This morning, as we rode our bikes 13.5 miles along the trail and back, I thought about how I wanted to be out there, and how different that was from the old me. Younger Me would not have voluntarily exerted herself by bike-riding the day after running five miles–and would not have considered five miles a relatively short run. Not in a million years with a million dollars riding on it.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have never really considered myself an athlete. Yeah, I rode my bike and roller-skated endlessly with neighborhood friends, but I was a tiny kid uninterested in the effort required to play soccer or kickball or whatever other options girls had in the 1970s. During the summers, I competed on a diving team, and I was pretty good at it–I didn’t have to be strong, didn’t need endurance, and my small size actually helped me zing myself off the diving board.
After sixth grade, we moved to Texas, and we almost immediately fulfilled every Texan stereotype (and every little girl’s dream) by buying a couple of horses. But our house wasn’t in a traditional neighborhood–we had two acres, and only two other kids close to my age lived nearby. Unlike in Northern Virginia, pools were limited to neighborhood residents, and my neighborhood didn’t have one. We didn’t have sidewalks either, and there was no nearby school or playground I could bike to. Once school started, I made some friends, but many of them lived miles away or across a busy highway. I spent most summers lazing around, unaccustomed to the Texas heat. My exercise was limited to riding my horse. Not a bad gig, but really, the horse did most of the work.
I wasn’t completely sedentary though. We built a pool, and swimming and maintaining it kept me busy. I took dance classes a couple of days a week, both privately and in school P.E. classes. I worked part-time for a weekly newspaper–everything from office stuff to writing and photography. But I wasn’t athletic. And when something went wonky with my knee around ninth grade, it conveniently got me out of any kind of running at school. So I spent most of my downtime watching MTV or reading. Back then if you told me that my friend D would become an Ironman triathlete 20-some years later, I would have believed it in a heartbeat. But if you suggested I might run six (and counting) half marathons, pretty much everyone–including me–would have thought you were mad.
My first two years in college, I lived on campus, so my trek to my classes wasn’t very long. I often took the stairs in my dorm, but my degree didn’t require any P.E. classes and I didn’t really
have make time to be active. My last two years, I rode the shuttle from my apartment to school, then walked to class. But I worked around 30-32 hours a week on top of going to school full-time, and I didn’t make much effort for fitness. My clothes fit ok, but I couldn’t have run very far to save my life.
I started teaching in the mid 1990s, and I considered being on my feet all day sufficient exercise. I worked nine- or ten-hour days and often brought work home on top of that. We had a brief fling with a local gym, but we were too busy and too tired. In 2000, I had knee surgery, which gave me more excuses. Not good ones, but ones I took anyway.
Then B was born. I lost weight, then gained some, then lost some over the course of several years. Most pictures from this era have B standing in front of me.
Finally, in 2011, I decided to focus on becoming more healthy, and I downloaded the Couch to 5K app. At first I could barely run the one-minute segments. But eventually I ran a mile, then two, then three without stopping. Between the teenage knee problem and general laziness, I don’t know that I had ever run that far. So I entered my first 5K.
And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. After three and a half years, running has finally become a habit. I feel lazy when I don’t run–or can’t run–and I find ways to fit exercise into my busy days even when I travel or am recovering from an injury. I’ve gotten up before the crack of dawn to run, I’ve run after dark. I’ve run when it’s over 100 degrees, and I’ve run when it’s below freezing. The day I dragged myself out of my warm bed to run 12 miles of hills when the wind chill was in the teens, people called me hard core. Me. The girl who knew every MTV video by heart. The girl who was always too tired or too busy or had too many excuses. The girl who started running at age 40 and has completed nine races this year–six of them 10K or longer–with at least seven more on the calendar for the fall.
I sometimes feel inadequate compared to other friends who run, and when it comes up in conversation, I always offer the caveat that yes I run, but I’m slow. Most people respond with things like “But you’re out there, and that’s what counts,” or “You’re doing way better than someone just sitting at home.” But I don’t just want to be better than the person doing nothing. I want more than that, and despite the not insignificant effort I’ve put in since joining my first half-marathon training group, I’m still not where I want to be. I work hard, and I want to see my finishing times drop into a more respectable area. So while I am in the best shape of my adult life, I’m frustrated that after almost four years I’m not thinner/faster/stronger too.
But as I rode 13.5 miles this morning, I thought about how good it felt to be riding with my family, to think of 13 miles as no big deal, to have my legs moving. I powered up the last incline toward the truck, and M said, “Way to finish strong.” I guess this is the new me. And I kind of like her.