Friday, September 7, 2012

Run, Retard, Run! In which I discover, I am a RUNNER!

If it weren’t for my complete lack of athleticism, I could have been an Olympian. 

Before you cough up your cornflakes, I should qualify that, shouldn’t I?  I think I had the attributes to make an Olympian: I can get up ridiculously early in the morning; I can eat quantities of carbs, especially bananas and pasta; I like being independent; I like being on a team; I am tall (ish); I work hard; I like winning; I’m bendy; but mostly, I really like spandex!

Surely, surely these credentials should secure me some kind of sporting plaudits?

Nope.  None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Diddly.  For I was not blessed with one iota of athletic ability, thanks Mum.  The following phrases have, indeed, been coined when discussing my prowess, or lack thereof: “She’s like Bambi on crack;” “She runs like a demented ostrich;” “Is she blind?”  “Is she deaf?”  “Is she just retarded?” 


It is true.  My legs for their length, lack all co-ordination, and rather than pumping in synchrony like well-oiled pistons, they tend to get tangled, as if some invisible Wile E. Coyote (Genius) has knotted my shoelaces.  MEEP MEEP…Arghhhhh… Oh the grazed knees!

At school, my cheerful mal-co-ordination was legendary.  Yes, you could rely on me not run fast enough into that space, or catch, or hand-off the baton without dropping it, but shit, I had lungs and would shout plays or calls with little stealth, but bags of enthusiasm!
“No!  No!  Not to me, to her!  Her!  No, the other one!”

The cheer was all a front, of course.  Really, I was cringing and berating myself for lacking the skill I wish I had.  Really, the broad smile was a deranged mask to hide the fact I desperately didn’t want to be picked last.  I  hoped my smile was more appealing to the Team Captains than the other miserable Mal-co's, directing their Droopy stares to the frost-bitten earth.  I was messy, but boy was I eager, like a Labrador puppy. 

In netball—the polite British version of basketball—I was consistent in my role as “WD".  This did not stand for “Wing Defense” as most normal teams would boast on their starting line up, but “WD—Weird Distraction.”  My tactics were these: run around the court windmilling my arms in the hopes they would get in the way of a ball; yell like a banshee with Tourette's; confuse the fuck out of the opposition.  It worked.  Until once my nose got in the way.  Damn.  The demented WD was felled like she’d been shot.  “Man down, Man down!”

Replaying this in my head, I am imagining Will Ferrell playing me right now.  Just with his hair in bunches, and wearing scratchy, acrylic, green athletics pants (think baggy hotpants) and matching hunter-green knee socks.  Is that weird?  

Anyhoo, needless to say, I did not make it to University on a sporting scholarship.   I did make it to the swimming and diving team, and still have my bronze medal for diving—so proud-- but I think that was more to do with the bendy, spandex thing and lesbian judges.

So, imagine my surprise, dear Reader, when this summer, a good friend--let's call him "Schuey"--challenged me to get fit with him. 
“You mean…like…activity?  Like sweating?  For fun?”
“Yes.  I want to get in shape!”  He said with his own, undeniable puppy-like enthusiasm.
“Hmm… well I have worried that my bum might have J Lo-ed a smidge.”
“Oh yeah." He replied just a fraction too quickly,"your ass certainly isn’t as toned as it was two years ago…”  STOP. THE. TALK.

Now, the idea of…*gulp*… running, was one I viewed with wide-eyed wonder—like fat-free crème brulee; a sale sign in the window of Restoration Hardware; Fosse-choreographed, fishnet-wearing unicorns—and although I thought my Flo Jo-transformation impossible, there was a distinct allure.  Also, I had read tweets by, and read articles about, my comrade in wordsmithery, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, who does insane things like… triathalons!  TRI!  That’s THREE, three athletic disciplines.  She is three times as athletic as me!  And, to compound the writer-runner attraction, one of my favourite agents, Stephany Evans, President of Fine Print Literary Agency, positive lit-up when discussing her passion for running!  She had never run.  Never!  Then a memoir about a runner landed on her desk and--Holy lightning bolt of inspiration-- she picks up and starts running.  She’s now running marathons!  MARATHONS, I tells ya!    

