For years I had loved running, but during my last high school cross-country race, everything changed. I can still remember shuffling along the wet, frost-covered path in my old Asics, my lungs burning from the cold and my legs tightening with every step I took. Finally, when the pain from the Stitch in my side became unbearable, I had an epiphany – running sucks.
Following that race, and for almost a decade after, my running shoes would only he dusted off for a handful of runs a summer. But when I gave up racing, I had also given up running for pleasure – and I had forgotten the joy of having the roads to myself, breathing in fresh air, and existing in my own little world for part of my day. At least, that’s how I remembered it when I decided to sign up lot a 10K race that was only six weeks away.
Reality set in on my first run – swarms of bugs, the joys of chafing, killer knee pain, even a showdown with deer in my path. Still, I persisted, and even bought myself new running gear and shoes co prove my dedication. I still sucked.
Then, two weeks into my training, I was enjoying a night off from running by drinking margaritas with friends. A few drinks in, the subject of running came up. After another drink, I publicly announced that I, too, was becoming a runner again. And by the time I had sucked the ice out of the bottom of my last drink, I had somehow committed to running a race for charity – the next day.
Before I could think of a good excuse (besides still feeling the effects of the night before), I was laced up and shoved into the starting pack. Sinewy women with racer sunglasses and running skirts (who even knew those existed?) surrounded me. I twisted my pearl earrings nervously and cheeked the time on my stainless steel watch. The Sesame Street song ‘One of These Things Is Not Like the Other’ played over and over in my head.
Nerves from high school meets peaked with the bang of the gun and the resulting push and shove of runners. The margarita-race-suggesting friend took off with long, fast strides, her tiny body disappearing into the crowd ahead of me. While she was busy finishing at the top of her age group, I was sucking in air at a desperate pace, as the road in front of me got blurrier. 1 suffered through the heat, my hangover, a giant hill and the toxic fumes produced from a neighbour’s pile of burning leaves, then sped past my competitors like Usain Bolt for the last 50M, only to keel over at the finish line. I was andihly wheezing. I threw a handful of ice in my sports bra, grabbed a Stella from the nearby bar and confirmed what I alicady suspected; this sport is for masochists.
Nevertheless, on the 10K race day, I hauled myself out of bed far too early on a cold, dark, Sunday morning. I had been training hard for six weeks and I wasn’t about to let all that work go to waste just to sleep in.
Barely awake. I was lining up in the starting pack next to my marathon-running sister and my poor boyfriend, who I’d dragged into this, when he announced that he was aiming for a big finish. I pictured him breezing through the finish line, calves bulging, sweat glistening on his forehead, a medal being draped over his neck as he points to me and calls, “Thanks for signing me up, Snugglemuffin.”
“Yeah, a big finish – I’m going for flashing lights and sirens carrying me out of here,” he said, pointing to the waiting ambulance.
Nevertheless, we both ran a pretty good race up until the last lap, when my iPod froze just as I was ready to really pour on the speed to the fastest song. Like my legs, it had never run that long before without some kind of technical malfunction. But with heavy legs, a sweaty body, a red face and a broken iPod, I crossed the finish line in half-decent time, my first 10K a done deal. And not only was I smiling, I was already planning my next race. Runners may be a little crazy, but at least I know where I belong. And maybe running doesn’t suck so much, after all.