My first roadrace was a spontaneous decision. Our small Massachusetts town arranged a kids' fun run. What I didn't know when I started running it, was that I suck at running. My clearest memory is of the police car escort, the traditional last place prize. The indignity was evident, even to me.
Following that revelatory run, I did as little running as possible until high school. Then, desperate to take off some weight, I began running. To ease the humiliation, I ran at night, so no one could see my thighs slapping together. I layered on clothing. I listened to music, attempting to fool myself into ignoring the physical exertion. I ran once around the block, and then would sit and pant in front of the house. I lost some weight, but every ounce hurt as it peeled off.
I picked up running again in college, while rowing crew. I jogged from campus down to the boathouse, about two miles, nearly all downhill, on Summit Avenue, lined with old mansions, trees and colleges. It was criminal not to at least enjoy the scenery, and I gave running some grudging respect. Later in the fall, I watched hordes of runners heading up this same hill, headed for finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon. The fast runners didn't impress me. It was the back pack who held my interest. These runners were defying their physical destiny. They were not natural jocks. They were fighting their way up the hill. They looked like me, and when I cheered them on, they grinned.
My boyfriend and future husband had been a runner, and when I started running again after a lapse, he ran too. His stride was much longer than mine, but we worked out a deal to warm up together. He'd then run at his own pace, and meet me for a cool down. He gave me running advice, took me to my first 5k, talked me into the wisdom of a digital running watch, and when his recurring injuries sidelined his running, never discouraged me from running. Discussing marathons, he casually said, "That kind of running is crazy." But when he realized I was actually considering running a marathon, he looked me straight in the eye and told me he didn't think running one marathon was crazy. I did run a marathon (some might question whether one can call it 'running'), and he rode his bike beside us for the entire second half.
These days, my most regular running buddy is my son. When I can talk him into a morning run, he points out the sites: a waterfall, a chicken, a dog. Despite his occasional reluctance to be packed into the jogger, if I take him out and just walk, he'll start requesting more speed, "Run? Run?"
The more I think about running, the more I realize it has entertwined itself into my life and my personality in a way I cannot easily explain or understand. I don't know why I think it's cool to run in a 5k when I still haven't broken 30 minutes and I don't know anyone at the race other than my family. What I know is that I am addicted to the simplicity of lacing up my shoes and walking out the door. The smell of autumn leaves in the sun. Greeting early morning dog walkers.
I may be outpaced by speedwalkers. I may hibernate through the winter months. I may be unable to admit I am a runner. But running is mine.