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Running with Children.

6 Sep

Well, I’m old. 

Image

Someone should tell her those things will kill her.

Okay, maybe not officially, World Health Organization definition of 65 years and older to even start the cusp of old-old, but my body is no long what it once was.

And what my body once was was resilient. Oh, the days when it used to bounce back, and no, I’m not talking about the jiggle moving in waves around me; I’m talking days of recovery in place of weeks; hours of pain in place of days; minutes of exhaustion in place of hours. It seemed, as long as I was somewhat good to my body, the process of putting it to the task of exhaustive runs and trainings would be withstood for, well, ever, with little to no consequence. 

Image (What I think I look like running at all times)

Then, one surpasses the age of 25 and the preverbal “shit” starts to hit the “fan” in means of the processes of your body working like a functioning machine. I shall quote  China Achebe who quoted a line from Yeats: “Things fall apart.” It’s truth when you get old … like death and taxes. 

 

If you haven’t been an avid reader, then you haven’t noticed an almost 2 week lapse in posting last month. I took a self-imposed exile from all things running because of a consistent injury I kept aggravating. Rather than cross training, or tapering down my runs, I decided to just abstain all together and give my body the time it needed to heal … which was the most difficult part of training I’ve ever had to experience. 

Mentally, I needed a break as well. I had to stop myself from putting the FGR pressure on to write about what I was going through every minute. Most of it was boring and can be broken down to the following bulleted list:

  • I don’t want to gain weight
  • I’m so hungry all the time
  • I have to keep moving so I don’t lose endurance
  • I hope I’m not screwing all the progress I’ve made
  • I really want chocolate
  • NO alcohol … at all … for real
  • It’s such nice running weather
  • Are these pants tighter today
  • How much longer until I can run again
  • Repeat list above

A bit pathetic, but all me. This is some of what I worried about when I wasn’t running. I won’t bore you with all of it, but this grabbed the tops of my attention span. 

Hurray, I am now back in shape enough to run again, and wouldn’t you know it, I thought the greatest thing to do would be to run with the local Cross Country kids. Yep, I really thought that. “What a great idea” <— that actually went through my mind. Then I showed up for practice … 

 

We started the same way everyone does–stretching. As we were stretching, Coach was telling the kiddies about training tips, what was coming up in the following week, and how they would select captains. 

As part of conditioning, which was every other day (guess which day I showed up on), we did sit-ups and push-ups as well–hurray. Then there was the breakdown of time groups: 5 minute mile, 6 minute mile, 7 minute mile, 8 minute and everyone else. I could not even fathom the first group. I thought about the length of time it would take to warm something up in the microwave … say, an organic burrito. This would take about 5 minutes. So, I could make dinner OR I could run a mile. Crazy.

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Mmm, tastes like the mile.

 

I got in the last group close to the back, and started off with everyone else.  There’s something about teenagers that always makes me think I can be like them if I’m around them. Not like, wearing tights for pants, or twerking, or yoloing or what have you, but looking at the grace and gazelle like structure they have to their stride makes me believe that I can again achieve that cadence in run. 

This is an illusion of an unrealistic woman who is stuck in a fantasy of yesteryear. After clamping down a narrow path, we came the “rolling hills.”  WHY do people name  jagged, un-Godly, annoying, painful hills rolling hills? It’s not like they’re moving. We’re moving, or trying to, up and down them.

And so I went, at a mediocre pace, and a slower pace, and a frustrated pace, over tree stumps, and limbs, through tall grasses, and small boulders (or stones, whatever), down the dry ravine, up the side of the dry ravine, following the pre-placed arrows guiding me to and fro, and hopefully back from whence I came. 

Image I did like running across the bridges.

 

I felt okay, not too fat for a Fat Girl Running. The kids, although confused by my presence, never once questioned me and were happy to have someone older who liked to run around. I didn’t look like I could hold up for more than 5 minutes, but I did, and so they accepted me. Then, I found them in the forest …

I was just cursing the person who decided it was a great decision to put steps into the side of a hill that had the angle of a ladder when I saw two girls just barely running toward me. 

“Hey, school’s that way.”

“Oh, thank GOD. We got lost.”

“Turn around. See the arrows.”

