from the heavens, and I didn't stop the car to absorb this epiphany. Instead, I drove on, rather more thoughtfully than before, and pondered what madness this might be. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true, plain and simple. I wanted to be out there running, in the rain, in the cold, in the wind.

It appears that I may need to reconsider my definition of insanity.


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