Growing up, I played lots of sports: soccer, swimming, softball, tennis, and even cheerleading (that season of my life having been written by network-approved show runners before being handed back to the eccentric creator with both a vision and hoarding problem). Or maybe I didn’t so much “play” as “show up to most practices and bring oranges for meets/games.” I was hopeless at soccer–in my small town in the 1980’s, there were no girls’ teams, so the eight or so young women interested in playing were divided on the league’s different teams, making it significantly easier for coaches and teammates to ignore us. This I did for six years, mostly because I got trophies and pizza parties out of it. In this much different America, one did not just go get pizza any time one felt like it. Pizza, and specifically Pizza Hut, was a special occasion deal, and its faux-stained glass pendant lamps with pepperoni bring back feelings of feeling warm and safe and full. Shitty pizza is my madeleine.
In swimming, softball, and tennis, I showed more promise, initially. In each of these, I was the strongest beginner, a bit of a natural at backstroke and fielding and serving, though in maybe nothing else about each sport, and it’s possible that this lack of well-rounded athleticism was my downfall. Or it could have been my total lack of work ethic. While in my adulthood I’ve somehow morphed into a hard-working, task oriented, on schedule kind of person, I lacked this drive as a kid. I did everything I was supposed to (I was a good girl and Jesus was my boyfriend), but I just didn’t really try. Mostly, I didn’t have to. The one thing I’ve ever been very good at is reading–I started early and strong–and since school is pretty much just reading then proving you understood what you read, school was easy. It was too easy, so easy that I started to get into trouble because I had too much free time and had begun, in all seriousness, a revenge business. (I maybe hadn’t yet read the part of the Bible that forbids running a vengeance agency out of your bedroom.) The main lesson I learned from childhood was that minimum effort was all that was necessary to do well. That and banana clips are for whores (long story).
The problem with this philosophy was that whenever I encountered a scenario in which my half-assed effort failed to yield full-assed results, I quit rather than try harder. This approach was modeled to me in part by the character of my hometown, whose motto was Hoc Futurum Amet, or in English, Is This Going To Be On the Test? It’s an attitude I’ve worked hard to move beyond, and I’ve been so successful that it now only seems to emerge in faculty meetings. Bounty hunter meetings. Bounty hunter=me. Not at all employed by a university and fearful of professional blowback.
But it wasn’t just my attitude toward athletics that was rotten–my body was, too. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had problems running. I’d start just fine, but at some point, usually a few minutes in, I’d double-over in pain with what most people call a “stitch” but felt more like a stick being shoved repeatedly and with apparent glee into my side. The pain was always shocking and ultimately frustrating because the only way to stop it was to stop running. That meant that most practices for soccer, softball, tennis, cheerleading, and rugby (I played a semester in college because I have no idea) found me walking far behind my teammates, clutching my side and considering faking a sudden mountain lion attack just to get the fuck out of there. In a life clogged with moments of embarrassment and self-loathing, those are some of the juiciest.
Whenever I’d get these pains, the advice of my teachers and coaches was to run it out, the idea being that I was in pain from running because I wasn’t good at running so I should run more to not be in pain but first run through the pain. But it never worked–I never stopped getting the stitches, and I began to work out a simple math: running=pain. It’s nice to have a few things we can cling to as absolute, immutable in their truth, and for me, this became holy doctrine.
And then I made a human.
As I’ve said earlier, for me, having a child seriously fucked with my life, and mostly in some really amazing positive ways if you’re good with having someone constantly shove notes to you under the door while you’re going to the bathroom. (I should mention that, at almost 5, his “notes” are a series of squiggly lines that he later tells me is a song about butts.) His birth was something akin to a glitter bomb: it made most everything prettier but also got in the gears of some things and now they don’t work so good. I gave birth to my tiny overlord three hours before my own birthday. That’s one of the things that doesn’t work that well anymore.