“Yeah, but there are arrow here too”

“But they aren’t white. We started with white, so we should follow those … right?”

I wasn’t really sure, but neither were they, and they were tired. I could tell they had probably circled the area for a while. We made it down a narrow pass, and through a clearing toward one last, damn hill to the last stretch of flat land and the end. And do you know what happened? Can you even guess what happened? These spritely, svelte, adorable, twigs who could have beat me in the Shuttle Run in gym class without even trying started to WALK. All I could think was what?

“What? Keep going girls. We’re almost there, and you can’t be slower than the oldest person running.”

They laughed a breathy, hard laugh, and picked it up. Granted, their walk was my struggling jog, but I got those girls moving to the end. FGR-1 (minus 150 million cool points), skinny kids-1/2 point.

 

I have to say, I kind of impressed myself. While not many of us would ever want to go back to 17 and the intensity of feeling judged, and awkward, and uncomfortable, it was nice to go a time where all you had to do was show you had the same earnest interest and you were in. I ran my best, showed up at the end, stretched and went home. And though I shall be sore for far more days than they will, I will at least be able to self-medicate my pain with fun adult beverages and not have to stay up writing an essay on Yeats’ The Second Coming. I’m in the middle of one of my own. 

 

“Hey, thanks for helping us find the trail back to school.”

“No worries.”

“You coming to the next run?”

“Yolo.”

“What?”

” … Yes, I will (God I hope that sounds alike).”

 

 

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Episode 1- I am Fat Girl Running

28 Apr

I am just finishing a ten mile run. Ten miles, all on my own (well, with 25,000 of my closest friends), with no aid of my iPod. Just me running for ten whole miles, hearing the sound of a cheering crowd and the air entering and exiting my lungs. I am sprinting because I want a good time and I want to finish; so at the last turn, I run up this hill that was clearly not listed on the course map, and I think my chest will explode. Did I think I would be here almost seven years ago: no. But then again, who’d ever thought a girl this size could run this much?

Here we go, the reader thinks, another woman complaining about her weight and how she ran it all off.

Um, you’re wrong. Just because I am fat girl running doesn’t mean all I write about is weight. You think I’d gerund myself for nothing (English joke), and this simply isn’t all about weight. It’s about a running journey, which started way back before I was a gerund, when I was in the seventh grade. 

 You see, I’d always been slightly athletic—I lived next to five Irish boys, who liked to play and throw heavy things. They also had access to very sharp objects and bats—baseball bats. Soccer was our family sport and required we run a lot, but not for very long, and the middle school team I was on started our daily practices with a cortland of the field, running past the J.V. football team. 

“HERE SHE COMES!,” one boy, a small tater-tot shaped nodule with glasses, would exclaim as I would start to barrel down hill, “FAT GIRL RUNNING!” I still, till this day, do not know the name of that young man, but he unknowingly changed my entire future. 

One part of this story is the issue of weight; seeming evident from the title. Most people who look at me now would not think I was “over weight” or even “fat.” And maybe I am a bit unfairly judgmental of myself, but I am the only one who gets to see me completely naked, so there’s that. The second part is medical, so I’ll have to explain.

I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome–abnormalities in the metabolism of androgens and estrogen and in the control of androgen production (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/256806-overview). In short, I can gain weight like a prize fighter and it takes me twice as long to lose it with the unfortunate addition of other effects of this health on my liver, kidneys, and digestive tract. This is all fine and good now that I know, but being 170 pounds at 12 years of age doesn’t allow one to run very quickly or for a long amount of time very easily nor does it bode well on one’s overall health. It took a while for me to figure out what to eat, how much, when, and it’s still, to this day, something I struggle with and have other health issues from (PCOS that is). But this is only part of the story. 

Part two is my own psyche: my insecurities. The fact is I’m still flabby for as much as I work out, and I mean this in the most realistic, non-vanity, fishing for compliments way. The other part, is my unending ability to compare and contrast myself to those who do what I love, and in this case I compare myself to other runners, which I don’t remotely look like. To be that which you admire most, you must conform to the pinnacle, the apex of expectation. In short, I should be light and move faster.

