It's a running joke (forgive me) in our family that my husband and grown kids shouldn't run in public. I can't really describe why, except it's sort of a hand-flailing, flat-footed gait best only displayed in emergencies like missing your plane or a mountain lion in pursuit.
But I should talk.
For most of my life the thought of running in public has left me in a cold sweat. It takes me back to that sandy track alongside the strawberry fields at my junior high school where I couldn't do the mile to save me. Looking back I wonder why it was such an impossible feat. I was the tall, skinny tomboy who rode my bike up dirt hills and played kickball and whatever else-ball was going on. I was always playing outside.
On top of that I had to do "calisthenics" every night for 30 minutes at home because President Kennedy and my dad said I should. Does anyone remember the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness? Plus I walked to school, the library, the store, the beach, everywhere.
What was it about that mile? I wonder now if it was the air pollution, that thick orange bar of lead-filled smog resting on the ocean's horizon? Was it undiagnosed asthma? Did it elicit a panic attack? Why did those four times around the track elude me and leave me gasping for air?
This was back before the self-esteem movement and the PE instructor lady held no mercy, no attagirls for me. She waited impatiently with her clipboard poised and her mouth pursed until I staggered across the line, much, much later than my peers. Coupled with the snickering of my classmates, the embarrassment was unequaled.
With that so far in the past, I've been walking, walking, working my way towards longer journeys. I walk the lake trails where I keep to the right, amazed at the number of runners; their sizes, shapes and ages, that pass me.
One day I had a strange thought. Now living in a town where thousands of people run races at the drop of a hat, and in a neighborhood where any holiday is reason to run in clever costumes; can you say Monster Dash, Turkey Trot, Reindeer Run, you get the idea...it probably wouldn't seem strange. However one day as I ambled along feeling fitter than I had in a long time, I thought, "What would happen if I started running?"
So I did. And a funny thing occurred. I kept running for quite a while and when I stopped I wasn't gasping, I wasn't really out of breath. It wasn't like I ran a mile, more it was that I ran at all.
With so many accomplished runners in this city, it might seem like nothing, almost laughable. "Woman runs!"
But for me, it was a revelation. I don't plan to become a runner. Yet now when I hit the trail, it's walk a little, run a little.
Best of all no one's laughing at me and I'm grinning ear to ear.