Several days ago, I challenged myself to celebrate my recovery and my life at the weekend convention I attended, in spite of the old tapes that make me hesitant to do so. In that spirit, I announce that I showed up for my first 5K and crossed the finish line with a time of 49 minutes and 32 seconds. I announce that I cared enough to do the math afterward and find out that my average speed was 3.72 miles per hour.
To a runner, of course, this is not even on the graph. But remember who we’re talking about here: someone who weighed close to 300 pounds for much of her adult life. Someone who was a semi-invalid for years. Someone who, in general, wouldn’t have been caught dead moving faster than one mile an hour unless it was to reach a bottle of pills.
I had two goals when I arrived at the site: not to stop moving and not to come in the very last. I was optimistic about being able to achieve the first goal if I paced myself, but as I looked around at my peers I was not at all sure about the second.
I knew I had gone to bed earlier than most of them. Put a thousand-plus recovery types in the same hotel and hijinks tend to ensue, albeit clean/sober ones. There had still been dancing and karaoke going strong when my overstimulated brain called a retreat, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at them. I saw some serious runners who seemed prepared to do some serious running: stretching whipcord muscles, adjusting iPod rigs and monitors, and pulling on specialized-fabric outfits that probably went for three figures at REI.
I had expected something a little more social–people chatting as they jogged or walked. Camaraderie with a little aerobic exercise thrown in. But one of the first instructions given at the starting line was to get into single file as soon as possible because we were running on a dirt path at one side of a bike trail. Yikes. It’s okay, I told myself. Just have fun. Even if you are last it’s fine. It’s a beautiful day and you’re doing something you never, ever thought you would do.
Ever. You see, jogging and I have never gotten along, almost from the moment we met. Like many, I had my early experiences with running in PE class. We were timed, compared, and assigned extra laps around the track as punishment. It didn’t help that I was in the Los Angeles area and we ran during extreme heat and third stage smog alerts (there are less of these now, and schools are required to respect them more.)
My feelings about jogging also go back to a specific moment when I was thirteen. I was finishing up my laps, hauling my awkward and unfamiliar body along in the heat, when I passed my first ever non-childhood “boyfriend” and he said “You sure jiggle a lot when you run.”
Later perspective suggests he was making a teen-boy reference to my breasts, which was rude enough, but at the time I heard it differently. Excruciatingly uncomfortable with the new layer of fat that had appeared with puberty, I took it to mean that when I ran everything was jiggling, and in a ridiculous way. That my stomach, thighs and body in general were an embarrassment and that I should never allow myself to be seen in any high-impact activity again unless I morphed into a much thinner, denser person.
Even during the times I was active as an adult, I never broke out of a brisk walk. Although I was comfortable with a little more bounciness when dancing, the rhythmic up-and-down bounce of jogging was to be shunned.
So the stretches of jogging I did during the race to make the time I did–as sporadic as they were–represent not only improved fitness but improvement in my attitude. Because here’s a news flash: now I do jiggle a lot when I run. I probably look as jiggly as that embarrassed thirteen-year-old thought she looked. Everything, and I mean everything, goes up and down thanks to the extra skin from my weight loss, and nothing short of a carbon fiber corset and leotard would do much about it.
I can’t picture myself ending up a hard-core runner, or having running be my most preferred form of exercise. I prefer hiking and dancing. But what a gift to even try it; to break into and out of a jog without giving much thought to how I looked. To challenge myself. To compare myself to myself and take pride in having done something new.
There was no such thing as finishing last. That being said, there was also nothing wrong with letting the little kid in me enjoy the fact that I wasn’t the last to cross that finish line. Nothing wrong with letting her enjoy being part of the crowd cheering on the 5 or 6 people that came later.