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Saturday, April 20, 2013

How I Started Running

The day the (now) fiance had his interview at Washington State U., I had woken up in a Quality Inn room by myself. It was mid-February, but the sun still shone bright through the beige curtains. This was the first time I'd ever stayed at a hotel alone, and it felt a little weird. It was also the first time I'd ever been in Washington, and the first time I rented a car, which I did the day before at the airport before parting ways so the grad students taking care of him didn't know I was scoping out the grounds myself. Or even that I existed.

I was barely awake before I automatically reached over to my phone. A text: "Brooklyn Half marathon signup starts today!" I'd said in the past that maybe I'd think about it, maybe, possibly, but now as I woke up across the country and ached for my borough, I didn't even think twice. I fired up the laptop and gazed sleepily at the signup page. Not til noon! it says. But it's almost 9am Pacific time. I flipped through the channels as I sat at the hotel room table that was entirely too big for just me. Corey and Topanga were rediscovering their love for each other for the 1000th time. I turned it off. Noon/nine am hit. I pulled out the credit card. I filled out the form. I was done.

I headed downstairs for my solo continental breakfast and pondered what I had just done over weak coffee. I've never even gone out for a jog in my life! But here I was, on the brink of all these new things, and it seemed like it might make sense to add one more item to the mix. One more thing that might keep me grounded, keep me in shape, give me a schedule, maybe even help me deal with the mounting anxiety I felt of losing control of my life. 

I snagged an extra yogurt and banana to stash in my room, because I'll be in hungry in a few hours. Yup. Because I'm gonna do 12 miles. I'm gonna do them right now. RIGHT. Now.

I changed into my workout gear that I had brought for the dusty exercise room that I was not setting foot in. I knew from my research that a nice trail was right outside, that ran evenly with Paradise Creek all the way to Idaho, which was six miles away. I'd touch Idaho and run back. Yup. Here I go.

"This isn't so bad," I thought as I breezed down the trail. People with dogs and people running and people on bikes passed both ways. They smiled as they passed. Smiled! One guy flashed a sideways peace sign. I guessed it wasn't gang related. I was learning the ways of Washington. I flashed it back to him when I saw him coming the other way. I was feeling in control.

But okay, time to walk now. Now it hurts and now I'm walking. Less people. That's ok. Mile 1 marker. Awesome! One mile. I just did a mile. Look at me go! Nodding at people and doing a mile. I so got this.

Mile 2. Mile 3. Less people. Actually, no people. I'm walking now. It's fine to switch back and forth from running to walking. Keeps me going. Three miles. Three!

Mile 4. I need music. I can't find my headphones. I thought I brought them! What the heck. No one's here. Putting it on full blast. I'll hold my phone up to my ear. Let's see. Arcade Fire will do nicely. There is a spectacular mountain on the horizon. Sprawl ii will do nicely:

These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose/
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface/
Cause on the surface the city lights shine/
They're calling at me, "come and find your kind."

Mile 5, I don't remember anymore. Mile 6 I see a sign. Welcome to Idaho. I laughed out loud. I took a picture. I texted it around. I ran underneath it. I felt rejuvenated! And... I saw a Walmart! I needed water. Oh man. I should have thought of water. But I'll buy one at the Walmart amongst smelly people wearing overalls and having no where else to go. This can't be my life someday. Can it? No. It won't be. I do self checkout for the water because I'm a little scared. Back down the hill and across the street. Now we go back.

Back to Mile 4, where I see an older couple walking the trail. I hadn't seen anyone for miles! But I make a conscious effort to run by them until they're safely behind me so I can blast more music and be alone. I'm feeling better about life already. The sun is out. The sweatshirt is around my waist. February and I'm in Washington and I'm running! Look at me! But no one's here to look.

Back to Mile 3. It's hurting now. I'm walking.

Mile 2. Seriously, only mile 2??

I haven't picked up the pace in awhile. I'm still walking. My water is gone. I'm thirsty. I want to be back in that crappy hotel room now. Eating that old banana and that cold yogurt waiting for me in the fridge.

Mile 1. Oh my God, mile 1. I can't. I can't do anymore. But I have to. One more. One more to go. Why is it taking so long?

Back in the hotel room. What the heck did I just do? Seriously. What. Did. I. Do.

That night I couldn't sleep. It hurt. Everywhere it hurt. My arms hurt from all that weird swinging it did. My right arm hurt the most from holding that stupid phone up to my ear. My legs felt like they were clobbered with sticks of asphalt. I tossed and turned. I wished I brought sleeping pills. What a weird day. 12 miles of running, zero familiar faces, mac n cheese with a beer at a bar alone, movie theater alone, now back in my room, alone, but it feels good, I'm feeling ready and capable.

Two months later and I still haven't gone up to another 12 mile run. I'm up to six without stopping, including a jog up the steep Williamsburg bridge and back, the marvel of the city below me, the comfort of being alone with my thoughts. Maybe I'm not a real athlete yet, but I've got that runner's state of mind.

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