What I Learned from my First 5K

The formative moment in my running career is a failure to pace and subsequently puke after a grade school event it took me many years to live down. While I can run, I am no runner. Still, I aim for a modicum of fitness and when my daughters’ school hosted a 5K as a fundraiser, I signed us all up. Here’s what the experience taught me.

  • Forcing children to run is never really a good idea
  • Keeping said children up late the night before to stuff their faces with refined sugar at a s’mores fest . . . you tell me
  • Children will still show us pathetically fit adults up – despite the last two points
  • You can go farther in a slow jog, but not as far as you would think
  • Even the slow-motion jog – one step up from power walking – can become excruciating after awhile
  • I must apologize to all old women of whom I’ve ever made fun for power walking
  • There are many muscles in the pelvic girdle
  • They will all hurt individually if you decide to pound the pavement
  • The physical therapist who put you back together after birthing your third child was a genius
  • You should have continued doing her exercises
  • The young and fleet of foot will lap you before you’ve completed even one revolution
  • Walking 5K is not as wimpy as you initially thought
  • Breezing past the officials at the checkpoint fools no one; they know you walk as soon as you reach the cover of those trees
  • You will hit your stride just in time to finish
Jennifer Butler Basile

Ironically, this year is probably the last I was in shape.  Photo by Jennifer Butler Basile

Fitness Fatale

So I joined a fitness group.

For some people this would be a non-issue. Simply an added tool in their box toward a fully healthy lifestyle. For others it might be a cause for congratulations. A turn in the tide of an unhealthy lifestyle. For me? It’s anathema to my usual way of life.

Don’t get me wrong. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I make nutritious food choices. I try to stay active with my kids. I fit a yoga routine into my schedule when I can. But physically fit? No. Able to leap buildings in a single bound? No. Able to run farther than the end of my street without vomiting? No.

My husband’s cousin was always posting inspirational quotes on Facebook. Posts relating her physical endeavors to internal strength and fulfillment. As someone always searching for a higher state of being, I was naturally drawn to her posts. I wasn’t about to start doing PiYo, but I’d take a daily dose of encouragement and it was refreshing to see someone working so earnestly to improve her quality of life. Then I made the mistake of telling her so at a family cookout. When I joked that I was going to hire her as my life coach, she said, ‘oh, I’ll have to add you to the list for my online fitness group.’

Me and my big fat mouth.

Now, my husband’s cousin was very clear that she wasn’t out for world domination, but a renewed level of fitness after two children and a hectic lifestyle. However, her level of ‘out-of-shape’ as a former alternate on the Olympic ski team was probably equal to mine at its best.

Still, I signed on when I received her notification and read the group’s description:

“It doesn’t matter if walking is your thing or base jumping off of Mount Blanc.”

Quite a range! But walking? I could handle walking. I joined.

If nothing else, it’s made me more aware of my health. Her ‘Thirsty Thursday’ prompts made me more conscious of my water intake everyday. Seeing other women’s endeavors made me want to partake of and share my own. Admittedly, my first two days were my best, as ‘operation normal’ quickly seeped back in after that, but fitting in fitness is still at the forefront of my mind – if not my feet.

I tried to run through the soft sand as I escorted my youngest to the bathhouse at the beach. I pulled my knees to my chest as I floated in the water, trying to flex my abs. I pushed my legs through the water, tensing against the resistance.

Little steps.

And then there are the days exercise works itself into my day organically.

