It was middle of summer break from my sophomore year in college. And while the outside sizzled at something like 99° F, I was comfortably cool, hanging out in my parents’ living room in Charlotte, North Carolina. As the afternoon progressed, I was quickly becoming one with the couch while learning entirely too much about replacing rotted trim, appraising antiques, and painting little happy trees (my parents hadn’t yet succumbed to the power of Cable TV).
As I channel surfed between my six options, I realized the early onset of boredom and decided it was time to be a little more productive. Generally, “productive” for me meant re-cleaning my mom’s cleaning (she isn’t a slob, I’m just obsessive). But since I had been home for a few days, everything had already been cleaned at least three times over. Plan B usually meant reading a book or a magazine, but my butt really didn’t want to be sat on any more. As I contemplated on a Plan C, my eyes unexpectedly fell on the dark corner of the hallway closet. There lay my very white running shoes, hardly been used since the senior year of high school. I had spent $59.99 for them, expecting to be part of the high school track team. However, that plan never materialized and I accepted them as a sunk cost. I never really got over loosing my sixty dollars though and promised myself to recover the cost some other way. Well, today must have been my lucky day.
As my body moved about to put on socks, change clothes, tie laces….I realized my brain was saying, what the hell are you doing!!!? It’s an oven out there. And you don’t run. Have you lost your mind!!!?? My level of boredom must have been very high, since I ignored all these thoughts and stepped outside ready to run anyway. As soon as I opened the front door, I felt the gust of hot afternoon air hit my face and I felt the hair on my body burn and shrivel with the heat, but before I could change my mind, I closed the door behind me and took off.
Well, took off is a slight exaggeration. You see, I hadn’t stretched and was really unaware of how truly bad I was at this. I sprinted down the drive way, passed three houses on the sidewalk, and I was done. Stick a fork in me someone. I was sweating and out of breath. As I switched to a slow walk, I almost blurted out loudly, how can this be SO HARD!? I mean, it’s just running. It’s using my legs that I have walked on all my life; just moving them a little faster now.
This is when the miracle happens. Instead of turning around to escape the heat, the sweat, and the over all loss of faith in my legs, I started to run again. This time I ran past another few houses and again stopped to catch my breath. After repeating this about three times, I was finally at the end of the street (about .2 miles). Instead of turning around, I turned on the adjoining street and kept repeating the walk and job sequence, till I came full circle, back to my front door. I had just run the .7 mile circumference of the neighborhood. I was exhausted, thirsty and drenched in sweat. I lay on the cool foyer floor inside the house looking past my quickly rising and falling chest, at the running shoes on my feet. Just how many times do I have to do this to recoup my sixty bucks!?
Next day, while squirming with self inflected pain I put on the shoes and took off again; this time waiting till the heat had dissipated a little. I wasn’t any better the second time around but at least it wasn’t a surprise. I waddled on for another few days, until finally I was able to run the .7 miles without stopping even once.
This was almost six years ago and I’ve since run several 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, and even a half-marathon. However, none of these really match up to my victory with the first .7 miles. It will always be the best day of my past and future running years no matter what I accomplish. That afternoon I was running against myself. I had somehow managed to push aside the thoughts that had asked me to turn back. Over the years I’ve tried my best to make that voice switch sides. Now it mostly encourages me to run for one more minute, one more hill, or one more mile.
I am on the fringes of a whole world that is unknown to most people. I still have so much more to learn about this sport (especially that sixty bucks for running shoes was a bargain). I want to run more and I want to run better. Although I know I’ll never be great, I am content to know that I am less bad than last week.