The birthday he was nearly born on was my 35th, and in the three months of healing and nursing and also working full-time (because U-S-A! U-S-A!), I began to think about the fact that he would be growing strong and healthy and crazy just as my body would begin to slow down, starting its slow decline to bone-dom. I worried that as he began to kick down the door to the world, running toward adventure and newness and probably the road, I’d be too slow to keep up, to play or keep him safe.
But if I’m being fully honest, I also became overwhelmed by the fact of my mortalness. I had never really cared about staying alive before because what was I? Just another bone bag, one of billions of blips. The world would be fine without me, which is not to say I courted death, but I also didn’t swerve out of its way. And yet now, I knew that the world would not be okay if I left early, or at least his world wouldn’t. I was an older parent, and when I made the choice to have him, I accepted the responsibility of sticking around as long as I could.
So I started running.
Well, I started trying to run.
It started with Facebook, which for future generations reading this is what we used to call The Mind-Mother, Blessed May We Be In Her Ubiquitous Sight. An ex-boyfriend of a friend whose life I got to peek into (because seriously, what the fuck are we all doing to each other?) posted that after going through a program called Couch-to-5K, he was successfully running three miles several times a week. I got curious and found out that it’s a running schedule designed to make non-runners runners. It starts with alternating walking and running (the latter mostly in bursts of 30 to 60 seconds to begin with), leading over nine weeks to the successful completion of five km (or just over three miles for those in the U-S-A! U-S-A!). Running for one minute, I thought? I can do that.
I could not do that. At the end of the minute-cycles, I was overcome with less a sense of physical stress than a deep and dark existential gloom. Our bodies are our prisons. We are all doomed to decay. Why am I sweating there? But I pressed on, and reader–I did it. I completed the nine-week Couch-to-5K program in just 16 weeks. I became, despite all odds, a runner. A very, very slow and awkward runner.
But what of the cramps, you ask. What of the debilitating pains that had earlier kept you from achieving the athletic greatness that surely had been your destiny? Well, I still got them, in fact, I still get them now, despite running over nine miles a week. After consulting two physical therapists, I found out that some people are just prone to these kinds of cramps, that something about our physiology makes them more likely than in other people and is not related, in these cases, solely to being in-shape. And while people who get them may always get them, there are techniques one can employ in preventing and treating these pains. And to that I say: THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN FUCKING NICE TO KNOW IN 1987, P.E. TEACHERS! What the fuck did you study in college, y’all? Your best advice to a child in pain is to run it out?! A pox on you! A POX ON YOU ALL!!!
But anywho, I run now and I’m slow and it’s sometimes still painful, but I feel great and have nicer legs. The challenge comes in, naturally, finding time to run. Mostly I go the gym, conveniently located between home and work which also has a kids room staffed by one of my former bounty hunter clients. I actually enjoy running on a treadmill because it’s the 21st century, which means every piece of equipment comes with its own television, and as someone without cable, this is my opportunity to catch up on “Law and Order: SVU” and home improvement/real estate shows set primarily, and inexplicably, in Canada.
But I often wish I had the time and stamina to go a bit further out, to run in the foothills of the Sandia mountains which border Albuquerque to the east. Albuquerque, and really all of New Mexico, may have its problems, many of which are detailed in a little-known documentary series called “Breaking Bad.” This place is stubbornly unlike anywhere else in America, which is something to both celebrate and bemoan, but one thing we have going for us are the number and accessibility of some pretty amazing trails, something I never realized when I was younger and refused to own sensible shoes on principle. Usually I have pretty legitimate excuses for not going to run up there, but the point of this long, long, long blog is that, on Monday, I went there.
Yes, it meant that all day I played catch-up at work and was a tad behind even two days later, but it also means that I can sometimes do this, provided my tracking skills are not needed to hunt down scofflaws that day.
So, as of day 5 (I think? God, this project is stupid), I finally did something I actually wanted to do. Feels like success, or at least the palpable absence of abject failure.