It all started innocently, back at the beginning of junior high when I was twelve. Like many kids, I walked to school on my own. Unlike most, I lived so far away, it took nearly an hour to get from my front door to the school campus. Riding a bike would have been quicker, but I hadn’t touched one of those contraptions in two years—ever since an accident had left me with fear, fake front teeth, and perma-scars. At first, I spent my morning walks zoning out—until I realized it probably wasn’t the safest thing to have no recollection of crossing any of the main roads. I began to time myself, trying to walk particular stretches faster than before, making it a game while staying connected to my surroundings.
By the end of the school year, I could be placed anywhere along my route and be able to tell you exactly how long it would take to get to that one house with the dog, or the next cross walk, or the edge of the school grounds. In some cases, I could even give you an exact step count. And these were the days when backpacks were actually used for lugging around textbooks. It was a good workout, five days a week. I felt strong and confident.
Then came eighth grade with a new-to-the-school track program. I joined … and pretty much sucked. Running was hard. And not too much like walking. I loved it anyway. That’s when I suspected I was one of THOSE people.
In high school, it only got worse. Like most, the school offered track and cross-country. I’d always imagined myself as a sprinter, flying down that 100-yard stretch with wings on my feet and wind through my hair. Plus, practices were shorter and you didn’t have to run as much if you didn’t do long distance. I was smart, I thought. I was in control. I could handle a little bit of this running stuff. But there was a problem: I still pretty much sucked. I wasn’t fast enough within those short spaces. And I had a craving for more.
Next year saw me as a part of the cross-country team and as a mid-distancer for the track team. Ahh, the 800 and the mile. For those two, I’d do anything. I even relearned how to ride my bike; we had moved too far away for me to walk to school anymore, and I couldn’t miss out on my 7 AM running class. I may have been an average runner, but I was addicted. In my junior year, I finally hit that runner’s wall. And broke through. If you run, you know what I’m talking about; if you don’t, well … it’s kind of like you’ve run until your lungs have fallen out somewhere behind you and you think you can’t move another step, and then someone hands you fresh lungs and a whole bunch of chocolate cake laced with caffeine. And you just take off. It’s a feeling like no other. That year I earned my “Most Improved Runner” award. I was hooked for life.
As an adult, I have run through sun, sleet, rain, and snow. I’ve run with children strapped to my back and to my chest, with a double-stroller filled to capacity, and with my tummy occupied. All at the same time. I’ve run races, run streets, run tracks where twelve laps equal a mile. And I’ve run into walls, fallen on newly chipped-sealed roads, bit dirt on trails, stumbled over my own feet, and hobbled home bloody. I’ve crossed finish lines, won medals, used inhalers. I’ve made goals and broken personal records.
Now, it’s a family issue. My ten-year-old is going to be faster than I am. Any day now. And my five-year-old can almost beat him. My only hope is to get them with the distance thing. They like to sprint. I know better.
I can’t even pretend I could give it up any time I wanted to. Because I don’t want to. And if there’s a ten-step program for the condition, I hope it’s up a hill and has some laps involved.