About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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Thursday
Apr032014

A runner is one who runs

"A runner is one who runs."

-Christine Engelen, marathoner, pilgrim of the Camino

 

The most I have ever run in my life prior to last Saturday was six miles.

I was only able to do that because I was visiting my best friend in Chicago, and after living in Colorado at 4,982 feet above sea level for the last year and a half, the low altitude granted me the lungs of an Olympic swimmer. Plus, I was running alongside Lake Michigan, and I didn't want to leave the sight of waves and sand. 

And oh, the sheer joy of being alone in a new city, feeling the strength of my body in an unknown place, in an unknown way; making the most out of a precious few days to just be me, to relish my aliveness in the world apart from any role I play. 

I was anonymous. A runner.  A body moving down a dirt path to music no one else could hear.

I was also going to my best friend’s art opening at Northwestern University later that evening, followed by a night downtown visiting galleries and clubs, and I needed to be able to wear my skinny black “on the town” pants and still breathe.  The thought of those pants kept me running.

Last Saturday, all I had for motivation was my imminent participation in a half marathon in two weeks, and the fear that at the magic six mile marker, my legs would stop working.


My good friend Christine comes with me.

She’s run several halfs, and the St. Jude’s Marathon in Memphis.  She's done a thirteen week training program. She’s read books on running. She qualifies, obviously, as a runner.

She asks me if I want a heart monitor. Um.  I avoided one while birthing, so I will stick with that plan and say no? I don’t know.  Is it good to have one? What does it do? Ohh, it monitors your heart. Right. Hence the name.

She asks if I have water.  Is it good to have water? I don’t know. I don't own a water fanny pack.  Or a Camelbak.  Or gelpacks. Or goo.  All new concepts.  Well, except for the water.  She packs some water for me on her bike.

Do I have a GPS system?  Is it good to have a GPS?  I don’t know. I don't have one in my car. I don't use one on my phone.  I use RunKeeper for running, but only the free tracking system. I am not a runner so it makes no sense to pay for extra information that I won’t use, right?

She asks me what my training plan is. Um. Run? Run a lot?  

We park at the beginning of the bridge that crosses over Horsetooth Reservoir and then heads up. And up. And up. She rides her bike. I wear my old trail running shoes. And my fear. And my determination.

I push play on my Pandora Bethel Music station, complete with commercials because I also don’t want to pay for commercial-free listening since I am not a runner, and I don’t need uninterrupted motivating music. I will be interrupted enough by my labored breathing, bad knees, cramps in the side....

Turns out I don't like running to the Pandora "Running (Radio Mix) Station;" I love starting out to Kayti Perry's "Roar," but by the time Havana Brown's "We Run the Night" hits, I'm heaving my ass up a hill feeling like the farthest thing from a girrrl in the club.  I tried running to NPR one time when they were playing clips from different comedians stand up routines; then the comedy got political and way over my head, and I was concentrating so hard on trying to get the jokes that I lost all my motivation to run.

Worship music it is.

I push my RunKeeper “Go Running” button. And we begin.


I make it halfway up the first hill before I have to walk. Then a stranger runs past me and says, You can do it, and I think, Ok. you’re probably right.  So I start running again. Christine’s gears on her newly tuned bike won’t shift; I find that out when I look back and see her walking her bike up the hill.

At the top, the road evens out to follow the crest of the reservoir. I can see the whole city spread out below me to the east; Horsetooth Reservoir sparkles to the west; and to the north, the buttes, then the plains, then the haze of the horizon; it looks like how I imagine the drop off at the end of the world would look. I can’t look south, because that’s where I just came from.  

Christine catches up, and then passes me. She shouts that she will go forward, then circle back. I nod, concentrating on my breathing.

I only have music in one ear so I can hear my breath and my feet in the other.  I remember Christine asking me what my self-talk was for running.  I had a ready Um, and then my standard, "I don't know," and then a tentative, “I can do this?” She had nodded; “Look what my body can do,” she offered. “Look how strong I am.” 

I run, and I think, “Look what my body can do. My lungs. These feet. These legs.” I think about birthing, and how, in the throes of contractions, I’d yelled over and over, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” And how my midwife and my husband responded, "You ARE doing this. You are DOING this.  Look at what your body can do. You are birthing your baby. You have what it takes."

