I’m doing that thing again where I write about what happened last weekend, this weekend. To be fair, last weekend was quite busy, so I didn’t really have time to write about it while I was living it. And while I may have been able to find some time this week, the truth is that I spent the majority of the week being unexplainably cranky.  Even if I had written something, it would have read something like this, “I don’t even remember what I did last weekend, because today is enshrouding me in an endless cocoon of misery.”

I’m pretty sure this is not how I meant to tell this story.  Let’s start over.

Last weekend, I ran a 5K.

Wait. That’s not how I want to tell it either.  Let’s start over again.

My sister is a runner.  A serious runner.  A multiple-marathon-finisher runner.  I know this is true, because I’ve gone to watch her run quite a few of these marathons.  She is an excellent marathon runner. I am an excellent marathon watcher.  It all works out rather well.

I love watching marathons.  I like watching the elite runners, the ones who have a body fat percentage of .03% and who haven’t ingested anything other than brown rice and broiled chicken breast in 13 years. I like watching the 83-year old lady, tottering along at the end of the pack, humming to herself as she goes. And I like watching everyone who comes in between.  What’s amazing about watching a marathon is that you get to see people of all shapes, sizes and ages accomplishing a tremendous athletic feat. Somewhere in the middle of watching all those people go by, the truth of it always hits me: anyone can be a runner.

Except me. I am not a runner.  I am a watcher of runners.

This past May we went to visit my sister on Memorial Day weekend, as we usually do, because it is her usual race weekend.  She wasn’t running a marathon this time, due to a lack of time to train, and instead was running a half-marathon as part of a two-person relay.  I watched her and all those other folks do their wondrous thing and then, afterwards, I did the stupidest thing I’ve done in years.  I guess I was still under the inspirational haze of watching all those various sized, shaped, and aged folk achieve their great achievement, or perhaps I was drunk, but what I did was this: I looked her in eye and I said, “Hey, maybe I should start running and then I’ll do the relay with you next year.”

And her face lit up and she said, “That would be GREAT.”

Oh, dear. Oh, whoops.

I went back home and thought about my folly.  And I guess I was still drunk lo those many days later, because it still seemed like it wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I’d been meaning to get back into regular exercise anyway.  Maybe this would be a good way to get moving again.  Perhaps I should start smaller, though, right?  Perhaps I should see if there were any nearby 5Ks coming up in the late summer.  That would be a good way to test my running ability.  So I checked and, guess what?  There was a 5K right in my very town in mid-September.  This was all still seeming like a reasonable plan.

So I did the second stupidest thing I’ve done in years.

I went on Facebook and I posted, “Who wants to run a 5K with me on September 17th?”

About four friends, who clearly secretly hate me, jumped on the idea.  Now I had to do it.

That’s why, starting in June, I went running three evenings a week after putting the kids to bed.  I went running on cool nights, hot nights, and perfect nights. I ran in the rain and I ran in the sun.  When I started, way back when, it was light until nearly nine and the mosquitoes were so thick that they bounced of my forehead.  By the time September rolled around, I was wearing only white and affixing blinky lights to  me so I wouldn’t get hit by a car while bats danced above me.  I ran my way through just about every album on Michael’s iTouch in my search for good running music.  I ran without music, in case that worked better.  I ran and I ran and I ran.  Minute after minute, hour after hour, night after night, mile after wretched mile.

I hated every second of it.

At first, my mantra was, “You can do this. You can do this. You can do this.”  After a bit, positive reinforcement gave way to drill sergeant, “Don’t quit. Don’t quit. Don’t quit.” And that eventually gave way to grumpy resignation, “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.”

I kept thinking that it would, eventually, get easier.   That my lungs would stop feeling like they were trying to leap out of my body and that my legs would feel less like 40 pound weights and more like springboards.  It never happened.  I finally built up my distance to three miles and decided to start timing myself, trying to increase my speed. I somehow, against all odds,  got slower each time.  One day when I was having a particularly rough time I walked more than usual.  And yet, when I stopped the timer, I had somehow completed the loop faster than ever before. It appears that I walk faster than I run.  That pretty much destroyed the remaining shreds of my good attitude.

I started complaining mightily to anyone who would listen and many who were just being polite.  I swore that I wasn’t going to run another step after the race was over.  I cursed every step of my three-mile loop.  I began demanding that Michael tell me how proud he was of me, because nothing screams “triumphant athlete” quite as much as browbeating one’s spouse into praising one repeatedly.

After all of that, the day of the race was a bit anticlimactic.  Michael, the kids, and my mother came into town to watch.  I ran the race with the one friend who could make it after all.  I walked a particularly vicious uphill section.  Okay, fine, two uphill sections.  Possibly three.  It’s all kind of a blur.  I didn’t make my  very, very slow goal time. I was beaten by the young (age 8!) and old (age 67!).  I finished.  I checked it off the list.

I didn’t run at all this week.

I think I’m starting to like myself again.  The evening has become something enjoy, rather than dread.  Most importantly, I feel pretty confident in my role as a watcher of runners.  I am really, really good at watching the runners.

There’s only one problem, of course.

Does anyone want to run a half-marathon on Memorial Day weekend next year? I know a really awesome partner.

Come on. Do it. I’ll even throw you an extra packet of goo.

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