The Runner

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Runner by Tony Cragg

So here’s the thing. I hate running. I always have, and any time I’ve thought about running, I have horrible flashbacks to high school, insecurity at it’s peak, huffing and puffing through shin splits, and desperately trying to keep up with the “cool kids”. Looking back, they weren’t so cool, and I wasn’t as awkward as I believed to be. So when contemplating this years resolution in light of my commitment and followthrough on last year’s resolution (take a picture every day), I was surprised when my brain thought up, “I should try to run a 5k”.

I chalked it up to insanity. The construction process on our home had finally driven me mad. Or I’d exposed myself to some massive amount of lead and was suffering some lead-poisoned hallucination. But when a week later, closer to the first of the new year, I thought it again, I let the idea wash over me. I had actually stuck to last years resolution. I had done it. 365 pictures later, I had seen something through to it’s finish. If you know me, you know I’m all for the initial phases of projects or ideas. I LOVE new ideas. I’m EXCITED about new ideas. But when visioning turns into the tough work of putting meat on the skeleton of my dreams, I wimp out. I abandon ship, and walk away. It’s a problem I’ve always had. It’s something I probably will struggle with my whole life, but here I was, 31 years old, and for the first time, I’d spent a year doing something I said I would do.

Huh. So I really can do things? Like commit and finish them? This was awesome. So I looked into some running programs. I could do it on my own, download an app appropriately called “Couch to 5k” and listen to a Siri-like woman bark at me orders to run or walk. The reviews were wonderful. And I was tempted! No one would know if I didn’t stick to it! The option for bailing is there! And it’s cheap!

But I know myself well enough that I can’t give myself that much leeway, so I looked for other programs that might, you know, hold me accountable. That’s when I remembered a friend of my sharing that she’d done this program with a local athletic store. I was going to do it. So January 2, I marched into the store, shut down my inner discourse (“You can’t do this! You’re going to fail! It costs money! You’re going to hate it” vs. “You can run marathons if you set your mind to it! You can be smug about how much better you are than all those lazy people out there! You will finally get that model figure you want!”), and marched in determined to do this. I plopped my money down, paid my fees and bought a pair of running shoes.

I walked out the door, and suddenly thought to myself, “My GOD! What have I DONE!?” I drove away in a panic. I’d just spent money, that I couldn’t get back, to torment myself, to relive high school insecurities, to subject myself to humiliation when I couldn’t complete a mile. But there I was, stuck with my resolution.

I had 3 weeks to psych myself up or out, as the program did not begin until the beginning of February. I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t going to happen. My husband would ask, Are you excited? And I’d just glare at him, and think, would you be excited about an expensive form of torture? But the date grew closer and closer to our first meeting.

I walked in, fully expecting to be the largest, bulkiest, most out of shape person in the room, and, while there were women there thinner than I, there was a sea of all different shapes of bodies, all different ages, and all different attitudes. Maybe I could do this after all.

I won’t lie. Our first run was awful. Early one Monday morning, I joined the 1:1 group (run one minute, walk one minute) and trailed at the back of the pack. We finished our 1.5 mile run/walk and, well, I didn’t collapse into a puddle of misery. It was hard. And my legs were pudding. But I’d finished. And actually, I felt pretty good. Interesting.

The next run was Thursday, and only half a mile. I finished, and, well… I didn’t hate it. I still hurt all over. My legs were still like jello. But I’d gotten to meet some people and we ran together. I had finished our first week of group runs, and survived to tell the tale. Not bad.

Saturday came, when we are to run on our own, apart from the group and suddenly, I was a bundle of emotions. I couldn’t do this. That inner voice began with a whisper and rose in crescendo: I am so undisciplined. If my husband was doing this, he’d be rocking this. He’s way better at this stuff than I am. I suck at life. I can’t do this. I’m just awful. Bottom of the cess pool awful.

I snapped at my poor husband who was completely unaware of this inner-flagelation. He looked at me, and firmly, but lovingly said “This is your stuff. This isn’t mine.” And despite every nerve in my body rising for battle to argue back, I realized… he was right.

This was my stuff.

I’ve carried this idea through life that I can’t do things. I’ve always felt like no matter how hard I worked at something, it never ended up where I wanted it to be, or where I thought others wanted it to be. I wasn’t always an honor student. I didn’t graduate college with honors. I’ve never had a “career”. I have no “measurable” success which I can hold up, like a badge and say, See? I am good at something!

I want that. To hold it up on the stage of life and prove my contribution to society.

But the reality is, my strengths are immeasurable. The things I excel at are not the things our culture holds up and values. The place where I really rock it is behind the curtain, under the stage, and in the dumpsters of life. And I’ve always known I could rock that shit, but it never felt important. But I need to say it, I need to own it, and I need not feel conceited or arrogant in owning what I’m good at.

I’m a good friend. Some might say great friend. I’m not perfect (who can be!?) but I try very hard to be a great friend. I love my friends deeply, and care for them so much. I want to hear their story. I love being a part of someone else’s life.

I have good intuition. I can walk in a room and get a feel for the general mood in about two seconds. I’m not always right, but I can usually sense when people are uneasy, unhappy, nervous, happy, sad, grieving, guilty, etc. etc. I take this very seriously, because I know it helps me be a better friend. When I feel like a friend needs space, I can give that to them. When I feel someone just needs a hug, I can provide that. I feel with my friends. Their joys are mine, and their pains are mine. And sometimes that can backfire, but it’s worth it.

And boy, oh boy, am I a dreamer. I can dream big. I can dream small. I can take a problem and come up with 50 possible solutions. I love dreaming about ideas, about the future, about possibilities. And while 90% of my dreams will probably never see reality, I still do it.

And there is more than I can even list. I’m a good gardener. I take good pictures. I’m a good cook. I can fix things like dryers, plumbing, and install lights. Most days I’m a good mother (although my kids might say differently). And I hope I’m a good wife.

If I bundle all of these things up, it doesn’t really add up to one particular title or job or marketable skill, and so there are moments when I feel my whole house of cards falls down. But the reality is, I’m not building with cards. I’m building with the brick and mortar of who I am. And the life I’ve built for myself may be an odd shaped life, but it’s mine. It is me. And I have to own what I am, and stop pretending that I don’t matter. I have to pick up my tools and set to work, even if I end up with some odd looking sculpture, at least it will be my own.

So as for that Saturday run? It was the best run of my life. I ran it unburdened with what I am not, and free to be what I am. And I ran… slow to be sure, but I ran.

And I liked it.

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2 responses to “The Runner

  1. So you should totally rewatch Chariots of Fire if you haven’t seen it in a while.

    Also, make a play list for your runs. Put the theme from Chariots on as the first song. WHen you run gets longer put it in multiple times.

    Neve ceases to get me pumped up.

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