I learned fairly early on in life I was not going to be an athlete. Agility, hand-eye coordination and balance were not gifts God gave me. Prone to falls when I was a kid, I know I had a least one cast and sported crutches at least twice. And there were many appendages that spent time wrapped in an Ace bandage.
When all of my friends and I were trying out for cheerleader, I realized quickly I would not make the squad. It probably had something to do with my inability to do all the dance moves and my freaky, double-jointed arms. Trust me — when you give cheerleading instructors a V with these arms, it’s terrifying for them. Maybe even mystifying. (Ashley, can you please turn your arms back in? How do they even do that?)
Same with softball. I would venture to guess I might make contact with a ball maybe two times out of every 50 it flew over the plate.
And even though I was tall, something about throwing a basketball through a hoop was just impossible.
Later in life, when I would go out with my friends to dance, they were astonished by my total lack of rhythm. One friend even dubbed my sad moves “the gentle giant dance.” I don’t think that was a compliment.
Being embarrassed by how spastic I truly was, I began to shy away from doing most sports or even taking classes at the gym. Zumba is harder than it sounds.
But I still wanted to be active, so I tried to find something I thought might require the least amount of skill. And I finally found that with running. Since it’s basically putting one foot in front of the other, I thought I could handle it. You know, it’s just like walking, but faster. And I have been able to walk somewhat adequately since I was about a year old.
Sure, I would still fall, but that was usually the wonderful sidewalks of Mobile’s fault. Or at least we will continue to blame it on them until they are repaired. (And thanks again for that, Mayor Stimpson AND council!)
When I was in college at South, I was running five miles, four or five times a week. And I thought that was an extraordinary accomplishment for a word-class klutz. I kept at it through my 20s pretty regularly. I would have periods when I wouldn’t do it for a few months, but would pick it back up.
But then my mother got sick and even though that would have been the best time in my life to run, I pretty much gave it up as I was caring for her. After she died, I almost immediately got married and started having babies and probably went five years without pounding the pavement a single time.
After my second child and second layer of the extra sticky baby weight you get when you have children in your 30s, I decided to get back at it. A few Januarys ago, I made it a goal to run the Azalea Trail Run. Not the full one, mind you, just the 5K. And I struggled to get to three miles in that time period. When I crossed the finish line, I was seeing spots as the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” was blaring through my earphones.
It was ugly. But I finished it and I was proud of myself. I didn’t finish first but I certainly wasn’t last. This should have been the point where I started running four and five times a week again. But alas, it was not. Little kids, work and life in general gave me a great excuse for not finding the time to lace up the old sneakers, and before I knew it, once again I’d gone years without running.
But last fall as we were munching on “Midtown” salads at Regina’s, my friend Shelley told me she had started running with a local group and was going to train for a half marathon. While Shelley is certainly more coordinated than I am and has always been active and fit, I never thought of her as one who would take to running 13 miles (much like myself).
I was inspired.
My first few weeks were rocky. I couldn’t run a quarter of a mile without getting winded. I was really out of shape. Being able to complete a one-mile “fun run” seemed like a daunting task.
But then Shelley shared some tricks from her running group. Run four minutes, walk one. And that really was the psychological trick that got me over the hump. I stopped looking at the distance and focusing on the clock — I told myself I could do anything for four minutes and pretty soon I was up to running intervals of 20 minutes, then 25 and 30 minutes. Eventually I was able to take the walking minute out and handle three miles without walking.
In January, we resolved to run the Azalea Trail Run together, and not the 5K, the real one, a 10K. Later, as we were getting cockier, we decided if we handled that OK, we would do the Destin half marathon in April.
Yikes! Even when I was running regularly, I never ran over five miles. How would I handle 6.2? Or 13.1? The answer is, very slowly.
If I run a mile in 12 minutes and 30 seconds, I am very proud of myself. But 13- and even 14-minute miles are far more common. I have nightmares about an elderly person using a walker passing me by. And I’m sure it doesn’t look pretty either. If my old friend saw me, I’m sure she would call it the “gentle giant slog.”
But I don’t care. Thankfully, I can’t see how bad it looks.
Shelley and I started doing our long runs together on the weekends. We started at four miles, gossiping most of the way. Shelley says talking helps our endurance. Not sure if talking about others or complaining about husbands makes a difference in that.
But this training has brought us closer than we have been in over a decade. Not that we weren’t always close, but once marriage and kids and carpool lines and never-ending trips to the grocery store to get milk become your way of life, it’s hard to maintain your friendships the way you did when you were younger, childless and single. (And skinnier. Not that that has anything to do with this at all. I just wanted to think about those days for a minute. Ahhhhhh. OK, thanks. )
We are now up to eight miles. Don’t be too impressed by that. It took me nearly two hours to do that, and afterward I couldn’t walk without looking like a complete freak for a day and a half.
There are days when we aren’t able to run together, which is not my preference, but during those runs it is amazing just how much you notice about your city from a street-level view. I drive down some of the very same streets every day that I also now run and have seen beautiful houses, businesses, trees, flowers and features of our city I have never noticed from my car. It’s crazy just how much you miss when you aren’t really looking.
Shelley and I will be making our way together down the streets of Mobile this weekend and I am certain we will not be setting any records, but I thank the Azalea Trail Run for reconnecting me with my dear friend and city.
Two things that will last far longer than 6.2 miles.