Friday, March 9, 2007

One foot in front of the other

Something I have been meaning to write about for awhile is running. But even in my very own blog, I feel slightly sheepish calling myself a runner. And that's dumb. I have been running for four years, finished several 5Ks, one 10K and a half-marathon, and worn out three whole pairs of shoes. So I must be a runner, right? Only I have a hard time saying that, since to me, runners are .... they are just so cool. Runners are strong! Athletic! Powerful! And of course that's what I hope to be, or else why would I huff and puff through all those miles? But it's hard to believe that maybe I'm finally there.

My low running self-esteem, I think, stems from many years of being unhealthy and unathletic. In elementary school, I always had band-aids on my knees, skinned and bloody from tripping over over my own big feet on the blacktop. While on the junior high track team, I was "that girl who faints." In high school I started to smoke, and in college I drank booze and gained weight. Additionally, various athletic endeavors over the years have caused me to break one tailbone, one arm and two toes. And there have actually been NFL linebackers forced into retirement by fewer concussions than I've had. My life? Not exactly a Nike ad.

I did make halfhearted efforts to get fit. I signed up for a one-credit aerobics class in college (though my roommate and I took turns going to class, signing both names on the attendance sheet, then heading back to bed.) I also joined a gym after graduation. But I was never careful about eating, and to be honest, I don't even think that ever occurred to me. So I watched in despair as my weight crept up, up, up.

Rock bottom came in 2000 when I was shopping for a pair of pants at the Gap. I tried a size 12 (no way), the 14 (hm, strange) and then the 16 (ohgod). Nothing fit. Their biggest size did. not. fit. I sat down in the dressing room and stared at the khaki heap of material around my ankles, realizing with horror: I was too fat for the Gap. That just killed me. If I was too fat for the Gap, what else was I too fat for?! It was like, in an instant, the mall shrank by 25 stores. TOO FAT FOR THE GAP, MAN.

So, I joined Weight Watchers, a great program that helped me lose a bunch of weight. My high was 184.4, and I dropped 30 pounds in about a year, purely through food control, no exercise. Then I slowly gained back around 10 of those pounds, and there I have lingered, give or take, ever since. I began running in 2003 because I needed something new to work on. I had a fairly good grip on my food, but I wasn't moving enough. I also really wanted to quit smoking, and I knew exercise could make that easier. In a burst of hope (mixed with absolute terror), I signed up for my first 5K that March. And that little race was one of the neatest things I ever did. Pinning the race number to my shirt, doing my stretches, being with all those happy trim folks who looked so eager and so healthy ... it was like an ex-fat-girl's dream come true.

And while it was exhilarating to cross the finish line, getting there was not easy. So, in some races they have professional photographers who snap a picture of everyone who runs by, then later they try to sell them to you. Well, there's a great photo of me midway through this race in which I am white as a sheet. My body is slumped over, my jaw is hanging open, and my sweaty face is contorted into this grimace of pure agony. And surrounding me? Three little kids, beaming, bouncing, LAUGHING little kids, frolicking their merry way toward the finish line. I did not purchase this photo.

Since then, the racing, and the training, have gotten easier. I ran my first half-marathon in October in downtown San Jose, and finishing it was one of the best moments of my life. Next month I'll run the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon. I don't do it because I think I'll win, I just want to improve on my time. And maybe just a little, I want to look cool.

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