7/15/10

Run Lola Run! This Geek Laces Up the Running Shoes Again

Part One: Built Like a Brick "You Know What" House

Exactly ten years ago from the moment that I am writing these words, July the third, 2010, at just after midnight, I was a very svelte person. Ten years ago, I ran almost every day of my life for fun. I ran in the heat, because I loved to feel the sweat drip down my body, which my mother and sister agreed one random hot day that summer was, and I quote, “built like a brick sh*#house”. I stood in front of a long mirror while they sat on the bed and I said, "Really?" Despite the year of hard work I had just put in on my body, being recognized for being in good shape still felt very very foreign. Plus I had just realized the true meaning of the funk song, "Brick House". Astounding.


I wore tank tops that exposed my clavicles and tiny waist, shorts that showed my petite thighs (!!!), and anything that complemented my very short hair. Because back then, I never worried about having to use blush and long hair flung about just so around my neck to create a more defined jaw line.

I’m thinking about it, because my ten year high school reunion is coming up. And fast.


Ten years ago, I had just finished my senior year of high school, in which I ran full seasons of both cross country and track. After that year of hard work, I was actually fast. So fast, I could keep up with many of my male friends on jaunty long distance runs down country roads that wound in and around massive corn fields. Granted, they likely would’ve been jogging leisurely, while I may have been firing all pistons. But still. It was possible to keep up with them.

I started running as a child, in true A.D.D. fashion, countless laps around my house just to see if I could do it.  Never be sad if you have a hyperactive child, it doesn't take much to amuse us. Then in seventh grade, I tried out for cross country after a gym teacher told me I had an aptitude for running after I got going so fast doing warm-up laps around the gym that I went flying head long into a full body somersault landing on my back. Leave it to a gym teacher to see great potential in physical harm. When her head appeared in my field of vision after the little cartoon birds stopped flying around me head, she didn't ask if I was okay. She looked excited, immediately adding, "Have you thought of trying out for cross country?!"

That day, a very little, very nerdy, very frequently made-fun-of me found something that I could do better than the girls who teased me all the time. When they were sputtering to the finish line, sweaty and miserable, I was there waiting for them, having beat them there by minutes. This is likely because I hadn't hit puberty yet and therefore my energy levels knew no bounds. But still. Finally. A triumph. Being hormonally challenged had actually paid off for once. I ran that season, then all summer after that, with the music from, “Mortal Kombat: The Movie” as my soundtrack coming from a cassette tape in my Walkman clipped to my shorts. A geek from the get-go, I taped the end credits music on my Mom's giant silver boom box directly off of the television as it played on the VHS tape.

Then in eighth grade, I quit not soon before the season ended. I don’t remember why. (Yes I do, I hit puberty and running was actually hard for the first time.) I didn’t run again until my senior year in high school.

The summer after I graduated high school, my physical fitness peaked. I used to run over hot tar bubbles for fun just to hear them pop when out running the roads in the middle of the day. When I heard one of my fellow teammates say that summer, “It’s too bad you’re not going to be here next year, you’ve actually become one of the fastest girls we’ve got,” I swelled with pride so great it could’ve made me cry. Because I cared deeply about running. It was the first and only non-geek thing I have ever been good at. Decent enough anyway.

But it wasn’t just running. I loved to hike, to walk, and to adventure in general. To go to state parks and county parks and town parks and find dirt trails with roots sticking up out of the ground and just sort of forge onward to nowhere. Often times, going out alone before or after work to run. Back then, I always kept a spare pair of running shoes and a fresh round of workout clothes in the trunk of my 88 Sundance. Which, just FYI, was once endorsed by Tina Turner herself. You can't say a car endorsed by Tina Turner was uncool, or so went my defense back then. I loved that car with the fire of a thousand suns, down to the Salacious Crumb beanie baby that hung on my rear view mirror and the Batman pez dispenser that I taped to the dashboard. Anyway.

