A Runner Is Born
I always knew there was a runner inside me. When I was a chubby kid in elementary school I'd regularly win the 50 yard dash on Field Day. Then puberty hit, and back in the ‘60s there was no such thing as a sports bra, so that was the end of that. But I was never a self-conscious kid. Photos show a happy, pudgy little girl - - - I thought I looked just like my statuesque Barbie dolls, and no one ever told me I didn't.
The women in my life - my mother, grandmother, aunts - were rotund in that Italian mother kind of way. Soft and fluffy, they'd never done anything remotely athletic in their lives besides competitive clearance rack shopping. My friend’s moms were the same. Weekly trips to the beauty salon to get curled and lacquered with hair spray, always in ladylike dresses.
I developed a crippling case of shyness in high school when it became clear that fat Girl Scouts who spent all their time in the library were not winning popularity contests, boyfriends, or dates to the prom. But the school was big and it was easy to hide, and I had loving friends.
In my tiny college in chilly northeastern Connecticut, I played tennis occasionally, walked anytime anyone suggested it (anything to get off the all-women campus and away from the nuns for a while!) But I also gained the freshman 15 and added on the sophomore 25 for good measure. After college, it was bars, beach, a desk job, more bars. My sister and I played racketball for a couple of years, but we'd always go out for drinks afterward!
Over the years I’d gone from chubby, to chunky, to fat, to obese. I'd lose weight for a while but always put it back on, with a few extra pounds as a bonus. I even reached Lifetime membership with Weight Watchers and spent a year going to aerobics classes four or five times a week. My 15 minute of fit!
My husband (The Pirate) and I moved from New York to Washington, DC right around that time. I had a new job I didn't like, in a city I didn't love, no friends or support system, and no idea how to go about meeting new people. So I cooked, and ate, and hibernated, and undid all the good I’d done. By the time I retired in 2014, I'd long since decided to be happy with the body I had because apparently, that was the way I was made. I avoided mirrors, dressed in “slimming” black, and pretended I didn't care.
But then I moved to northeast Florida. All around me I saw active people walking, running, riding - - - just being outdoors and enjoying every minute of it. I'd read about Couch to 5K training in a magazine in a doctor’s office. It lit a tiny spark inside me that began to grow into an itsy-bitsy flame. So I downloaded a C25K app and gave it a try. Holy crap I loved running! I was only running for a minute, but I was running. It took a second start a few months later and a gym membership for crummy weather, but I completed C25K and moved on to C10K.
I felt powerful, and I could not stop telling people about my new habit and encouraging them to find the same joy I had found.
On May 11, 2015, I ran my First Race Ever (always capitalized, of course!) a small local 5K for charity. I was a nervous wreck. I mean, I wasn't a “real” runner - I was just somebody who ran around the neighborhood or on the treadmill. I didn't really know whether I was doing this whole thing right! I chatted nervously with three young women, telling them it was my first race and that I just hoped I'd finish. I did finish, and those three girls waited at the finish line for me cheering. For me! And hugged me and congratulated me as though I'd just won the race. The big bonus was that I came in second in my age group. That cemented it. I was a runner and no one could ever take that from me.
I continued running that summer, still riding the high of that second place age group run, and I signed up for a 10K, at a more professional, larger event that included a 5K and half marathon as well, and would send off about 2,000 runners. The race happened to take place on my 60th birthday. I ran the C10K training app again and showed up that early January morning with jangling nerves wondering whether I really belonged at this REAL race. But when the gun went off, I began to run, grinning like an idiot at the sheer joy of being in the middle of all the REAL runners and realizing I was a REAL runner, too. I ran every step and stayed to cheer for the runners crossing the finish line for the half. Heading towards the parking lot, I passed the stage where the awards were being given for the 5K, so I decided to cheer for those folks, too, and then for the 10K runners. Then my name was called. I'd come in second in my age group again. When I finally left, after cheering for the 13.1 winners (loudest for the woman who won the whole thing!) I called The Pirate to tell him I'd survived. And couldn't talk. I got as far as, “honey I won…” and burst into tears. He actually thought I'd won the 10K until I got home and told him the whole story. Oops.
Running has given me a new sense of myself as a strong, competent and independent woman who can do absolutely anything. I've had setbacks and disappointments, but I will not stop. I’ve recommitted to Weight Watchers, not to fit in a particular size or to see a certain number on a scale, but to make me a better and healthier runner.
The icing on this very wonderful cake has been the Badass Lady Gang. I'm pretty sure I'm the doyenne of the group at age 62, but these wonderful, supportive and ridiculously funny women are no strangers - they're sisters. Throwing lemons, tipping canoes, running literally all over the world for the love of one special Badass, crying together over a very wet Boston Marathon finish - I can’t wait to meet as many of this group as possible in real life.