I am a runner. I haven't always been one. In fact, I came to it somewhat late in life. It started when my second child was a year old. His older sister was at preschool, he didn't need a morning nap anymore but was too tired and cranky to be much fun in the mid-morning, so I would put him in the jog stroller and started to run. At first it was only a couple of miles, but it grew, especially when I discovered it was the perfect antidote to the dropping-the-morning-nap crankiness. For the first mile or so he would look around quietly, for the next 2-4 miles he would doze, and then wake up during the last mile and play on the playground while I stretched. And by the end of the summer I realized, *hey, I run a lot on a regular basis, I could do a 10-mile race*. And so I did.
I am not a particularly fast runner, but I am not slow either. Running works for me because I am uncoordinated and lack agility. You don't need either to run distances. You just put one foot in front of the other and try not to trip (which happens sometimes but I persevere). It helps to have the right gear and I confess I have become one of those weirdos who have three pairs of running shoes. All identical. Now that I have asthma I also have to wear something to cover my mouth and nose when it is really cold out. Although it is a loud multi-colored stripe I still look sinister...or goofy, especially when I am wearing a headband to cover my ears and sunglasses. Before I accepted my status as *runner*, as opposed to *occasional jogger* I would be concerned about how I looked. Now I don't care. This is evident in my appearance before, during and after I run. Not only does my attire leave a lot to be desired, my hair and everything is simply unattractive. And I don't care.
I can't say I would necessarily have chosen running as my exercise of choice. Instead I think that it chose me. It was so...peaceful. Quiet. Really quiet. The kind of peace and quiet I hadn't had in four years, since my first child was born. So my son and I continued to run together and once he outgrew the stroller (and the dozing) and had turned into an ornery three year old...four year old...five year old... I kept running. Not only was it peaceful, but I could choose my own music to play on my iPod for the first time in several years. I realized that there are no children asking you to make them a hot dog when you are on the running path. If you come across some siblings squabbling you just run on by and it's not your problem. The only messes I see are from dogs, and since it's not my dog I just keep on going.
It gives me a window of time when I am by myself without anything else I can do but...run. For me, that's what makes it different from walking. When you are running you can't multitask. You can't talk on the phone, check your email, send or receive a text message or schedule appointments. I can't be out for a run and pull over to the side for a few minutes to make sure no one needs anything (okay, I could, but when I am running I don't want to. I just want to get.it.done).
I do a lot of thinking while I run - what I need to do with the rest of my day, how I am going to fit it all in, pending projects and so on. Sometimes I think about people I am irritated with. How they make me so angry and I need to let them know as soon as this stupid run is over (which I never do, because once the run is over I feel good and the top priority is a latte and a shower). But the fact of the matter is, I can't stay focused on that for too long because inevitably I need to think about...running. These thoughts are usually not pleasant. Popular running thoughts include: *this sucks, I wish I was done*, *this sucks, my hamstring hurts*, *this sucks, I can't breathe*, *this sucks, my foot hurts*, *this sucks, I can't believe I am only at mile two and have four more to go*, *this sucks, my knee hurts*, *this sucks, it's freaking cold out*, *this sucks, it's freaking hot out*. There are many more, but you get the picture.
There are also some good thoughts in there because I see some amazing scenery. I am fortunate to live in the Washington DC area and have such fantastic places to run. Where else can you do a six mile loop and see Iwo Jima, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and that crazy white box, the Kennedy Center? Sometimes I literally get choked up, and not just from lack of oxygen. I am also amazed at the wild life I encounter. On the tow path in Georgetown I regularly see blue herons. And every time I shake my head (while running, being careful not to lose my balance)and think to myself *a freaking heron, go figure*. And the people are also entertaining. Out on the W&OD there is a guy who ran without shoes. I understand that is now the *in* thing to do, and it is supposedly *orthotically superior* (I also make up new words on my runs). However, *dude*, it's February. For the love of god, put some shoes on. And my all-time favorite so far - Mr. I-am-taking-shots-directly-from-my-bottle-of-vodka-in-the-middle-of-the-day-while-I-take-my-walk-with-my-dog-on-the-W&OD. With my lack of balance and coordination I almost veered off the trail into a ditch in shock.
My goal for 2011 is to run the Marine Corps Marathon. When people ask me why I respond - 26.2 miles of no kids and peace and quiet. What other reason do I need?