In many ways, I hate running. I hate the time it takes. I hate the boredom that strikes, somehow at mile 2, that eats away at your brain like some sort of parasite. I hate worrying about my knees. My ankles. My heart health. My calves. I hate that it fights with my weight training, making it harder to do the big lifts that I’d love to do. I hate running into work, feeling like I had a good day run or a bad day run, and people just dismissing my comments as those of the “crazy running girl.” I hate when people dismiss all my running accomplishments as moot points because, they will say….
“You’re just a runner. I’m not a runner. Running is crazy hard for me.”
Okay, non-runner, let us get one thing straight: I AM NOT A RUNNER TOO.
There it is. I said it. Guess what world? Running is freaking crazy hard for me too. If I had to describe myself as anything, it would be a Sometimes Runner. This means that most of the time I slog along at a 9 minute mile pace (or worse) hating my life. However, magically, sometimes, something happens and I feel like I’m flying. I run 7:30’s and feel like I’m part of this crazy group of running people. I feel strong, I feel attractive (despite the sweat running down my face and armpits), and most importantly, I feel like I am a part of something. No matter what else is happening in my life, sometimes when I run, I know that I am not alone.
For most of my life I’ve felt alone. I’ve had good friends, and I can’t complain about my parents. Perhaps it is the romantic in me, or the Disney girl, but I always wanted that one true friend. I would settle for a group of true girlfriends. Just people who knew all of me and liked me anyway. This isn’t easy to do for an introverted, A type personality, work-a-holic. I have this love hate relationship with people. I want companionship, but people take energy and time. Often people don’t understand that sometimes you need quiet and space, and yet quiet and space doesn’t mean being alone. I don’t want to be just me all the time.
After college I joined the military and moved to Portland OR. In the airport on the way to Portland I bought a Runner’s World Magazine and this changed my life. I had run before for general fitness and for my college lacrosse team, but never anything major. This addition of Runner’s World had a section on the Portland Marathon. I took it as a sign. I had told myself the Portland was going to be different. I was going to be social. I was going to be pretty. Running a marathon would help me with that. All girls who ran marathons were long, and lean, and pretty, right? Pretty girls have friends. I was going to have friends, find a boyfriend, and maybe, just maybe, that boyfriend would fall in love with me. I would know what it was like to be loved, and I would finally belong somewhere and be someone.
I started training and I hated it. However, it seemed to be working. I found a man, he said he loved me, and life took on a whole new dimension.
Four weeks before the marathon we broke up. He said that things had happened too fast. Perhaps it was just the sex talking. He had said some things he hadn’t meant.
“Does that mean you never loved me?” I wanted to ask but didn’t dare. It had been awhile since I felt that depressed. I ran but my heart wasn’t in it. I had just broken it. Running hadn’t brought me any closer to companionship like I hoped. Would anything? Ever?
I got to the start of the Portland marathon underprepared and feeling so very, very small. In Portland my ex’s friends had been my friends, his family was my family, and now none of them were there. I was alone in that massive mob of people. No one was there on the sidelines for me. I would run, and probably flop this whole thing, and no one would be there to pick up the pieces. I would pay for my own bus ride home.
I started running… and something happened.
My legs felt great. My breath was easy. I ran along in this huge group through Portland’s downtown, and marveled at how many of us runners there were. Yes, in that group, I started to feel like a runner. I got to know the people around me as the pace groups separated. We would all smile at each other, knowing how amazing this crazy thing was that we were doing together. Towards the end I almost stopped but I didn’t, and as I got to mile 23 I knew I was going to finish. I surged. To this day I still don’t know where the energy came from. I sprinted for 3 miles, and people read my bib as I passed and called out
“Way to go Jean!”
“Keep going Jean!”
“Good energy Jean!”
If I had enough breath to cry I probably would have. I made it to the finish line, hacking because my throat was so dry. I wrapped myself in a space blanket with shaking fingers, and clutched at a free cup of candy someone had given me. It was 80 degrees out, and I put on my hoodie, sweatpants, and huddled in the sun on a corner, feeling very cold. But while I didn’t know if I could stand, my spirt was soaring. I was a nutcase for running that thing on so little experience. But I did it. And I did it with other crazy people. And I loved it. And they cheered me on.
And I was not alone.
I didn’t make any friends when I ran my first marathon. I didn’t do particularly well either in the time department. I didn’t really talk to anyone, and they didn’t talk to me. But that’s the point. They didn’t have to. We all knew that we were in that thing, that massive beautiful thing, together.
So why do I run?
Occasionally, my legs are light. My speed increases, and I remember that day way back in Portland. I remember starting alone, and finishing with as many companions as I could see. And I know that out there somewhere, someone else is being a runner too. We may not be runners by ourselves, but we all feel that flash of kinship as we pass another sweaty face. Together we are runners. And together we are never alone.
If you are looking for more motivation, here are a few of my favorite running bloggers.
This week in updates:
Guess who got Jesse to run 6 miles in 104 degree weather! Yup, you’re looking at our happy smiling faces before we took off and felt like we slaughtered ourselves. With Jesse not used to the heat, and me dealing with the wonderfulness that happens the first day of the most splendid time of the month (meaning I felt periodically like I wanted to curl up into a ball, throw up, or demolish some bathroom) we got back and collapsed. We then decided that dinner was far too much work and settled for sitting on the bed drinking fruit smoothies, cramming down pints of ice cream, and then falling into distressed sleep of the bloated variety. But we did it. I still find it amazing that even after all I still subject him too, Jesse seems to want to come back month after month. There is something magical about sitting next to someone, still wet from the shower, and exhausted with a spoon full of ice cream and not feeling the slightest bit self-conscious. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I fell for a former cross country runner. It gives you a strength of spirit, and (I think) a sense of the important things of life. Like sweat and friendship.
On Saturday we’re off to take San Francisco by storm and (you guessed it) run all over it. No receipts as it is silly to fill up the fridge before a trip. But you can bet that Jesse is keeping me supplied in the produce department.
The recipe: Polenta Pizza Fries
If you like polenta fries, give these a shot. There is something about fresh tomato and parmesan and oregano together. If you make them smaller, they would also make a fantastic party appetizer with toothpicks and perhaps a little ranch dipping sauce.
Ingredients (makes 1 large serving):
4 small tomatoes
1 tbs oregano
¼ cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup polenta
Boil tomatoes for 10 minutes until soft. In a blender, combine them with the oregano and blend until liquid. Put this into a measuring cup, and add enough water until you have 2 full cups. Make polenta from scratch normally (link to air conditioning) and before you pour it into a pan to cool, add in the grated parmesan cheese. Once cool, make polenta pizza fries by cutting into strips, and placing them on a greased baking sheet as directed by 101 Cookbooks. Bake for 20 minutes at 450, turning over halfway through. Enjoy!