During my senior year of high school, I felt another one of those great swells of adventurous pride when several of the girls I was out running on back country roads with went white in the face and began screaming at the sight of a little garden snake that was slithering across the road at just the wrong time. Which I promptly sauntered up to, picked up, and moved into the grass. If he would've had a bottom, I would've patted it as I sent him on his merry way. It was just a little baby, likely mortified by the shrill and piercing screams of the terrified giant legs dancing inexplicably around its slippery frame. They couldn’t stop talking about how they couldn’t believe I had actually touched a snake, to which I replied, likely with a bit of ego, “Honestly, I don’t know what the big deal is, it is just a harmless little garden snake.” I may have forgotten to mention that my sisters had owned several pythons over the years growing up and that this is where my lack of fear came from, and not, in fact, as I tried to make it seem, from my extreme bravery while I put my hands on my hips and posed like Wonder Woman.

That same summer, I used to go climbing up vertical dirt and rock walls illegally without proper training or equipment because I loved the sensation of being at a great height, finding a foothold or a handhold and climbing up a cliff, albeit a minor one, and pretending like I was Indiana Jones at the end of, "Temple of Doom". Friends and I went through a phase where we did nothing but climb this one random dusty cliff for fun. One of those days, as I hummed and sang softly to myself a little Fred Astaire tune called, “Don’t Monkey with Broadway” and shimmied up the incline, my boyfriend at the time looked over at me, a few feet away while also scaling our own personal little Mount Everest and said, “You are so cool.” And I could tell that he meant it. And it was good.


I liked to do sprints and keep my times on a wrist watch my father bought me, a watch I still have. I liked to ride my bike, a graduation gift, an old fashioned one just like Minnie Driver had in, “Return to Me” and feel the wind on my face. In short, I essentially lived outside. A far cry from my Gollum-like indoors existence today, permanently plopped in front of my laptop typing away. I may or may not be developing that translucent milky skin that blind cave fish have...

But back then, I liked what all that hard work had done to my body, and I couldn’t believe that the person in the mirror was  actually me. I’d never been overweight per se, but I was also a slightly pasty and plump musical theater geek for most of my life. My unusually active senior year had made me proud in a new way. So proud to slip into my gauzy white prom dress. To go shopping for pants without being reduced to tears in the dressing room. To wear those little tank tops all over creation and not be overly concerned about my disproportionately large bosom, which has recently made it's return with the weight gain and makes me feel like Margaret Dumont. Not that it's a bad thing, I'm just saying...I can't wear a tank top nowadays without flashbacks to "Duck Soup".

Back then, when I went to see the just-released movie, “X-Men”, I could actually, in some small way, identify with the female action heroines of that movie. I felt strong like them. Cool like them. Tough and brave. Like them. Ten years ago, my lifetime of watching characters like Ripley and Marion Ravenwood had paid off in this extremely satisfying way, because I felt like them. Even though I wasn’t. Not really. I had never fought an alien or a Nazi or an anti-mutant act by Congress. But if the need would’ve arisen to do any of those things, I felt like I at least would've had a shot at victory. (Okay, maybe not so much with the alien...but you get the idea.)

But here it is, ten years later, and I’m not so cool anymore. Not so ready for anything. Less feisty. Maybe I’m cool in different ways. Literary ways. Geeky ways. “A decent base of general science fiction knowledge” kind of way. But I now lack that mind-body connection, that puzzle piece to my geekiness, that window into my inner Indiana Jones. I’m scared to run. I’ve had a decade full of medical problems, including being diagnosed with something called, “snapping hip syndrome”. Sounds like something only diagnosable to a Looney Toon, I know, but I have it. I've had every nerdy little girly man injury I can think of short of my orthodontist calling me and issuing a fresh round of head-gear.Which I wouldn't count out.


One of the reasons why I love film so much, adventure in particular, is because I want to live an adventure. It’s also why I love theme parks, for the safe thrill, the illusion of living some exciting and magical course of events. Running used to give me the same feeling. A chance to live the adventure.

Here the narrative went briefly abandoned in a fit of ennui...but it picks up again today...

