Weirdly, I find myself running. I say Weirdly, because I’ve never been that kind of person. I don’t have time to go into all the reasons, so you’ll just have to believe me. It’s weird.
Oh, I’ve tried running before. I would huff around the block once or twice, get tired, and tell myself I wasn’t cut out for that kind of torture. Or my left foot would get tense. How could I possibly run with a tense left foot? And so on.
And then I started to put on a little weight. Not a lot, but enough to notice that my favorite clothes were no longer comfortable. I checked my Body Mass Index, and came out a hair over healthy. Just a hair, but I could see where things were heading.
My Mom was heavy, and she only lived to 71. Her medical problems included a host of issues that have been correlated with being overweight. That scares me.
Around this time, I had just gotten my first smartphone. I found a cool app that monitors your eating. Having to answer to your phone every time you carve yourself another slice of pie turns out to be hugely motivating. With my phone as my conscience, I started losing weight.
The first pounds dropped as easily as getting undressed and leaving your clothes in a heap at the foot of the bed. But then I hit a plateau.
I had been going to the gym four or five times a week for years, a holdover from the time in Vermont when my doctor ordered me to lose weight. But I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually worked up a sweat there. (Mostly, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of watching morning TV; we don’t own a set, so I have to get in fix in somewhere.) I’m not stupid, so I knew that getting past my plateau would require ramping up my workout. But the prospect seemed so…tiring.
Then one Sunday morning we couldn’t reach our daughter on the phone. When we finally did get a hold of her, she confessed that she had been secretly running a half-marathon. Why secret? You’ll have to ask her. The point is, I took the news as a challenge. If my kid could do it, damn it, so could I. Not a half-marathon, mind you. That would be ridiculous. But some kind of running.
I started slow – walk a little, run a little. Sometimes I went outside, but mostly I did it at the gym, relying on the trusty treadmill to measure the miles and control the incline (that is, keep it flat).
The last pounds dropped off. I reached my target weight, and celebrated by buying some new clothes – a couple of pairs of pants that actually fit, a pretty dress that shows off my newly bitchin’ bod, and some pricey running tights to replace the cotton yoga pants that absorb my sweat, and then feel like crap.
To justify my official costume, I started running like a maniac. Still sticking to the treadmill, I quickly upped my mileage from 1 mile to 1.5 to 2 to 2.5 to 2.75. The day I hit 2.75 miles, I felt wonderful all over. Except for my left calf, which was bruised and swollen and painful and hot to the touch. I freaked out and called my doctor, sure I was about to die from a blood clot. (It would be poetic justice for the very thing I was doing to buy a longer life to be what cut my life short. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to write about it.)
Turned out, though, that I was fine. I had just overdone it. My doctor, who has never ever discussed life style or preventative health or anything like that, insisted that as long as I could, I should definitely keep running.
Facebook friends offered advice. Another friend left an offering on my front porch: two books about running. With my bad calf iced and elevated, I read, and realized what I’d done wrong. I had increased my mileage too quickly, and hadn’t given myself time to rest. There was a weird breathing pattern I should use – inhaling for three footsteps and exhaling for two, so the same leg doesn’t receive all the extra force that comes with exhaling. The book also gushed about the joys of running outside in such glowing tones, I felt envious.
So yesterday I tried it. I walked David to his bus, and then I took off, up Broad to Pawtuxet Park, where I looped around on the grass to check out the sparkling water. Then I headed over to Fort and out to the end of Seaview, where every yard has a flowering tree, and the tulips are at their peak.
By now, about a mile and a half into my run, I had the strangest sensation. I was no longer thinking about my legs. They just were doing their own job, while my mind and I were going along for the ride. It was like being on a bike. And not pedaling very hard. Then I realized something else. My breath had fallen into the rhythm the book recommended. Three in, two out. I wasn’t even doing it on purpose.
At the end of Seaview I paused to admire the harbor and do some stretches. I didn’t feel the particularly tight, but it seemed like a good idea. Then I started home.
My route took my past Stillhouse Cove, which ends in an uphill slope to our street. I remembered some more advice from the book: keep you pace constant; when you’re going uphill, just take smaller steps. I hardly noticed the hill.
I wasn’t ready to stop yet, so I decided to run past the house a few blocks, and then turn around and walk back home. Give myself time to cool down. Walking back, I felt exhilarated. I did a few more stretches on the porch, then went inside, drank a tall glass of water, put my legs up, and calculated my route. I had run 2.63 miles, 0.6 miles longer than I had planned.
Call me weird, but I’m sold.