I Call It Running
In a race to keep comparisons at bay, who wins?
Every other day, I run five miles. Slowly. Most runners pass me. Fast walkers pass me. Fast walkers with white hair and wrinkled legs pass me.
To keep mental wanderings on a short leash as I run, I count my strides. Each number sounds out in my head in two chunks, the first chunk when my right foot hits the ground and the second chunk when the left foot does. This helps keep me in the moment. But as meditators know, counting still allows other thoughts to slither around among the numbers.
Six-teen, seven-teen, eight-teen, nine-teen...
The kids who whiz by, heels up, I guess to be stars on their track team. Runners in their thirties and forties as fast and quiet as deer might be training for their next triathlon. Some middle-aged and older folks run as if they've always been Athletes with a capital A. And what must they think of me? "Gee, I hope I don't slow down that much when I get to be her age."
I never ran fast. I hardly ran at all, except now and then to catch a bus, until after I turned 50.
They'd be wrong in assuming that I've slowed down. I never ran fast. I hardly ran at all, except now and then to catch a bus, until after I turned 50. Throughout elementary school, I read, read, read instead of batting and rounding bases every afternoon around the corner with the other neighborhood kids.
In junior high, when I brought home physical fitness scores at the third percentile (meaning 97% of girls my age tested faster, stronger and more flexible than me), no one at home teased me or expressed concern.
Intrigued By Running
Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thir-ty...
What happened to me after age 50? My husband took up running, and when we traveled, he'd go out for a morning run and come back describing sights along the back roads near our motel. Intrigued, I gave it a try. I managed only a block or two at first, then five blocks, then ten, then a mile and longer and longer. Not only did I become comfortable exploring the way my husband did, being on a roll outdoors in fresh air brought enjoyment, at home and away.
When the sun is behind me, though, I avoid looking at my shadow because my running looks like walking.
When the sun is behind me, though, I avoid looking at my shadow because my running looks like walking, causing ripples in a shallow well of vanity that I'd prefer not to have. Yet if I focus on sensations in my body, I know I'm not walking.
When I run, my arms help my legs go forward by swinging side to side at the level of my hips. When I walk, my arms swing ahead and back as a result of my legs stepping ahead. And the two activities use different muscles. When I once injured my foot, it hurt to run but I could walk with almost no pain.
Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four...
I'm not competitive when it comes to money, houses, clothes, publications or cars, so what is this tickle of self-consciousness, this wave of disgrace I feel at my sluggish pace? Some younger runners glance at their watch as if at a milepost toward glory. For me, sticking it out for five miles, not any timed personal best, is what I most care about. Isn't there heroism in dogged persistence as well as in coming out first in a race?
'A Million Miles'
All the same, my meditative counting flunks as a bulwark against judgmental chatter in my mind and disparagement from the outside. Once a neighbor whom I'd never liked called from across the road, "Why do you move your arms back and forth when you walk?"
But there's a mental component too to my jogging, my loping, my trotting.
I glared at him, knocked off my numbers. "No, really, I'd like to know," he added. I couldn't reply "You dimwit, I'm not walking, I'm running," because his retort would logically be an astonished laugh. "You call that running?!" The neighbor's annoying questions lingered for the rest of that session, and indeed up to now.
Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eigh-ty, eighty-one...
Whenever I get to one hundred, I start at one again and turn down a finger on my left hand. Normally I easily remember whether all fingers and thumb down signifies one thousand, two thousand, four thousand five hundred or what. About five thousand five hundred equals five miles. Five miles, every other day – I've never multiplied it out, although another neighbor, a nicer one, slowed down in her car once and remarked, when her speed was even with mine, "You must have a million miles by now." "At least!" I joshed back and smiled.
So, Mr. Not-nice Neighbor, I do call it running. I figure that the longer I run five miles, the longer I can physically make it to five miles. But there's a mental component too to my jogging, my loping, my trotting. Serenity now would be great, not caring even a whit when I'm the slowest on the block. As struggles go, it's a small one.
Every other day I go run again and try not to protest against my shadow.