Why in the hell would you run twenty-two miles?

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am slow, really I am. When I was a kid, my nickname was Myrtle the Turtle. I was dead last in the 50-yard dash for the Presidential fitness test in the sixth grade. Still, somehow, one morning just after spring break in college, I woke up strangely early, like nine o’clock, and decided I should go on a run.

I went back and forth with running until just after the birth of my first son, Cole. I was knee deep in diapers, and all I wanted to talk about was Cole, his bodily functions, and how that had affected my day. Jeff was tired of baby talk.

“You don’t have a passion for anything,” he said.

“I have a passion for our family,” I said.

“No, that doesn’t count,” he said.

“Ok, I have a passion for writing and for running,” I said.

“Runners run. Writers write,” Jeff said, “You’re not doing either.” I sat down on the couch to nurse Cole. I stewed. I fumed a little. Jeff was right, I finally decided. It’s a dangerous thing to give me something to prove.

I began running races and went back to writing stories. I went back to school for an MFA and joined a group of runners called the “Ain’t no shamers,” as in, “ain’t no shame in running a ten minute mile.” Around this time, I read an article in the local paper about a runner with a prosthetic leg. The headline read, “Runner Gives No Excuses.” I cut it out and stuck it to my wall.

When my dad died last year, I tried to run through it. I joined a gym, so I could run on the dreaded treadmill when the weather was bad. I ran, Forrest Gump style, for weeks, until my mother died. Then, I couldn’t run at all.

To run a long distance, you have to be ok with living in your head. It helps if you actually like that space. That is usually not a problem for me, unless what’s in my head is reality I don’t want to face. I tried to run, but found I was almost unconsciously making sounds—kind of moaning gasps. It is embarrassing when other people notice the sounds you make on the trail. You don’t want looks of concern. But, you have to breathe in order to run. Your body gets to be in charge. It turns out I was holding my breath in a lot of the time, taking shallow sips of air, so I wouldn’t let any emotion out.

I eased my way back into breathing, to running, over the summer. It is easier to breathe in Italy. Especially when you have nothing to do but cook, read, and run. I tried to keep up with Cole, who has joined the cross country and track teams at his school. He is the picture of discipline and, unlike his mother, speed.

I am training for a marathon now. My friend Kathy and I spend most Sunday mornings running through Duke forest, for two or three hours at a time. We talk, unless we are trying to pick up speed, climb a big hill, or get stuck in our own heads. I complain about how much I have to run to train for this thing, but I keep going, breathing in and out, quietly. I can run with what’s inside my head now. I can carry it way more than 26.2 miles, even if I do it at a turtle’s pace.

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