Monday, March 12, 2012

How school almost made me hate running but then taught me to appreciate it

To me, gym class always seemed like punishment. I was short, overweight and painfully shy, so this loud, highly social class was always a struggle for me. If choosing teams in gym class were the litmus test for popularity, I was consistently the least popular kid in school--even though my volleyball serve was killer. None of that really bothered me, though. The only thing I was really, truly frightened of was the dreaded mile run.

In middle school, the "mile" was us running 9 and a half times around our school yard, where the gym teacher would heckle us as we plodded along, telling us that he sees a 60-year-old man out there every day running the mile, and we couldn't catch up to him at the pace we were going. That meant little to me then, because as an overweight 12-year-old, I could barely shlog a lap, much less run it. ("Shlog" is a word I will use frequently.)

I turned 27 earlier this month, and if I stretch my spine and keep really good posture, the top of my head can hit the 5'3" mark. I know for sure when I was 14 years old, I wasn't quite up to my full height potential, but was already pushing 150 pounds, and still couldn't run half a mile without stopping.

I went to one of the city's top high schools where the academics were rigorous, and gym class was no exception--I thought they were joking when they said we'd have written exams in every class. Besides the actually tests we had in gym, the teacher was... tough. She was a no-excuses woman who was rumored to be a retired drill sergeant. And she had us out running 4 miles in a single gym period.

If we didn't meet certain goals in one gym period, we'd be out running the next day. If we ran one day, but didn't meet the expectations set for us, we'd be out again the next day. Normally we'd know it was a running day because she would chase us out of the locker rooms and out the front door. Some days, we'd be settled into the gymnasium ready to do ANYTHING but running, and--surprise!--out the door we'd go for a 3-mile time trial. We were just out there, sprinting laps or trying to race the gym teacher around the track. I dry-heaved a few times at the end of a run, came close to vomiting more than once. Some kids did throw up on the track.

Running became punishment for me, and the idea that some people did this for fun absolutely boggled my mind. I watched the tall, lean cross-country kids glide along the track effortlessly, while I was running (shlogging) mile after mile with terrible form, in cotton T-shirts or sweatshirts and Payless-brand sneakers, with no access to water and a really, really bad attitude following me every quarter-mile.

Eventually all that running did pay off. There were other things going on in my life at the time, but by my third year in high school, I had lost nearly 30 pounds. I stopped skipping laps on the track. I still couldn't finish four miles in a gym period, but I could jog 3 without stopping. And over the summer, every once in a while once or twice a month, I'd even go out for a short fun run in the park near my house.

The seed was planted, but it took years to germinate and grow to its full potential. Even now, when anyone comments on my form, how far or fast or whether I should focus on intervals or weight training, I find myself retreating a little because it reminds me of the time when running wasn't fun. But then I get over it. Or put the volume up a little louder on my iPod.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's just blood

I've been planning some kind of epic first post outlining my motivation for starting a blog in a feeble attempt to make it different from all other beginner running blogs. To emphasize how I went from non-runner to halfhearted runner to oh-my-gods-I-love-being-a runner and all the road dirt and trail mud caked to my legs is something I should be proud of.

I'm still somewhere between "this doesn't suck so much anymore" and "halfhearted."

But (there always is one), I don't think I'll be running for a few days now, so I may as well use Post One for lamentations on why I won't be logging miles.

Last night, I heard my cat scratching up my sofa. We have two cats, the Wants-To-Be-Good one who weighs nearly 20 pounds and thinks sitting on our faces and purring like an engine is what we want him to do, and the Generally-Evil-With-Sweet-Moments one, who waits until we're in bed to scratch on the couch because he knows we won't do anything about it. Just look at that face... pure evil! Since this happens every night, normally I roll over, put the pillow over my head and try to ignore it. It was a cheap World Market sofa, anyway.

This night, however, is different from most other nights in that I wasn't so comfortably settled into bed that I couldn't get up to do something about it. In fact, my partner and I were watching a pretty depressing documentary about mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia when all I selfishly wanted to do was finish reading my book.

My partner swears he was going to tell me not to do it, but I grabbed a pillow anyway and ran into the living room. Now, I'd never actually hit my cat (and admit to it publicly), but he has an irrational fear of pillows being swung through the air in his general direction, and my intention was to condition him against scratching the furniture. Scratch the furniture, crazy pillow-wielding ladies will come after you. Simple enough for a small cat-mind to comprehend, yes?

On my clumsy amble into the living room, I felt my pinky toe scratch against something. It hurt, but I was on a mission. Jack, the furniture-destroying cat, was already hiding under the coffee table. Somehow I found myself on the floor clutching my foot and screaming about how I'd removed my toenail. For whatever reason, we have a brick propping the bedroom door open, and I'd kicked that on my way out the door.

My partner grabbed our backpacking first-aid kit, ready to use the skills we developed when we took a Wilderness First Aid course. While he was rummaging around for it, I peeked under my hand and tried to make sense of where all the blood was coming from. My toenail was fine. What I had actually done was ripped the tip of my pinky toe off. Once I had finished screaming (I'm not very good at dealing with injuries) and the river of blood slowed to a trickle, we irrigated the wound, dabbed some triple antibiotic ointment around the toe, wrapped it in gauze and tape, and crossed our fingers that the skin would reattach in the morning.

So far, so good. This morning, without investigated too closely and disrupting the healing process--or throwing up--everything looks like it's stitching back together. Hopefully it will stop throbbing and I'll be back on the trail by Monday so I can use my new running toy!