Yesterday, my girls and I met some friends at a local pond for a swim. The swimming area is strung off by the red and white floats of the summer camps of my youth, the ones that have ingrained in me a nervous sensation if I swim too close, as if that rope barrier keeps me safe from the depths on the other side. It was this marker that a little girl’s beach ball floated past on the wind that skimmed the waves. The little girl had been floating around our periphery, trying to engage my girls and friends in play. It was us she enlisted when as her ball swiftly moved away. Very swiftly, in fact. By the time she got our attention, it was well past the ropes. After a harried mental debate, I instructed my girls to stay put with their friends and their mom and swam toward the ropes. As I ducked under, my adrenaline surged. It wasn’t an emergency, but the way the girl was crying for her lost ball, you’d think it was. Plus, it could very well turn out to be an emergency with an unfit mother attempting a long distance swim. The evening news headlines ran through my head as I pulled strokes: Local mother drowns in area pond after suffering cardiac arrest. Witnesses report they heard her calling as slipped below the surface, ‘I thought I could do it. It didn’t look that far.’

Fortunately, that’s not how the story ended. Unfortunately, the wind carried the ball across the water faster than I could swim. I stopped halfway and looked back to the other mother I’d come with, who was waving me off, telling me to throw in the swimsuit. I took one last look at the ball as it skittered away and stretched my legs out under me, realizing I could touch bottom. I walked back the distance I’d just swam.

I went to the little girl who cried at her grandfather’s feet by the shoreline and apologized. Her grandfather thanked me and said, “We told her it’s not safe to chase balls.” Maybe he should have told me that. Still, I got in one lap at least and lived to tell the tale. It’s always a good day when fitness isn’t fatal.

You Can’t Catch Me . . .

It’s cool to run. Jamaican bobsled team

And, no I don’t mean that as an allusion to Disney’s lighthearted take on the Jamaican bobsled team, though I can see Doug E. Doug’s goofy grin right now.

There is a movement in motherhood right now to run.  It seems to be the mode of fitness that’s all the rage.  And not only do they run, but they write about it.  Blogs on mothering and running are popping up all over the place.

Always one to eschew trend (or at least be snarky enough about it to try), it irritated me at first.  Let’s all run and share our times and trials and how we balance that with motherhood.  Woo hoo.  Jump on the bandwagon.

What’s with all these fit people!?  And what the hell does it have to do with mothering?

Then, I met a mother, who for all intents and purposes, was single for the next six months.  Her husband was deployed, leaving the task of moving cross-country to her and their three children.  I wanted to collapse just thinking about it.  She did have some family support and a great sense of humor, but it still was a trying task to say the least.

She told me how one day she asked their eldest to watch the other two so she could go for a run.  ‘I just had to get out,’ she said.

Suddenly, I got it.

Mothers run so they won’t run away.

I’ve mentioned before how my favorite scene in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is Ashley Judd escaping to a motel room.  Maybe running – even if only around the block – provides enough of a catharsis to make coming back around the bend possible.  Enough of the venom sweats out the pores and steams out the ears to return to stasis.  The legs know they can propel us forward if needed, the pistons fire.  We can move of our own volition.

Muscles atrophied from marathons of criss-cross applesauce; pelvises pushed out of whack from babies on hips; Lungs exhausted with wasted breath.  When it runs, the body remembers another purpose.  It remembers its former master and serves her for at least a little while.

I am not a runner.

I am the girl who, upon reaching junior high and meeting the kids from the other feeder elementary schools, was remembered by my performance in the sixth grade Olympics – as in “aren’t you the girl who puked after the 800?”  Pacing?  What’s that?

I am the woman who hates being reminded of that fact that her butt is not what is used to be by the jiggling that follows her down the hill when she does run.

But I have noticed the feeling of exhilaration when I stretch my legs and pump my arms and fill my lungs.  Even if it’s only chasing my toddler down the street to the bus stop, I feel the strength and feel as if it can carry me even further.  And not away – but to push my limits, see how much I’m capable of, feel some sort of strength when in all other ways I’m beat down.  To shift the pain from my head and heart to the burning in my thighs, the constriction in my lungs, the stitch in my side.

Don’t worry.  I’m not going to start sharing my best times and workout routines.  It would just depress us all anyway.  But let me just say to all the mother-runners out there, I get you.  Even if I can’t be you – I get you.

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