I became more seriously interested during high school with running and it became part of my joy. Since I had no idea where to being to improve my speed, I consulted some of my cross country freaks, I mean friends, and they told me (I’m not kidding) the less weight you have to move, the faster you can move. Conclusion: I find that I am too fat to go fast, and I am clinically too unhealthy to manage my intake to lower my weight further than I already had (I was able to drop 30 lbs. once diagnosed and switched to a strict eating plan). So what do I do … I stop running for the summer, just too frustrated with how I take up too much time when I run.

When college came, I kept my hold on running for a bit longer, totally mortified at the idea of running in a gym near any man, but eventually pick it up again, as a weight loss method in my sophomore year (yay, freshman 15!). This is where I realized I would never be a real runner, or at least, told myself so.

Through the constant lens of my own personal compare/contrast, I looked at my college’s  really good cross country team. I would never be like the model or the mold of a runner. I had limits that even the best work couldn’t overcome. While these facts were unsettling, I knew I couldn’t stop running.

I yearned to be out on the street with the other runners strutting around. How could I deny something so innate, so absolute about me? When I had stopped, I missed it, and would start to jog when going for a “walk”. I can run. So, with a grasp on the reality of who I was in the word of running, I give up the dream of being a real runner and concentrated on being the best darn fat girl running I could be.

Again, I fixed my sights on speed, as it was something I needed to control and improve. So what do I do as a “fat girl” who likes to run but needs to improve and has no idea where to begin? I go to the library like all the other fat-kid-misfits who want to be part of the club but don’t know the rules, and do some serious research. I use the internet and find information on running and running superstars, and fill my brain with enough running knowledge that I can be qualified as an expert—minus the experience. Still, no results time wise. How do I get faster? 

Finally an answer: time trials or workouts. I run 2x2s, 3x3s, 4x4s but not so much of the latter because it reminds me of wood. And what do you know … I actually see improvement. I also go on shorter runs that concentrate on running for a good time. Speaking of which, I start keeping time close to me rather than pushing it away—time. I log how quickly I run a certain distance, the same distance on the same planned course, and then I know how fast I go. Before the blessed advent of expensive Garmin watches, Nike Plus systems, or even timing watches (I have no idea how to use them and still to this day don’t), my system was the easiest way to understand how I ran.

The treadmill helped a whole lot, allowing me to force myself to go faster, even if I ended up with my face on the floor or some sort of embarrassing injury, I still knew my time. But even though I was improving by miles on the minute, I was still missing something: Public observation. I had been, in essence, running in private. I’d been hiding my running from everyone I knew. I‘d talk about running with people, in front of other people, but it was always a separate entity—something I did alone. Then it happened.

“You should totally do this 5k!” What? What was that? A race with other people present? 

“Um, yeah. That sounds okay.” 

“It’s only 3 miles, and you run all the time.”

“Ah, yeah. Sure. I’ll do it.”

One mistake I’ve never repeated is to sign up for a race when I don’t want to do it. Never run anything you honestly don’t feel prepared for and want to. I didn’t want to run with other people, in a short race, with half the club cross country team/ varsity cross country team/ way more avid runners. But I did. And apparently, I really looked the part of a runner. Two girls came over and made conversation before the race. 

“Is this your first race?”

“Oh, yeah, but I run all the time.”

“Me too. My last 5k was a bit slow at 28, I’m aiming for 24 this time.”

“’Wow, that’s a great goal.’

“You want to keep pace together?”

“Uh, sure.”

Sure! Was I nuts! I was still trying to figure out if she was talking minutes or seconds. And I knew I wasn’t fast, definitely not fast enough for this chick—both her legs were the size of one of my thighs and she looked like a teen model. She had on tiny shorts and a fitted T with this long, flowy blond hair. I had on running tights, capris, an under armor shell, and a t-shirt. It was November after all. I stood next to the teen model-blond-running-wonder in the line up near the front.

The rules were explained and “bang,” the gun went off (which nearly scared the tights off of me), and we were off. I tried to keep up with the pace of the other runners but began to realize it was really much faster than I had ever ran. She started to make conversation about some psych class she was taking and some others joined in; all I could think was I’m going to die or vomit, or both. Soon the pack was slipping away. 

