Femurs swing on rusty hinges, everything wound around a core of pain. My shoulders creep up towards my ears and I have to forcibly, scold them down. As my arms cross over my body in acts of utter resistance, I have to remember to breath, to keep moving, to brush my knuckles against my hip bones, to keep proper form and avoid a stabbing side cramp. Sweat stings my eyes; I appear to be weeping. My inner thighs are starting to chafe; I seem to be running with a load in my pants.
This is how it ends, no dignity, a crying, poopy pantsed baby in spandex. They’ll find my body in a crumpled heap on the side of the road, my iPod repeatedly playing a Rihanna song, too loudly, an earbud in and the other dangling out, crushed by one of those annoying Segue things that’s now just a wheel. This is not me as the last human on earth, trying to outrun the apocalypse. This is just how I feel in the first eight minutes of a typical run.
When this is the threshold you have to cross, why run? When there are so many other ways to get one’s fitness on. Cross Pilates Barre. Yoga Spree. Yoga Nap Core. Elliptical iPad Swipe Fit. Cycle Your Soul Clean. Running is so…1976. So, Forrest Gump. So, uncomfortable. So, low tech on the gear front. So, that pair of red Nikes with the red laces and a rainbow plaid hologram swoosh that I had in 4th grade. OK, those Nikes were actually the raddest. I won’t talk about the sports bra I just threw away except to say I had it so long that staples were involved. I’m afraid I’ve said too much.
I’ll now escort you through the conversation I have with myself before thirty-seven of thirty-eight runs I go on.
Me: You’re going running.
ME: But you’re soooo tiiiirrrreeeddddd.
Me: You’re going running, you packed your bag.
ME: Did I mention how tired I am? The dog was barking a lot last night. Like, a lot. Do you remember all those times you woke up because of the dog barking?
Me: Put on your sports bra.
ME: I hatttttte the sports bra. Obviously not because I’m stacked, but it pushes on my shoulders in this weird way.
Me: Put it on.
ME: Your iPod isn’t charged.
Me: Isn’t that convenient? Get over it.
ME: But it hurrrrrrtsssss.
Me: You’ll feel like a gagillion goddamn dollars when you’re done. You’ll thank me.
ME: I swear I won’t.
ME: Look at that, a cloud just passed over the sun, it’s probably not safe, weather wise.
Me: Unless there are simultaneous sirens, a visible tornado and To To starts chasing you, you’re going.
ME: You’re mean.
Me: Damn skippy.
ME: Finnnnnnnnne. But I am going to feel like shit and complain the whole time.
Me: You probably will the first 8ish minutes.
ME:THE WHOLE TIME.
~after 30 minutes to an hour of running~
Me: See?! That was great. You’re literally reborn!
ME: You were right. You’re always right. I promise I won’t do that next time.
Me: You will.
ME: You’re right.
It amusingly baffles me how this battle occurs every time I gear up for a run. I am someone who has run for years, who knows the benefits, has built the wall of endurance brick-by-labored-brick and I have become very good at making deals with myself. Just put the clothes on and tie the shoes because then you will feel like a loser if you take the clothes off and you didn’t make them sweaty. Think about a reward or treat you can have when you get finished (though usually I am so hopped up on endorphins after this I don’t need the reward or forget about it or it just becomes Netflix in my robe). Just suit up, and just run for ten minutes and if it sucks a lot you can quit after ten minutes. I have never quit. If I can push past that eight minute mark, the movements become part of me, the world falls away. That conversation with my irritating coworker sloughs off me like confetti. Sweat pours out of me. I see the underside of birds’ wings and all the shades of green. I feel my soul beating, my purest essence. My animal-beast self thumps against my lungs. My feet are merely the vehicle, my heart is the driver, a universal cord attached to my sternum, pulling it, pulling me forward, ever forward. All it took was eight minutes and a pair of sneakers.
A brief timeline of my running history:
1984(Chicago, IL) A neighbor answers the door on Halloween with just his regular face. He says he is going to get the candy bowl and returns wearing a Planet of the Apes mask. I drop my plastic pumpkin and run like hell for home. My mom says I am very fast for a six year old, even a scared six year old.
1988(Evanston, IL) Our PE teacher has mapped out a loop on the field, that if repeated twice, equals one mile. Behind the backstop, around the playground (which he bizarrely and uniquely called “The Tanga.” #1988) and past the school, repeat. This is on grass and dirt and ground up rubber tire bits. I beat all the boys, even Frank G. Nobody was faster than Frank G. I set the school record for the mile in six minutes and three seconds. I am a god amongst fifth graders.
Spring 1993(Wilmette, IL) I join my all girls Catholic high school Track team. I also get cast in the all boys school across the way’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” How does one high school freshman choose? She doesn’t, she does both, half-assedly. Catholic high school coach is not having it. I am the 4th leg on a relay with a talented senior, who is being scouted by colleges. This relay is slated to win State that year. In a Lord-of-the-Flies moment, my coach allows the team to vote on whether I am allowed to remain on the team. I am also allowed to “state my case.” I sob in front of a room full of teenage girls with a statue of Jesus on the wall. They vote me off. The relay does not win State. I have a strained confrontation with the senior girl when she corners me in a bathroom with green linoleum that I believe John Hughes based one of his movies on. I live to become a sophomore.
Fall 1993(Wilmette, IL) Practically peeing my pants, I show up for the first Cross Country practice to a team full of girls who had, four months ago, voted me off the island. I run. I earn respect. I get back up and show them. Even Lord-of-the-Flies coach’s respect is earned back; he tells me, “Classy move, lady.” I become team captain, I go to many State meets. I am a goddess amongst Catholic school girls.
1996(Hempstead, Long Island, NY) Head off to an east coast, Division I college on a Cross Country scholarship. Long Island is like a foreign country after the Midwest. I spend a lot of time calling my mom and crying. Then I make friends, start going to raves in Manhattan and racing all over the east coast. Time of my life is an understatement.
2013(Seattle, WA) Start first ever Track & Field team at school I teach at. I design the team shirt. The back says, “Run like zombies are chasing you.” Everybody wants one. I am a god amongst 1st- 8th graders. The legend returns.
I got an email from an old student recently. The one least-likely to join the middle school track team that I coach, but, who, gangly limbs a’flailing and asthma-y lungs a’ wheezing, ran around that gravel track with the pack of kids, laughing and panting and kind-of-trying her best and just getting out there. She is a talented writer, an actress, a seasoned babysitter. I figured her go at the shot put and 60m dash was a one-off. But there it was in the note. “Guess what, Ms. S? I have even been going for runs. And when I think I can’t keep going, I hear your voice yelling at me, “You can do it! You can do anything for sixty more seconds!” Suddenly, I’m at the State meet, I’m in the green linoleum bathroom, I’m sobbing on the phone with my mom from Long Island, I’m starting a track team, I’m moving to Japan, I’m mending that broken heart, I’m writing the novel.
How many miles would be logged, wounds healed, mountains conquered, if we just kept going for 60 more seconds? That nasty-ass sports bra in the garbage tells me a lot.