Part Two: Less Brick House, More Inflatable Bouncy Castle - The Psychoanalytical Side to Physical Fitness

It’s over a week later since I originally wrote this, it’s July 15th today. I’m happy to report that I’ve been running the past four nights in a row. Last night, in particular, was a high point. Sure my body is aching, my hips are weary, and the scar tissue in both of my calves from old injuries and procedures is stinging. But last night, Jake took me to a local middle school and while he was shooting hoops, I was running around a track. For the first time in a decade, the unique smell of sweet grass and soft track tar filled my nostrils. I ran a mile without stopping, plodding along. And I kid you not, I felt myself under these twenty extra “first year of grad school” pounds, coming alive just a little bit.

I had the nerve to schedule a doctor's appointment to get my blood tested for thyroid disease, because there was no other possible way that I could put on twenty pounds so quickly, right? Couldn't have been the stress of school and work, the cookies, the dining out, the drinking of sodas...no, it must be some blood disorder that caused the puffiness, the shifting jeans sizes, and the larger sized head brought on by weight gain. Right? Sure...

Though my atoms and muscles have reconstituted themselves a little bit more toward the, shall we say...softer side, I am, in fact, the same girl who ran miles and miles on cross country courses and country roads and tracks. It may sound silly, but it’s easy to forget that you’re still you when you have your head down working toward these strange goals that you’ve created for yourself. I’ve been sacrificing so much living this past year to prove something to myself…maybe that the harder I worked the less my family and friends would think I was a loser who should just get a regular job already.

By the way, nobody thinks that. I blame my distinctly Eeyore-like inner monologue. My family and friends regularly state that they are proud of me and excited for me. But somewhere along the way, I’ve lost that “Kick some rear!” mentality that I used to live in so comfortably and I have apparently started apologizing for my geekiness. Feeling suddenly ashamed and needing to prove to others that my trips to theme parks and my sustained interest in going to the movies all too often is justified. I guess I started thinking that if I didn’t have something in a magazine every month or if my book wasn’t published yet, that I should be embarrassed and have to explain myself. Funny how the tiniest little movement in your rudder can steer you so far off course. I’ve stopped seeking adventure myself and just started writing about women from movies who are living the adventures I long to have. A case of transference methinks.

In many ways, I’m doing things that are more exciting than I ever could’ve dreamed for myself ten years ago when I graduated high school. In other ways, I’ve become surprisingly meek in my temperament. But I don't want to pull an "Uncle Rico" and live for the glory days of high school.

Garth would tell me to, “Live in the now!”

Starting to run again has made me realize how important it is to make time for myself, which I shudder to report, because it’s so cliche. But I need time to watch my adventure movies, to read my comic books and most of all, to run. A girlfriend told me this week that she felt God say to her in that still small voice, “Just be yourself and I’ll do the rest.” I haven’t been able to let that go. It feels so right. And my self is an adventurer, a runner, and a geek all rolled up into this weird little package of over-enthusiasm and excess energy. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to re-define myself, stop stressing out over trying so hard, working SO hard to “make it” and just be myself already. (A dangerous proposition, no matter how noble, as my "real" self is frighteningly close to Molly Shannon's Mary Catherine Gallagher.)


Even after high school, for the first few years of my undergrad, I ran half marathons and full marathons. Those days may be behind me, the days of truly competitive running, but there’s no excuse for not getting out there and seeing how fast I can run a mile every now and then. Working up that even layer of sweat and seeing my skin flush red with effort.

I think I’ll get back to my original running inspirations. When I was a kid, it was the X-Men, in junior high, Mortal Kombat, so I do believe I’ll construct myself a very special geeky playlist for my iPod and just keep running. Not for the physical results, but for the feelings it inspires.

After all, ten years may have come and gone, but I’m still the girl who loved to adventure. Twenty extra pounds or not, I’d like to pop tar bubbles again. I need to pop tar bubbles again.

If it shrinks my Margaret Dumont-sized chest...I'll consider it a happy side effect.


2 comments:

  1. Even though you've been out of the running game for a few years, I still see you as a fine runner. You'll always have the Jones to get out there and take to the streets with or without shoes. I'm proud of you for never stopping in your legitimate quest to chase down your action adventure dreams.

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  2. Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!

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