The urge to pin a number to my shirt caught me unawares. It was a cold and stormy evening, a miserable April Saturday. My ten year old son had been training all winter for the 5K. The Endurace, they called it. The name was apt. The gun blew at six pm, as did the sleet, the wind and the runners. 263 of them across the line, down the road, along the lake, up a slow, merciless incline, followed by a steep hill. By the time my son came gasping down the hill, 21 minutes and three seconds later, I was nearly in tears.
And weirdly, I wanted to be part of it.
There were people in much worse shape than me in the race, people panting, people not finishing. And there were families running together. My boy came in first for his age, 33rd overall. But before the race, he quoted Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner to me: “We run because it makes us feel like winners – no matter how slow or how fast we go.” That’s what I wanted. I have no idea why.
I ran at the age of thirteen or so. Ran a gruelling 10K that started with a punishing hill, saw me in the lead briefly partway through the course, and ended with me coming across the finish line in tenth place. I’m not sure why I stopped running. I remember it hurt but like childbirth, the pains have slipped into fuzzy memory.
Starting again has something to do with skiing too. This past winter I discovered the joys of cross-country skiing, and skied compulsively, joyfully three times a week. More if I could get it. And then the snow melted – and I was the only sorry person I knew. My skiing was ponderous. OK, it wasn’t, but it felt like it compared to the Olympians slicing up and down hills, like bears were chasing them. Me, I just kept shaving minutes off my time gradually, enough to be drenched in sweat and smiles, but not enough that I lost the opportunity to look at the changing sky, and to hear the sighs of the wind in the trees.
So today, I arranged a stop at the sporting goods store where our only purchases for the last eight years have been for my husband and kids. The sporty members of the family. Today, it was my turn. First, I found shoes. Good, sproingy shoes, shoes I pray will cushion my back from further injury. I have a numb left foot from old herniated disk issues. I am not calling my physiotherapist for permission on this one. I may regret this. I picked out my first white socks in more than two decades. Sporty socks. For me. And then I moved to the clearance rack, looking for clothes that will wick away moisture. My husband found me looking at baggy black stuff. Try this, he said, holding up a turquoise shirt. I did, along with a magenta shirt. I ended up going with the pink one and a pair of black shorts.
Look at me, I said to the kids. I’m your new Athletic Mom. They agreed – or humoured me – that I looked the part.
A friend with a herniated disk said to start slowly – run a minute, walk a minute. Our award-winning runner agreed to train with me – on the condition that one of my new pairs of socks could be his. He ran at his pace and I ran at mine. He called back encouragement and ran ahead, lightly. “What do you think?” he asked eagerly. “Are you enjoying this?” My cardiovascular was pretty good from skiing, but my legs, even in sproingy shoes, were lead weights. “No,” I replied. “But I’m not hating it either.” I ran my first minute pretty well, walked it off, ran another a little more slowly, walked, and then didn’t manage the whole third minute before my leg started to hurt. We ordered chicken and fries for dinner. This is not our usual fare.
All evening, I kept my running gear on. Our neighbour, who will be running a marathon next week and who has had bleeding toes and tears, stopped by to talk with my husband. He can tell I’m a runner now, I said afterwards.
After the kids were in bed, my husband and I went out for a walk. Only tonight I ran a block and ran back to him, walked a minute and ran again. And this time I managed four sets.
“I like this,” my husband said. “You’ve got a sparkle about you.”
“It’s a runner’s high,” I explained.
“You broke through the wall?”
“You have no idea,” I said. “We run because it makes us feel like winners. No matter how slow or how fast we go.”