The teen model-blond-running-wonder and the crew soon became part of the horizon and slipped away like the setting sun. I was alone, again, and running alone was never the problem; it was the people heading back toward me over the horizon … are you serious! I wasn’t familiar with the term “out-and-back course”, but quickly learned that it meant the people who passed by would pass by again … when they were sprinting toward the finish so they could watch you struggle to the half-way point. 

My thighs felt like heavy, hollow logs, and it took all of my effort to just shuffle to the finish. My time: 45 minutes. Ick. It’s still really embarrassing to admit, but I had no idea about pacing for a race nor was I experienced.

Most importantly, I learned a few really important lessons, the first of which was not to do a run I didn’t want to; the second, don’t run with the runners. For me, I needed to learn to run my race, not the teen model-blond-running-wonder’s race.

When I finally (and embarrassingly) got to the finish line, the teen model-blond-running-wonder was walking out of the water area with her t-shirt. “Nice job,” she said as I huffed toward the water. “You did well,” and she smiled and kept on walking.

Bitch, way to rub it in, I thought, and then it happened again. 

Two professors walking toward me, “Way to go!” they exclaimed as they passed. Jerks? 

“Hey, alright! Way to make it,” said the kid who had recorded my time. 

What the hell was going on? The New Yorker in me was really confused on how to react. Should I start swinging or swearing

“Hey, eat one of these or you’ll cramp really badly. And make sure you pick up your t-shirt and water before you leave,” said the director of the event. 

Okay, this was not simply an anomaly, it was a real genuine outpouring of support. People were really congratulating my crappy time? I walked back across campus with my banana and t-shirt feeling pretty decent about my time, and when I got back to the apartment my roommates were really excited for me. One even offered her sports medicine stretching routine to prevent lactic acid build up.

When I called my mother that evening she was astonished: “3.1 miles! In 45 minutes! I can’t believe it!”

“That’s mostly because you know nothing about running … it’s really very slow.”

“No, it can’t be. You ran the whole distance. You should be so proud of yourself.”

“Yeah, but this other girl—“

“She’s not you. You did the best you could and did really well. I know you’ll get better if you want to, but I can’t imagine you doing any better.”

I lied in bed that night, feeling like the biggest moron on the face of the planet. The teen model-blond-running-wonder, the cross country freaks, the avid runners, the professors …they all had it right. No matter how much research I had done, or internet work, or facts I read on runners … no matter what I had gathered or thought, I forgot to realize one thing: I was me. Duh. So simple. And it took my mother, the woman who admittedly can’t run because it gives her a headache, to bring it all to my attention. I am me running at my pace, in my own way. I am finishing the race, jiggly fat and all. And although I don’t look the part of the Prefontane runner, I am a runner because I don’t stop until I finish. I am a runner because I don’t care about how my toenails look after being shoved in shoes, and I will work and research strategies, and find a way to make running work for me and in my life. I can’t live without running. Just because I’m kind of fat, kind of stout, kind of not the average look of a runner doesn’t discredit me. In fact, nothing does, except for me—the way I think about myself.

 

I wish I could go back to the moment in the seventh grade, when that nameless face shouted my name: “FAT GIRL RUNNING!” I wish I could go back, stop in my stride, face him, and say, “Yes. Yes, I am fat girl running. Can I help you with your pace?”

 

Just like a fairy tale, my happy ending results from diligent hard work and constant running (okay, that doesn’t work in the entire fairy tale motif, unless we’re talking Cinderella). Maturity, wisdom, advice from the running community, and convenient new technology has given me the skills to improve my times, figure out my pace during a race, and use my endurance to benefit of my running.

But most of all, and get ready for the pathos, I had let other people see me run. I had to let people in and help. No small potatoes for someone who can’t even eat potatoes. 

 

And I’m done. I am in a pack of people applauding myself for the completion of my 10 mile run, desperately searching for water.

1 hour, 28 minutes, 47 seconds. I am fat girl, running—running with everyone else. A part of this crazy community of misfits: 5% body fat, overweight, fat, short, skinny, tall, thin, and the ilk. All of us runners. I head toward the eighth sign that says “water” with everyone else, finally see the tables with food and water, eye the muffins, grab a banana, and do a cool down jog to my mother’s open, prideful arms where the rest of my cheering section is waiting.

I am fat girl running. Image