It's the stuff of legend. The annals of memory are shrouded with the countless retellings and misremembered embellishments that adorn the narratives of our youth. I was nine years old and besotted with horses and art. I was always picked last for recess contests on the playground with the exception of Red Rover. Red Rover, Red Rover, send Michelle right over, because there's no way that little runt is breaking through this line. I was small and asthmatic and nearsighted. I never had the faintest desire to play soccer. So what possessed that bony little child to lace up her first pair of grey suede New Balance togs and take to the roads?
It was this 10" piece of particle board, mounted with my father's senior cross-country photo. To the eyes of this 9-year-old, it was just about the coolest thing ever and I wanted one of my own. Obviously, it was an honor bestowed upon runners, so that's what I was going to be. I may have been a weak Red Rover contestant, but I did place in the 95th percentile in the 600 meter run every time the Presidential Fitness test rolled around.
I sat with my father while he applied globs of Shoe-Goo to the bottoms of our worn out running shoes and we debated the merits of Ben-Gay vs. SportsCream vs. some mysterious pungent balm that he swore was superior to them both.
I watched him head out the door every evening to do his laps around the neighborhood and I began to literally follow in his footsteps. I couldn't keep up for more than one loop at first and I wasn't as fast as him, but I liked the ritual and the quiet streets and the cool night air.
Finally in the summer of 1980, I toed the line in my first race, a one mile contest that I don't even remember the details of. But the finishers certificate says that I completed the distance in a time of 7:25 and that must have pleased me enough to keep me coming back for more.
The second race was a five miler that we stumbled across while on vacation in Orlando. I didn't have the faintest idea how to pace myself for the distance and I remember having to walk during the last couple of miles. I learned fast though and, with the exception of a ill conceived marathon that I did not train for, I never walked in a race again.
|It wasn't until the fall of my 7th grade year that I decided to join up on my school's cross country team and even then I must have been of two minds about it as I went home on the bus as usual on the first day of practice and had to be driven back to the school by my mother. That first season was a tough one as I tired easily in practice and was lucky to occasionally finish fifth for my team. Still, at the awards banquet at the end of the season, I was awarded a big honkin' trophy for being the Most Improved.
Adolescence was a tough time for me though and being small, I was an easy target for bullies. Running quickly became my safe space, the thing I was good at, the place I could hide where no one could hurt me.
So that was how it began. From an early age, I learned to run a few miles every day and I learned to sweat and I learned how to push myself to keep going when all sensible logic would counsel me to stop.
Oh, by the way, I never did get my running photo mounted on a piece of particle board. Apparently that is not actually something that you get automatically upon becoming a runner.