So… knowing this, wanting to join this club, be chosen for this team, seeking to prove something to Self and to my “ass,” made me get out of bed early one June morning, wipe the inaction from my eyes and face bright light and tarmac!

The first run was not pretty.   A runner friend joined Schuey and me to show us the trail.  Don’t ask me what I was thinking when I invited her.   Apparently, I am a sadist and enjoy complete humiliation.  (I’m not and I don’t.)  It was like asking a Williams’ sister if she fancied a quick friendly game of tennis.   Good grief.  My runner friend is toned, tanned, blonde and Argentinian.  Actually, I am pretty sure she is a robot.  She doesn’t sweat or breathe hard.  (I have yet to see if she has green blood, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) In short, she is amazing.

I barely made it a quarter of a mile before I was panting like an asthmatic crank caller.  I was ready to hit the ground, roll and pretend I had twisted my ankle.  But there it was, the bottom line: Jennifer Weiner runs, Stephany Evans runs, and Eleanor, “your ass certainly isn’t as toned as it was…”  so I struggled on, gasping for breath and thudding one foot down in front of the other.  As the Argentine effortlessly gazelled her way up the mountainous gradient, I shuffled pathetically behind, watching her stride further and further into the distance.  Back at the parking lot, I fell to my knees—not in a Pope way, more of an imminent death-way-- and I felt mortified.

The next day, sans Blonde Argentine, we ran again, this time pushing a bit further before we slowed to a walk.  It was hell.  Especially that fucking hill!  My personal Everest!   Every snatched breath was a punch to the lungs.

The first time we made it up the hill without stopping I thought I would vomit all over some innocent bystanding camper.  My heave was actually met with Schuey turning towards me--delightful broad beam plastered across his face—holding his hand up to high-five me.  We’d breached the hill!  We’d done it in one.  The rising bile was overtaken with a sense of pride, accomplishment and relief.

After a couple of weeks, we were running the entire track, there and back, uphill, down dale, rain or shine; sprinting the last bend into the car park, feeling the rush of blood to the head as I bent over to catch my breath, enjoying the pounding of my heart in my ears, throat, wrists.  I felt great.

Except for a shooting pain in my hip.

I caught up with girlfriends over brunch and told them of my new regime and gammy leg.  They got to the root of my problem easily.
“What kind of sneakers are you running in?”
“Oh, they’re good ones,” I replied loudly, just as our server arrived behind my shoulder, “I have those tone-up-your-butt ones.  Ha ha!  I have up-your-butt-shoes!”
“Eggs Benedict, Madam?”

So I took Self to a local Running Store and over one hundred smackeroos later, I was the proud owner of a pair of proper bona fide, serious running shoes.  They were light!  They were thin!  They were purple!

The next morning, I woke bright and early.  Schuey was away on work, so the morning run would be just me, the tarmac and my beautiful new shoes.  A month earlier, I probably would have used his absence as an excuse to get on with something else, but now I had the shoes!  The shoes!  So I drove to Lake Scranton, sneaks still in their box, burning a hole in my passenger seat, and branding my feet with athletic desire.

I opened the lid of the cardboard box.

I carefully folded back the white bedding of tissue paper.  

I laced them up, and I ran.  

Without stopping.

 3.5 miles in just over 30 minutes. 

As I ran up the steps to the lake overlook—hearing the Rocky soundtrack in my brain—I was slick with sweat, elated with effort and thirsty for more.

So when my writing friend started speaking of the 10 mile Broad St Run in Philadelphia, I tossed back my last glug of chardonnay and said, 
“Meh, I can do that.”  
And so it was…

I'm the girl who has always had Olympic Desire, but little Olympic Talent, and I’m doing it.  I won’t be the fastest, strongest, or prettiest, but it is fun to defy expectations, particularly when they are your own.


  1. And then AFTER the Broad Street Run, we eat, and we drink. Must remember why we do it. To celebrate that the deed is done. - a. friend

  2. Are you talking about the graceful, dynamic, and quite rhythmic woman I learned how to Cha cha cha with? Dancers are tremendous athletes and you were a natural.

  3. Thanks Pat! I'm glad you enjoyed it. This morning chill is testing my will power, but I WILL CONTINUE!