I have about 400 things I want to say about running. Thoughts on your comments, thoughts on other posts I've read, thoughts on thoughts I've had since I wrote last, ETCETERA ETCETERA. But first I thought I'd tell you about one of the most humiliating moments of my life thus far, because I think it will tell you where I'm coming from with the running thing.
It starts like this: I ran cross country my sophomore year of high school.
(You: DROPPING DEAD OF SHOCK.)
I suppose "ran" is putting it a bit forcefully. Let's amend that to: I was on the cross country team my sophomore year of high school. I was by no means a worthwhile addition to the cross country team, but I went to the practices and I went to the meets and, two or three times, I actually ran in the races. (Again: "ran" is not quite the appropriate word.)
I was new in school. Lots of people were new. This Air Force base in northern Italy was doubling in size due to some sort of nearbyish ethnic strife that I, quite honestly, was oblivious to. There were so many Americans sent to this corner of the world that the town quickly ran out of housing. People were living in pensiones, smaller temporary apartments, until houses opened up. My family, being too large and not high ranking enough to quickly get into a regular house, lived in a pensione for about six months. It was a two story house- one family on the top floor (ours) and another American family on the bottom floor.
Carlos, the oldest child in the family underneath us, was, for a long time, the only friend I had. He was a good looking and friendly guy, a year above me in school. I'm not sure we would have been friends except for the fact that we were the only Americans we knew in our town. You weren't allowed to drive here, even if you were 16 and had a stateside license. You couldn't drive until you were 18. And with so many people living so far away from the base (I knew people who lived closer to Austria) there wasn't much of a social life outside of school. Unless, of course, you played sports. EVERYONE played sports. This was my problem- I didn't catch on to this phenomenon until it was too late. If you didn't play sports you had to go home on the regular buses as soon as school was over. If you played sports, you stayed after school for practice and then took an "activity bus" home.
I was too insecure, introverted and intimidated to join a sports team. I wanted to play basketball (I'd played the year before at my old school, even though my new school had totally mercy-ruled my old school in the regional tournament the year before and I was TERRIFIED), but basketball was a winter sport. The fall sports were volleyball and cross country and I 1) had never played volleyball in my life and 2) had no idea what cross country was. So I intended to sit it out and be my fearful lame no-friends self until basketball rolled around and hopefully some of those girls would take pity on me and be my friends.
But Carlos was on the cross country team and he thought I should join. "We run!" he said. "That's all there is to it! You don't have to know anything, you just have to run!"
"How far?" I asked.
"About three miles," he said. And I choked on my Fanta and blew him off. I mean, COME ON.
I was bored, though. And sad. I didn't like this new place. Carlos thought I needed something to do. "Join the cross country team!" he kept saying. "We need more girls. We could really use you."
I kept laughing at him until he told me that if I joined the cross country team I could go on trips to places like Milan and Rome and Naples. Well. WHY DIDN'T HE SAY SO?
So I joined the cross country team, way after the deadline for participating in fall sports, even though the coach, a Mr. Wickkiser, clearly understood that I was not a runner, not even close. I now wonder if I filled out the team so that the other girls' scores would count in the races? Maybe I did fulfill a purpose!
The girls on the volleyball team were incredulous. I'd gotten to know a few of them, and later they would become My Friends, the girls on the basketball team. Some of them were real athletes. We traveled with them and I watched their matches while I sat in the gym stretching for the cross country meet. As I watched those volleyball games I knew I'd made a mistake. I could have learned to play volleyball. It actually looked super duper fun. I might have had FRIENDS had I joined the volleyball team. I should have just sucked it up and been brave and tried out. Instead I was stuck on the cross country team. RUNNING.
And OH. MY. GOD. I was a sucky runner. I am certain Mr. Wickkiser spent a lot of time coaching the other kids, who were actual runners and good ones, but with me he adopted defeated sighs and half-hearted smiles. I remember running inside on a treadmill when it was raining, but mostly I remember running on an endless trail through corn fields right outside the base. We were told to start here and end there and no one was around to see what you were doing in the middle. I ran a little bit, sure, but I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I got tired. I walked. I didn't know when or how to push myself. I didn't care. I knew I had no business on a RUNNING team. After a while I decided that the way I would get through this horrid season of cross country would be fulfill the Cheerleader Role for the other girls and live up to my Not A Runner status. No one expected anything of me, so I didn't expect it from myself.
I think I only ran two races. The last race was the big one, with all the schools. Usually no one was around to watch the cross country team, but we traveled with the volleyball teams and this was regionals. EVERYONE would be there.
Including my best friend from sixth grade. We'd gone to the same school in Sicily, and when that base closed, she moved elsewhere in Italy and I'd moved to the island in the Atlantic. I was excited to see her, even though we didn't keep in touch anymore, and she'd become some kind of Sports Star, as tall skinny girls are wont to do. She was on another school's volleyball team and I was looking forward to catching up with her after all this silly athletic stuff was over.
So then I was running my race. Thank God there was another girl just as slow as me, and we kept each other company for most of the race. We shrugged at each other when the girl who eventually won lapped us. And I wasn't too crushed when my new running friend pulled out ahead of me in the last few minutes, but that meant I came in last. LAST. At the huge giant cross country race, watched by all the cool volleyball players and my sports star former best friend. Not only was I last, I was really last. I think I've blocked out how long it was between first place and last place because it was THAT BAD.
The worst part was that my former best friend didn't even really look at me. We didn't hang out after that. And she never wanted to talk to me later in the year either, when our basketball teams would face off. I used to think she was ashamed to be seen with The Girl Who Was Last. I have different ideas about that now, but at the time I was mortified. Humiliated. Never ever ever going to act like I could run three miles ever again.
Mr. Wickkiser gave me his relieved blessing when I informed him I would be playing volleyball the next year. I'd made a few friends during basketball season and I knew how things worked. And would you believe I was good at volleyball? I wasn't tall enough to spike or fast enough to set, but I always got the ball over the net and I loved going to practice. I had the best time, and I didn't forget to root for the girls on the cross country team. I'd hang out at the finish line after my match and think, "My God these girls are INSANE. Three miles! Ridiculous! I will never ever be the kind of person who can do that."
A few days ago, before the stomach flu hit, I ran two and a half miles on my treadmill. And I was ready to keep going if Molly hadn't woken up from her nap. It's a silly high school story, a much more dramatic impact in my memories than hammered out on a blog, but the fact remains: I never thought I'd run one mile on my own, because I wanted to, much less three. And I'm almost there.