“You don’t strike me as the marathon type.”
There is a prolonged silence on the phone… I’m totally caught off-guard. Up until speaking with this particular friend, everyone else was ferociously applauding my efforts to train for the marathon. I’m used to saying “thank you” and taking a bow at this point of the conversation.
“Don’t you have to run another marathon to qualify first?”
Oh, so he’s confused me for a “qualifier,” the very different breed of human that runs marathons… well, to run marathons.
“No no no, I’m running for charity,” I explain, “It’s completely different. I don’t have to qualify.”
Trying to paint over the awkward moment, I run my mouth about Wake Up Narcolepsy and the other three brave women who will be running with me for this cause. By the end of the conversation, my friend agrees with the rest: This is “Great News!” Thank you…
But I can’t help but read into my friend’s skepticism. On some level, he’s right. There is a “marathon-type,” and I’m not one of them.
Some people are born runners – it’s in their physique. I’ve always been an outsider peering in on their elite little runners’ world, like a child marveling at the miniature cityscape inside a souvenir snow-globe. I know I can’t enter, but I wish I could.
I ran cross-country in high school. I generally came in fifth place for my school’s team, which, I admit, isn’t totally terrible. However, I wanted to run faster and place higher. Once, I asked my coach what else I could do… He said there was nothing. Mind you, this man was an incredibly gifted coach, training us practically individually to reach our maximum potential.
So what was the insurmountable gap between me the elite pack? When they ran, they looked like gazelles. Their delicate long legs swept around in continuous fluid circles; it made me dizzy just watching them, never mind trying to keep up with them. When I ran, my legs chaffed.
So, if running wasn’t natural to me, what got me got me started? Honestly, my parents’ divorce. I was looking for any excuse to get out of the house, so even if running wasn’t pleasant, it was quiet. The fresh air became a therapy of sorts – a time I used to untangle what others’ said from how I felt.
For the first couple years, I ran one and only one route. Leaving home, I started up our forest-lined street towards downtown, Durham, New Hampshire. I crossed the University of New Hampshire’s property: through jam-packed parking lots, past dormitories and science labs, eventually reaching the University’s track, within their football stadium. I ran laps around the track until I got tired and headed home on exactly the same path.
And somewhere along the thickly-tree-laden streets of my hometown, I became addicted to running. Eventually, I switched my fall sport from soccer to cross-country and the rest is history.
The more I ran, the easier it got. And I don’t mean just a little easier, I mean a lot easier. It was like night and day; I’m not even sure why the two experiences are both called “running.” The beginning of running is like hiking through a jungle during a rainstorm whereas running on a regular basis is like watching a beautiful sunset on a beach.
Also, the more I ran, the more I relied on this time for myself. I’m not particularly good at relaxing; I don’t watch a lot of TV because it makes me anxious. I’m constantly in fear of “wasting my time.” Running forced me to get away, if even just for 30 minutes.
So why am I telling you all this? Because I need to remind myself of the ten years I called myself a runner (not the gazelle-type, just the average-type). As a law student with narcolepsy, I fell out of my usual ways. So now, with just 6 months until the Boston Marathon, I’m starting from the beginning again. Each breath weighs heavy in my lungs; each “light run” leaves me sore the next day. So, for now, I’m in the jungle and looking for the sunset. I’ll let you know if and when I make it to the other side.