I’m not a runner.
Really, I’m not. My husband is a runner–the kind who’s both naturally speedy and who also really loves running and mourns the lost days when he doesn’t get to run because work gets in the way. My brother-in-law is a runner–the kind who was really good when he competed as a kid. Even my dad is a runner, although his knees prevent him from doing much of it anymore.
Me? I’m more of a brisk walker. Maybe a dancer. I can even sing while I dance (and I usually do–ask anyone who’s ever attended a Zumba class with me). Okay, or let’s be totally honest: I’m a talker. My older son got it from somewhere, after all.
But a runner? Not so much. I had phases during my teens and 20s when I ran a few miles a few times here and there, but nothing really serious. I never really felt that much-hyped “runner’s high” that I suspected didn’t really exist but gave runners an excuse to sound all lofty and superior. Then I hit my 30s, and all of a sudden, half my friends turned into runners. Or maybe they were always closet runners but suddenly decided to come out and fully embrace the habit. I suspect that it’s not completely unlikely that it was Facebook that played a major role in this–at least when it came to my awareness of it.
But over the last year or so, I’ve started running here and there again. Typically three or maybe four miles. I don’t do it every day. Not even every single week. But more than I used to. I’m in much better physical shape in general now than I used to be, thanks to a well-rounded exercise diet of Zumba, kickboxing, yoga, and yes, a little bit of running. Suddenly running doesn’t seem as much of a chore. Sometimes I take a yoga class, run a few miles afterward, then do it again later in the week.
So I decided to register for the five-mile Boulevard Bolt, an annual tradition here in Nashville when people take on a five-mile course on Thanksgiving morning before going home to gorge on turkey and dressing. I decided I was just.going.to.do.it. Five miles. I can do a five mile race, I told myself. I can plod along, if I have to. I even started thinking, “Hey, could I do this race in 50 minutes or less? I bet I could.” I emailed friends who are runners (the real kind) and asked what kind of layers I should be planning to wear for a winter race.
Except this year, Thanksgiving morning dawned clear and cold–colder than anyone could remember. That’s right. I had chosen a year with Record Cold in which to run my first official five-mile race. The temperature at race time: 17 degrees. SEVENTEEN DEGREES. Y’all. That is unreasonably cold. When I checked the weather app on my phone and saw that number, I began to have second thoughts. “This is bat-&*#$ crazy,” I told myself as I pulled on my running tights.
But I’d already registered, paid my money, picked up the T-shirt and pinned the race number with the chip to my pullover. I was All In. From the warmth of our bed, my husband the runner said, “Have fun, honey!” and stayed right where he was. I really do love him, I reminded myself. Think of all the mornings he’s pulled himself from our warm cozy bed to go see patients in the hospital and serve humanity.
My shuttle from the satellite parking lot to the starting line was late, so I had to push my way through the crowds to even get to the line. I was slightly in shock from the temperature. It was so crowded that I couldn’t really get up to speed, and the cold was just smacking right up against my face, making my lips and cheeks feel stiff and numb. I think I may have been slightly in shock.
(Why didn’t anyone tell me to get a neck warmer that I could pull up over my face? Oh wait, I think my friend Natalie did, and I blew her off. Natalie, if you’re reading this, you were TOTALLY RIGHT and I should have listened to you, given the six thousand marathons that you’ve run and all. I bow in your general direction.)
“Oh my God, what have I done?” I thought, as I grimly pushed past the line of ladies jogging cheerfully and v-e-r-y slowly with their Starbucks cups. The seventeen degrees were making the toes in my right foot feel stiff, too. Every time I landed on my right foot, I thought, “Could my toes break off? Surely not….could they?”
Indeed, the first mile felt slow, probably because it was. For one thing, it really was crowded. I dodged people, trying to get past enough people to be able to achieve a reasonable speed. I looked down at the stopwatch feature on my phone and noted that the first mile took me about 10.5 minutes. Then, I spotted a woman about my age with a curly blonde ponytail and a thick black headband covering her ears, and I followed her forward.
Gradually I began to warm up. My limbs loosened up. My toes felt better. My breathing felt more regular. I was able to get past the slower runners and walkers. I was even amused by Santa and his eight reindeer in brown fleece jackets and antler headbands. I was less amused and more horrified by the college boys who were running bare chested so you could see all their Indian warpaint. Yes. They were really shirtless. If I’d been walking, I’d have had to put a hand over my mouth to keep from hollering, “Put some clothes on!” You can put the girl in a pair of running shoes and gloves and turn her out into the frigid cold, but you cannot completely suppress the bossy mommy in her. As it was, I just raised an eyebrow at them and pushed forward. (What do we think? Do we think they were maybe not entirely sober? Or was it more of a it-sounded-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time thing? Do we think any of them thought it was crazy, too?)
Natalie’s email ran through my brain, coaching me to remember that finishing strong is more important than a particular pace. And what do you know, when only a half mile remained, I managed to summon something from somewhere and made myself finish strong. I was hoping I’d managed to hit a reasonable average pace, too, of course, but at the moment, I was just wanted to be done.
And I was done. I’d finished the run, and I’d done pretty well. For a non-runner, that is. My official time was 47:32, which put me at a 9:31 mile pace. I was thrilled. I really was. I walked around and found the water stations, then snagged a banana–the best banana I’ve ever eaten in my entire life–and a cinnamon bagel.
The only bummer at that point was that I didn’t have anyone to celebrate my accomplishment with in person. I know that a five-miler isn’t that big a deal for many folks, but it was for me, and I was, yes, a little euphoric about it. So I texted my husband. “Good job!” he wrote back. (He may have still been in bed. I didn’t ask.)
Then I realized I was cooling off, and good Lord, it was even worse being sweaty in the cold. I think I felt the sweat freezing my knees into a slightly bent position, which was a little alarming. I ran for the shuttle while I still could.
No, it wasn’t a marathon. It wasn’t even a half-marathon. Not even a ten-mile run. But it was a big deal for me. And I’m really, really glad that I did it. Even in the cold. Perhaps especially in the cold. No one can take away my crazy “I ran five miles on Thanksgiving morning when it was seventeen degrees outside” experience. I ran it. I ran the whole thing. It was damned cold. And I felt pretty good about it. Still do.