I begin to settle into a rhythm, giving myself little markers to keep me moving: Run to this sign 30 ft ahead. Ok, now run to that tree. Ok, now it’s downhill, slow down and take it in the gut. Take it in your butt.

Take it in the gut, take it in your butt becomes my unlikely mantra. 

I realize I can’t take the jarring journey in my calves and my thighs; I can’t keep it in my extremities or they will give out; I have to let the jolts reverberate through my whole body. I have to send the shock of the road into the thickest part of me- right into my core.  I have to let the road happen to me, everywhere.

I crave air. I’ve never been more aware of how I breathe; I can see my lungs filling up and out. I can feel the whole expanse of my chest and my back, the limitations of my frame.

I am six miles in.  My legs are still working. 

I head uphill again; I start letting out my breath with audible sighs; I am making the same low, shuddering exhalations I did when I birthed my babies. "Like lowing," the midwife had said. "Drop your jaw and low like a cow. It releases your pelvic floor." 

I am at seven miles, lowing like a cow, smelling like a cow...no, that’s the smell of horse manure. I am past the reservoir now, heading down into farmland.

I love the smell of manure. It reminds me of my childhood, visiting my grandma’s Flying V Ranch where she raised steer on six hundred acres in Orange, Virginia.  I run over a cattle guard and smile as I remember being little, and walking barefoot across the grates, wrapping the arches of my feet around the thick cold metal of each bar, so careful not to twist an ankle in the gaps.

I pass other runners, and so many bicyclists in their imprinted Spandex. I give a two thumbs up to anyone whose skin is open to the wind.  There is an instant comradeship for being on this road together. 

We are all doing the same thing, in different ways, for different reasons, but still, the same. This hill, this particular way the sun is shining, the sound of these birds, the view of the reservoir, the smell of manure; it belongs to all of us.

I feel it less so with the motorcyclists, and nothing for the cars. They are protected by metal and glass.  We are the exposed.

Christine is my comrade. She bikes out, and back, out and back, checking on me. I give her my two thumbs up, grinning like a goofball. She passes off a water bottle. I swish, then spit, and hand it off like a baton when she comes back around. I have only enough breath to say, “I’m not going back,” but I know she gets it.  She’s done this before.

We are in this together even though she is on a bike and I am running, and she keeps besting me, and then circling back.  She knows I mean I can’t run halfway and then turn around and run back to the car. I have to move on. I have to end up somewhere different than where I started.

I’ve never claimed to be a runner. But I am running. It’s the verb that makes it real. It’s the action, not the title.  It’s putting one foot in front of the other.

The perspective of the journey shifts.

At first, it’s just getting used to the feeling of running, and knowing I have a hill coming up. Then I crest the hill and it’s the view, this breathtaking expanse of world, mine for the taking. It’s the idea of the long run, and the thought of the end, and the possibility of how far I might go, and the feel of my body slapping against the road, and my rhythmic breath, and remembering to flop my arms and let my cheeks shake; it’s the reservoir below me, and the buttes off in the distance. 

Something shifts around mile eight. My body starts to protest. The top of my left foot aches. The outside of my right knee suddenly swells, and protests bending. My gait changes; I am a tin soldier without joints.  My movement heaves left to right; my feet fall heavy; I’ve lost the long strides of a cat, lilting up and over, bending forward from the waist.  I am favoring my knee, and I realize I am going to have to walk.

This feels like defeat. But I do it anyway. I have to listen to myself; it's good to learn my limits.

My walk is stilted, and long, like I’m stretching my legs way out in front of me. It’s an odd movement I've never experienced before.  Now for the next three miles it’s run, walk, favor the knee, favor the left foot, try to breathe into the hurt; and all I can think about is the next step, the next step.  Just keep moving. I’m looking for dirt so I can get off the pavement, and holding my hand over my eyes and mouth as I move through clouds of gnats.  

I am determined to see what my body is capable of.  I never knew I could do this. I guess, like they say, you never know until you try.  

 I am at 10.95 miles when my phone rings. It’s Christine. "Where the hell are you?" she says.  I tell her I’m down on the road now, heading home. "Jesus," she says.  "You’re a beast."

That feels really good to hear.  

She finds me in her car, says she was driving for half an hour looking for me, had no idea I could have gone this far, this fast.

"What did you say to me?" I ask. “A runner is one who runs?”  

She grins, and hands me her water bottle. I drink it down in one gulp.

And we head for home.