Oh, about a year ago, I told you about my silly notion to get fit by way of Richard Simmons DVDs. I mean, why not? It's fun, I can do it at home, the kids can dance along.
Needless to say, it didn't work.
So this summer, I thought I would take up running. I mean, once upon a time, I was a runner. Surely, I could summon that inner runner once again, right? I did a run/walk program for one week during my retreat in Oregon and it was G L O R I O U S. Those minutes that I ran, I ran like the wind through pine-scented forest, pounding the dirt road, steeple-chasing over fallen logs, swishing past dainty hot pink wildflowers, listening for rattle snakes with one ear, Brandi Carlile with the other. I loved it - it reminded me of all that I loved about running and cross-country skiing when I was proficient at such things. Gliding through the woods all by my lonesome, my heart pounding, just me and my thoughts and the repetition of my feet or my skis and poles.
It felt so good to think I could do this again! I could capture some of those things that I once loved and enjoyed again in my life! This run/walk app, with that sweet feminine British accent coaching me right along, this could work!
And then I went back to Minnesota and the glorious feeling went to shit when running (on grass! not pavement!) nearly killed my knees. Poop.
But somewhere in that glory week, I realized that I enjoy working out, I enjoy moving, and I enjoy having someone tell me what to do and when. And after a month this fall where I just about lost all of my marbles, I decided to return to this small gym in Pasadena that I went to for a bit just before I had kids. This gym offers personal training as well as small group classes called Bootcamp. And I love Bootcamp. It's 45 minutes with no more than a dozen people and it's a mix of treadmill workouts and floor/strength exercises - and someone (the trainer, both of whom are great!) telling me what to do every minute of that workout. I respond well to this. I'm convinced the only reason I ran in high school was because I had signed up and therefore had to be at practice and while at practice really had no choice but to do what my coach said to do. Dutiful.
I spend about half of the workout on the treadmill, staring out the big windows at the nearby intersection, the San Gabriel foothills, the trees and the bright sun. Or, at night, my own reflection in the windows. And at first bootcamp was agonizing and, because no segment lasts longer than one minute (the sprint or the climb or the crunches or the squats), I'd think "this isn't as bad as a contraction, this is easier than labor, you can do it!" And sure enough, I could. And over time, the exercises didn't feel as much like a comparison to labor, which I think means I'm making some progress.
And in all of this, in my persistence to show up at least twice a week, the treadmill has become my favorite part, especially when it's just a flat, all out run. Because, you see, I'm not ever running alone.
Here's what happens:
Sarah D. Sometimes when I'm scrambling to get my workout clothes on, my shoes tied, clean up the breakfast dishes, make sure Haven washes her hands, change a rather full diaper, fill my water bottle, give a few instructions to whoever is watching the kids, grab my keys and run out the door - sometimes in the midst of that, as I'm throwing my hair up in a ponytail, the ponytail ends up a little higher on my head. I don't notice this nor care until I'm on the treadmill. The high ponytail swings and bounces. It is light, it is joy. There is no stopping it on its mission to swing widely from side to side. One evening when this happened, the swinging ponytail, the joyful, smiling, fun ponytail reminded me of you, of what it might be like to run with you next to me (I realize I've not run with you, and I realize this may not be at all what your running style is like - but it reminds me of you, nonetheless). And so I ran that night, watching the eastern sky fade to dark, watching the mountains sink into the night, watching cars drive stop and start through the intersection. And I felt my legs get tired and heavy, my breathing labor, my arms pump harder to keep up, and my ponytail swinging carelessly to and fro. And I thought of you and your smile, your joy and laughter, your kind and childlike presence, and decided I could run for one more minute, up one more mountain, with you on that treadmill next to me. Since then, whenever it ends up being a high ponytail day, I run with you on my mind, grateful for your presence, even for just a silly treadmill run at a loud-music gym.
And Kari. Running at bootcamp almost always makes me think of track, of running the half-mile on a black track of chopped up rubber. And nearly always, that makes me think of you. When I run, watching my form in the mirror, keeping my feet light, my stride long, chest high, shoulders down, arms not-flailing, I sometimes see your silhouette in the window too. I can see, remember, your stride, long, strong, long arms pumping, carrying you down the track or across the field (cross-country). I remember the curly q's that developed around the edges of your hair (probably recently dyed, with me, on a Friday night in the downstairs bathroom at your house). I can see your face, serious, determined, focused, spit gathering at the corners of your mouth as you pushed your lungs to their furthest limit. But often times, when I look in the window, I see myself running the last 200, coming around that long corner, seeing the line that marked the straightaway, chasing or being chased, collapsing at the finish - and so often, you are at the finish. You are there for me to drape my arm over, to walk me across the infield. You are there to smile a congratulations, to hug a leg-breaking run. And so, when I run on the treadmill, I'm often running again with you. I stretch out my stride, imagining that we are running sprints and intervals and crazy-all-over-CR runs together again. And it's so fun. (If only I did something that simulated skiing, because that would bring back even more fun memories!)
And Marchell. As has become obvious, when I do these treadmill workouts, I watch my silhouette in the window and imagine that I am once again at a track meet. Anchor leg of the 4 x 8, pounding hard through that final lap - that final corner, the finish straightaway. In my imagination, it's a cool, cloudy spring day, and it is just the sound of lungs puffing and spikes scratching as I start into that last curve, chasing, chasing, chasing some opponent. My lungs are burning and I want to slow down my pace but then I hear it, I hear you on the sidelines - "Come on, KJ! Let's go! You've got it! Let's go, KJ!" And with that, I push through, pick my knees up a little higher, turn my stride over a little faster (and let's be honest, I'm really just trying to not fall off the treadmill, which is an honest fear of mine). Oh, but I can hear your voice, Marchell; it's distinct. It carries with it this tone that believes, above all else, that you can do it. There's not a hint of doubt - it is genuinely optimistic. Nor does the tone carry the least hint of disappointment. You can do it! Let's go! And if not, I'll still be so proud of you for running your little heart out! And let's be honest again, I hear this voice not only when I'm on the treadmill. It calls out at other times too, times when I most need someone to cheer me on, to help me work through the pain and the exhaustion, your voice comes through again - Come on, KJ! You can do it! I believe in you!
I realize that these might be kind of silly or sentimental things - I mean, I'm just doing a short treadmill workout! But it feels like such a gift to run with each of you once or twice a week, to be surrounded by women, by friends, that I'm so proud of, so honored to have in my life, both past and present. Women that bring joy, strength, and encouragement.
So, thanks. Thanks for running with me.