Health & Fitness & Oreos

Running Nowhere Slowly

dadvmom.com_runningnowhereslowly_runners_silhouetteMy town’s annual 5K was last week. I started at the back of the pack. This was strategic. I prefer to pass slower runners than be overtaken by quicker ones. It’s a mental thing. So I lined up between a grandma in jogging culottes and a teenager drinking a smoothie. Granny, I wasn’t so sure about, but I figured I could outpace Jamba Juice.

The race started with the usual cheers and hoopla, and adrenaline carried me the first half-mile. As weariness set in, humiliation quickly followed. Had I really become the kind of grown-up who could not run a 5K? I shrugged off the doubt and picked human pace cars to keep me moving. For a while, I followed a guy with a dragon tattoo on his calf. I fantasized that this was ninja training and he was my sensei. But Ralph Macchio slowed to answer his cell phone, and as I passed him, I noticed the dragon was actually a hefty mermaid.

Next, I set my sights on a woman with the most beautiful butt I had ever seen — round, strong, jiggle-free. As I matched her pace, I believed that with every stride my own backside was firming up. When she and her running companion slowed to walk, I realized she was about eleven, and running with her dad.

But mostly, I was passed. Passed by a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse. Passed by a gentleman in a grape soda costume. Passed by a three-year-old pushing her own stroller.

Part of the problem was my soundtrack. At the start of the race, I clicked on an old playlist titled “Exercise” that should have done the trick. Def Leppard kicked things off. I flashed back to high school and channeled my younger, more athletic self. But as I started to fade, so did the playlist. Eminem gave way to the title song from a Barbie movie, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and excerpts from The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews can do no wrong, except when it comes to motivating a tired person to run. I tried to click away from “Do-Re-Mi,” but my fingers were too sweaty.

I used to be a runner, before the kids. I started jogging in college as an attempt to curb the Freshman 15, then kept it up because I loved the way running made me feel. Since the children, it has been harder. Harder to train. Harder to enjoy. Harder to fall into any sort of rhythm. I do other things, but I miss the way I used to slip on my shoes and lope out the door.

The last time I ran a 5K was two children ago. I ran it with my Dad on the 4th of July. That time, I was the pace car for him. But, of course, I had trained, gone out a couple times, practiced the course. Why hadn’t I prepared better for this?

I lurched past a port-o-potty and briefly considered hiding in it. If it had seemed better ventilated, I surely would have. But a woman entered as I got closer, so I kept moving.

At the beginning of the first big hill, I gave up and walked, chiding myself with every step. Why had I just quit? Isn’t that always the way with me? Why do I stop things just when they are getting hard? As I caught my breath, I got even angrier at myself. Why does it matter? You are here. Just do your best. Jogging was easier than listening to arguments in my head, so I picked up the pace again and let gravity send me down the next hill.

One of the things I have always loved about running is how you can settle into its discomfort. The second and third miles were not as tough as the beginning. I found my working breath. It did not sound pretty, but luckily, nobody was running with me, and if I cranked up “The Lonely Goatherd” loud enough, I did not have to listen to my gasping either.

Other folks seemed to have goals that involved time and pacing. I’d like to run 8-minute miles. I want to finish in under 30 minutes. I had fuzzier objectives. They were more about personal dignity than physical achievement. And I dumbed them down as the race progressed.

Just don’t walk.

Just don’t walk too much.

Just be sure to run when you cross the finish line.

Just don’t be last.

Just don’t be last by too much.

By the time I approached the finish line, Billy Joel and I were in a bit of delirium. As I crossed, I fought the temptation to look behind me. I felt fairly certain I was not the only straggler. But I realized that was not the point. I felt lucky. Lucky to have the use of my legs, the health of my lungs, the gift of my mind to swirl with nonsense as I trotted the streets of my town. I stopped thinking about how many people had passed me, and instead gave thanks. Then, I slumped on the grass and drank a smoothie.

I know plenty of friends who have given up. This is the way I will always look. This is the way I will always feel. Parenting, aging, a lot of things can do that to you. But it does not have to be true. I saw folks along this course, ages two to eighty-two. But he is younger. She was in better shape. Hogwash. The only person I raced today was me. And though I very nearly lost, Julie Andrews carried me through. Just start at the very beginning…a very good place to start….


Kids in Canaan

We camped Joshua Tree over spring break.

Hiking the mile or so to our wilderness site, Henry tripped over a pricker bush and skinned his knee. Katie bumped her head on a tree branch and somehow got burrs in her hair. When we made camp, Lizzie knocked over our flaming stove during dinner.

It was my first time at the park. One cannot help but notice the Joshua trees, with their hardened and mangled trunks, flourishing despite the heat and lack of water, pushing up resolutely from the sandy soil like arthritic hands defying the surrounding landscape. But just as astonishing, perhaps even more so, are the miles of volcanic rocks throughout the park, ancient upwellings of magma near the San Andreas fault, forced to the surface as the ground shifted and millions of years of overlayers eroded around them. Though they came from beneath the earth, these stones appeared to have been dropped from the heavens, littering the terrain like remnants of a giant’s set of toy blocks. Boulders twenty feet high tottered on slabs fifteen feet across, with more rocks crammed in between.

dadvmom.com_letthemplay_KatiecrawlingOur children, like most children I suppose, held the trees in low esteem. The rocks, however…they beckoned. Our hike the next morning found Lizzie, Henry, and Katie scrambling up the boulders’ faces, jumping from ledges, squeezing through crevasses, and climbing to new heights.

In the beginning, Ken and I tried to keep up. He clambered behind, while I shadowed the kids from below, ready to catch the first one who missed a step, or at least break a fall as a child slid from a rocky shelf. But soon the heat and our aging ankle joints got the better of us. We sat on an outcropping while the children continued their games alone. Up, around, over, and through. The three-year-old combat-crawled through a narrow cave. The six-year-old surveyed miles of wilderness from a rocky perch. Even the eleven-year-old shook off her tween-ness to scurry, summit, and conquer.

Severed from gadgets and electronics, iPads and phones, our children could have been any children, from any land and any time. They did what young people do—they challenged themselves and found strength from the earth. At one point, I counted nineteen things that could have harmed them–spiny cactuses, crumbling rocks, a drop to a hole that was surely a snake den. But resting on my old bones, on an even older rock, I realized that the one thing that could have harmed them most was the insistence of my protection.

I’m not sure how long the kids carried on like that while Ken and I reclined in the shade. It seemed a moment frozen in time. We put our cameras away and basked in the beauty of the land around us, the wide open space, and the strength of our children’s joy. We watched them grow like trees from rock.