on not running

by Sandra

I was supposed to run a half marathon last Sunday. I didn’t. I trained. Lord knows I trained. For eleven weeks I trained. At my peak, I ran eight miles in under 90 minutes. In the rain. This will not seem like accomplishment to some people, but let me put it in the context of my life:

At my old roommate’s suggestion of running a half marathon, I thought back to high school gym class, where twice a year we were subjected to the Presidential Fitness Test, a standardized regime that separated the physically capable from the hopelessly out of shape, the wheat from the chaff. From a fitness standpoint I was definitely chaff in high school. Part of the test was to see how quickly we could run (or walk or crawl or heave ourselves) a mile. One mile, just four laps around a standard track.

If there were a more mortifying experience of my high school career, I have blocked it out, because just the memory of huffing and puffing around Thompson track, fat white thighs jiggling out from underneath a pair gym shorts, sweat glistening on my red-hot checks, strings of hair plastered to my forehead, as I struggled to complete that one last lap in front of my smirking classmates, was enough to send a shudder down my spine. I was daunted.

But however doubtful, I took up the challenge and I trained. I planned out a detailed running schedule that incorporated weekday runs to be done at six o’clock in the morning, requiring a light’s out policy of eleven p.m. on the nights before run days, including Friday nights. I was pumped and motivated and disciplined. Nothing got in my way. It required occasional Herculean-strength to say no to social outings that would keep me out later than 10:00 pm, but in bed I was, every night. I ran on Thanksgiving morning. I posted my run times and distances as status updates on Facebook, relishing in my virtual cheer leading section. Every two weeks I would add miles, at first struggling through two miles, then a 5k, then 12 miles in a week, five miles at once, six, seven. I worked my way down to under a 12-minute mile. I lost weight. I was on top of the world.

And then I hurt myself. I’m not sure how, and I’m not entirely sure with what (though my more experienced runner friends seem to think it is ITBS), but the fate of my training and the fate of my race was suddenly in jeopardy. I stretched, I iced, I gobbled ibuprofen, I cross-trained. All in vain. A week of rest would go by, I would run three miles and feel fine, only to be hobbled by that now-familiar hip pain a few hours later.

I was devastated. Really, truly devastated. It seemed inconceivable, that this thing I had spent so many hours on, had invested so much energy and passion into, would not happen. In this day in age, where we’re told that we’re capable of anything if we only put our minds to it, I couldn’t fathom anything other than a victorious Hollywood ending. But, as January 10th loomed ever-closer, it was clear to me that I would not accomplish the task at hand, and I bowed out of the race.

After devastation and anger came a few days of sadness, depression, tears. Then a tentative acceptance. Then the realization that, hey, I ran eight miles, in under 90 minutes. I trained for eleven weeks and am fitter now than I’ve probably been in any time in my adult life. By week’s end, I laid everything down—my pride, my lust for accomplishment, for the heaped praise of my peers, and realized that no race, not any race, is worth risking my physical health, and that there will be other races to run. Yes, this is a goal deferred, but still no less a goal, just not one that I will see accomplished the way I had originally envisioned.

Even so, whenever it ends up happening, it’ll look a lot like redemption for that overweight teenager, fat-thighed and sweaty-faced, heaving her way across the lanes of Thompson track.