Sunday, May 26, 2013

Running on empty

I’m not a real runner. Which does not explain how I recently found myself attempting to run 3.1 miles — in a row — on a hot Sunday afternoon at Napa Valley College.
However, I do have a treadmill in our garage. And when my long-standing love affair with chocolate was threatening to send several pairs of my pants to Goodwill, onto the treadmill I went. I got an app on my phone that monitors my walking with a green bubble that counts each step. Once, after some fast walking, a little purple bubble popped up to report that I’d “run” 420 steps. Hmmm. If that was “running,” how far could I run for real?
Three months later, I had an industrial-size fan and TV to keep me company on the treadmill. I was counting those purple bubbles and working my way toward three-mile runs.
Meanwhile my column companion, “Gal on the Go” Michelle Sander, was literally running circles around me. She ran in Washington, D.C., she ran at Disneyland and she ran at a combination rave/race. Michelle made running look like fun, especially when she brought home race schwag such as Tinkerbell medals and Tiffany necklaces.
That was it. I figured if I could run three miles on my treadmill, surely I could run 3.1 miles at the Napa Valley College 5K Race For Education. How hard could it be?
Real runners: Go ahead and have a good laugh now.
Lucky for me, I had no idea what I was getting into. But that Sunday, arriving at the start of the race, I began having buyer’s remorse. What am I doing here? What made me think I could do this? Who are all these spandex-wearing people? And where was the nearest porta-potty?
And then we were off. Squeezing in between runners, walkers and baby-joggers, I realized immediately I was out of my element. My normal bouncy treadmill stride was nowhere to be found. My legs felt like jelly or lead or both. I knew my feet were moving, but was I actually running?
I’d barely hit the first turn and already I was sure I’d made a big mistake. I had planned to use my normal peppy running soundtrack on my headphones to help me keep pace, but at that point, I was in no mood for Prince’s “Baby I’m a Star.”
The clapping people, high school bands and cheerleaders on the sidelines were of no help either. I could barely acknowledge them. Do not distract me, people, I am on a mission here, and if I look up I may veer off course and into a ditch.
And then we hit the first hill. OK, it was more of a slight incline, but in my panic, I couldn’t imagine running up it, let alone past it. I slowed to a fast walk. I’ll walk only to the water station, I told myself. After a few sips, I willed my wobbly legs to start running again.
Oh Lord, I’m going to collapse for sure, I thought. I hope there’s a nice paramedic nearby to help peel me off the pavement. They’ll have to inform my husband that I will not be crossing the finish line. I hope someone has a stretcher and a cool bottle of water.
As I hobbled along at my snail’s pace, it seemed like every other runner was passing me by. I was running so slow, even a race-walker passed me. I’m going to be last, I just know it, I thought. Would I even finish this grueling slog? Had I reached the halfway point yet? I longed for my treadmill and my nice dark garage and fan and TV.
The route twisted through the campus. The switchbacks up and down different sections of the parking lot were like torture. After what seemed like hours, I noticed that I was actually heading back toward where we had started this death march of a run.
Finally, I could see the finish line. Don’t stop now, I told myself. Somehow, my rubbery legs kept running as I turned that final corner. I was going to make it. I was actually going to finish. Crossing the line, the announcer called out my name, which made me smile in spite of myself.
There was my husband with my water bottle. Go get your medal, he said, pointing to people holding out ribbons to all the finishers. I took it and immediately put it around my neck. It wasn’t Tiffany silver but it was mine.

No comments: