Memorial Day weekend and the sky is dangerously clearing. We might have wished that rain we woke to at dawn had gone right on. Our state is opening up next Tuesday, and the official word is: please stay home this weekend. That means that all the most aware and considerate people will stay home, but the self-important so-and-sos will be here. The whimbrels are already taking precautions. I’ve been working hard on stories cutting and fiddling, trying to catch every single error before sharing. Since I had a bowl of ice cream yesterday, I regained a pound.
But I have begun running.
When I first began running on April Fools Day of 1995, I was fully prepared to fail. Gary and I had always walked, but I am short and short-legged—nothing resembling a runner’s body. I had tried running once before in the 1970s, wearing totaling inappropriate shoes and overalls. It did not go well.
The head coach of the cross country team used to insist that cross country required no special equipment. He meant no protective gear or balls or bats, nets or courts. But running does require larger shoes, good socks, non-chaffing clothing, and for nearly all women a proper sport bra. [Fair warning—the rest of this post is mostly about running, literal running.]
I didn’t have any of that equipment when I started running.
My older son went out with me for my modest planned run to the south creek and back. (I would later estimate the distance as 0.3 miles each way.) Alan ran as slowly as he could and still outpaced me and had to keep doubling back to urge me on. Every time his back was turned, I walked. When I confessed this halfway home, he was genuinely distressed. I was forty-two and horrifically out of shape. He was already running with the high school cross country team. It was the camaraderie of that team that spurred my desire to recapture my free-running self.
I ran every other day. I raised blisters, had to trim my toenails to prevent them cutting into toes because my hand-me-down shoes were too small, and eventually bought better (larger) shoes and running tights that saved my thighs. I found sport bras and I edged up my distance and only ran on wet sand. By August I was running six miles in fifty-four minutes to the town north of our home where my mother lived and she would drive me home.
Mom thought this running-nonsense would not last, of course. Her creed was: “When the urge to exercise comes upon me, I sit down until the feeling goes away.”
But I did not stop, I gained speed and distance. I never did much better than eight and a half minute miles, but even on hard hills I rarely did worse than ten minute miles. I worked out with the cross country team and sometimes with track. I could keep up with all but the Varsity boys’ team and could outrun all of the JV boys and most of the girls, especially at distance. I learned why I saw runners on the highway—to avoid the tide and dogs, but also specifically to run hills. I measured highway miles and knew where to turn on highway 101 to get three miles, or four, or six, or ten. I ran the insanely popular Portland Race for the Cure several times and the Bridge Crossing over the Columbia River. I ran in the Hood to Coast relay five or six times and I ran my first official half marathon in 2010. I ran in rain and hail and on logging roads and city streets and during writing conferences and my MFA residencies and while attending The Flight of the Mind. I was running when my mother died.
I kept running until I ran too far with bad shoes on hard pavement in August of 2011. Fifteen miles was not so much longer than I had trained for, but I had failed to change into much-needed new shoes (right there in the bottom of my closet—I was saving them) and my feet became so painful over the following months I could barely walk. Eventually a podiatrist prescribed orthotics and told me to stop running, and I accepted that I had no choice.
And then this past Thursday, after discovering I’d dropped four of the twenty pounds I’ve gained, I set my sport watch for intervals and ran as “light” as I could for a minute. I walked until my breathing was normal, and then ran another minute, walked, and a third minute. Nothing hurt. I was out of breath, but I expected that.
Today, nothing hurt. I still had no pain at all, so I reset my watch to track half a minute at a time and ran one-and-a-half and two-minutes stretches, twice each for seven minutes total. I was blowing hard after the two minutes runs, but I was not quite “sucking air.” It is a progress. It is almost too good to be true. I feel that incredible post-run glow that I have missed for going on eight years. My feet do not hurt. Not so far, at least.
Tomorrow, I will put on a sport bra, reset my watch to two minutes, and aim to run actual intervals, two minutes running, two minutes walking. And then I will take a day off. As I gain breath I will increase the length of my runs. My long-term goal is modest: Three ten-minute runs with walking breaks between, every other day. Maybe by August. Unless my feet give out.
So my goals are out there: I sent my revised story to a friend. I am running.