Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Sound Mind and Body

In the University of Colorado fieldhouse before my race, with Patrick and Phil,  Don's co-worker.
I started running again more than three years ago, when it became obvious that my weight was creeping up, despite an active lifestyle that includes walking, yoga, hiking and skiing. Not to mention recreational eating. Plus, I was entering into the Perimenopausal Zone (no offense, gentlemen, but the PZ is not a place where fools march in, so perhaps you'd rather not read this post). At first it was kind of a secret pastime, because I wasn't at all sure I was going to like it enough to continue. I vaguely remembered that running hurt, or was uncomfortable, or something, and in the immortal words of Daffy Duck, "I'm not like other people. I don't like pain. It hurts me." Or as secret as any pastime that requires running around my neighborhood, where I've lived for a decade and I suppose I'm as well-known as any other long-term denizen.

Sure enough, running was as uncomfortable as I remembered it, if not exactly painful. My right knee was particularly rebellious. It squeaked and groaned like an old house wondering if it could stay on its foundations. But beyond a slight twinge and some strange creaking sounds, my knee didn't hurt. I was still running a month or two later when I noticed that it was no longer protesting. I can't say I loved the experience, especially during it, but there was no quitting now, especially since nothing really hurt. Besides, I felt great afterward, endorphins soaring, and the weight already slowly dropping off.

This was good enough to keep at, I decided. I started entering local 5- and 10K races and delighted in their carnival atmosphere. I wasn't in it to win it. I just didn't want to embarrass myself. I researched training programs and starting running hills and intervals to increase my stamina and speed. These strategies worked. I became a faster, if not award-winning runner. That was, and still is, good enough for me.

The trouble is, I still live in American society, where progress is a foregone conclusion. The next logical step would be for me to run a half-marathon, or even start training for a marathon. Don't get me wrong--I revere anyone who trains for and competes in a marathon. Just ask my family--I'm one of those dorks who sits around on a Saturday afternoon watching NBC Universal repeats of the running portions of triathlons. I love to watch how people run. Each person's style is as unique as their face. A running fingerprint of sorts.

But why in the hell would a big gal like me, 5'10" and who weighs, well, a lot more than I'm ever going to confess publicly, ever run a marathon? Marathon runners are thin and wiry, not strong and bulky like me. And besides, I'm perfectly content running 10K. It's a great distance for me. I've lost twenty pounds running consistently, if not breaking any records for speed and distance. A couple of running buddies have pointed out that the weight would come off if I stepped up my training. But I'm not in this to lose any more weight. I like to think of myself as kind of a throwback to actresses of the 1950s, like Jane Russell or Ava Gardner or Marilyn Monroe. I actually don't mind having breasts and hips. Running off my belly fat and thunder thighs was one thing. Why would I want to run off the good jiggly parts?

So what AM i in it for? Given my disposition, which alternates between biliousness and anxiety with occasional, very occasional bonhomie, I might well be a lifetime candidate for Prozac. But I'm also into yoga and alternative medicine. Running is my alternative to Prozac. In the process of pursuing a sounder body, I've also stumbled onto my key to a sounder mind. Certainly the yoga asana and meditation play a huge part in cultivating peace of mind, besides being excellent physical and emotional exercise. For one thing, I've stopped giving the people around me so many pieces of my mind since I added running to my routine. Yes, I still write letters to the editor in response to some blowhard who really needs another blowhard to put him in his place. But I'm kinder and gentler about it.

At the two-mile mark at Saturday's race

This is what works for me. I'll just keep plodding along. If the weight starts creeping up again, or Don starts telling me my Bitchiness Quotient has increased to intolerable levels, then I'll consider my next steps. By that time I'll be over 50. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I just don't think it's a good for me to start running marathons after 50. I'm more likely to bungee jump.

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