The Ire of the Long-Distance Runner (or Why I’m Glad to Walk)

Today’s the kind of day where you wish the legwarmers you see in the stores actually looked good. There’s a reason the 80s went out of style!

I had missed my outdoor walk yesterday because my nose refused to stop sneezing. There’s something about your eyes streaming and nose running that makes a person want to stay in just one place.

All the over-the-counter meds I took didn’t start working until 7 pm last night. It’s amazing how mad your legs can get when you don’t use them.

So today I was even more eager to get outside despite the threat of rain. It not only makes my legs happy, but it gets my brain working. I find myself thinking of all sorts of things while ambling around the trail.

It was on a particularly prairie-like portion of the trail today that I suddenly flashed back to other Septembers back in high school when I was in cross-country.

I swear I used to run faster before I joined the team. I remember chasing after an older cousin of the tall, lanky boy type who had dared to squirt me with water at a family picnic. Boy, was he surprised when I caught up to him!

But running as a sport never occurred to me until a coach at my high school saw me run during ordinary gym class. My fate was suddenly sealed into practices, meets, team photos and team jerseys.

I hated it.

Our school was small, so the cross-country coach was a science teacher pressed into service. He’d ride his bicycle alongside us during practices and tell us to hurry up. We ran on city streets with no sidewalks and lots of traffic and through fields bristling with irate Dobermans. We did countless wind sprints up and down stairs.

We’d be dropped off in unfamiliar woods, split up and play “tag,” and find our way back to the checkpoint. I get lost in my own neighborhood; this was not fun.

We’d run on the thick sand next to Lake Michigan to build up our condition, or whatever it was that I didn’t build up because by the time we’d run over to the beach, I was walking. I had a compatriot who’d walk with me and we’d arrive back to the school an hour after everyone else to face impatient parents. Oops!

Our meets with their long bus rides ran past their expiration point into the snowy season, or at least it seemed one notable day with killer hills, slippery woods, blinding flurries and a 19-below-F wind chill.

That was two years after I’d started with the team. That was also the day I quit. I waited until I crossed the finish line–all the other girls on the team dropped out; one had fallen over another who’d collapsed in the woods–but that was it for me.

Yet obviously something had kept me going through those two years. Was it a sense of integrity? Was it knowing deep down inside that this was a good thing? Or was it knowing that this was something I not only could do, but wasn’t that bad at?

I never qualified for anything, but I could sprint, and overtaking someone sprinting ahead of me was awesome. My personal best time for two miles was 16:08, and though that time could never win, that day I was proud and my coach was proud, and that felt great.

Meeting people from other teams was great too. Even though all the schools were rivals, we paired up with another small school against the big 4-minute-mile guys and military academies. It was fun to hail friends piling out of their buses and hang out before going back home.

Looking back, cross-country itself wasn’t that bad either. I think being in that sport has trickled down to what I’m doing today. I’m getting out there and getting my needed exercise without the benefits of being in an organized, coached sport. The team camaraderie here at work is doing the trick far more than it ever did back in high school, but I learned about teamwork back then.

And maybe someday I’ll pick up running again, but for now, walking suits me just fine!

Pic (and good article!) from here.

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