It’s not a race

The title is a nod to Paul at Message in a Bottle for his brilliant description in the opening paragraph of a scene that happens about daily at our house. Usually it happens when the kids are racing to do something and one smells defeat and realizes the only way to save face is by calling off the race. She shouts “It’s not a race”, as in “I don’t know why you care so much about getting there first because I always hurl down the stairs at breakneck speed.”

The whole calling off races thing also happens regularly in my own head, and is why I heard my dear husband say “It’s not a race” every time I warned him to look for me towards the back of the pack in a race I ran last weekend. Because really, it wasn’t a race I had any chance of winning.

You know who won? A 22 year-old Kenyan with a 4:50 pace. You know who came in second place? A 30 year-old Kenyan with the same pace, but a two-second later finish time. Two seconds.

I did not win this race, nor did I break any personal records. I thought I might, but my pace on this 5-mile race was almost identical to when I ran a 4-mile race last June, which is in the 10 minute-and-some-change range. The Kenyans could have doubled around and run the course twice and still would have beat me.

Running is humbling stuff.

I do not feel a part of the whole running scene. I’ve tried. Last spring I joined a running group that meets at a local track and started out the slowest runner and remained that way until it got light enough in the mornings to return to solo running. Once the group hit the streets when the track was iced up, and I found myself running alone in the dark with no idea which street the rest of the gang had turned down until they doubled back around.

As a friend pointed out, someone has to be slowest. I will probably go back to running group in late winter to find motivation and work on speed. As the same friend pointed out, think how good I make the second-slowest runner feel. I am just doing my job as Top Caboose.

Plus, I love to run! I love the surge of warm energy that flows through my body for hours afterwards. I love the freedom I feel when I only need to worry about myself. I love listening to music and skipping through songs without running it past a committee first. I even love the burn in my legs and lungs when I’m chugging uphill because I know I get to run down one next. It is greedy, selfish alone time and I love it so fucking hard I want to stop typing and go put on my pink sneakers.

I could just stop running races. I could just run on my own and go from finishing in the bottom 25% to the top 100%. I’m not doing this for the free soft pretzels or t-shirts, though those are nice perks and the races always benefit good causes. The most compelling reason I sign up for races is they motivate me to keep running.

And even finishing in the bottom 25%, this last race felt comfortable, if not easy. The course was a winding mix of flat and hills through local streets I’d never been down before. I enjoyed the scenery of old houses and smiling neighbors and kids ringing cow bells on front porches and generally feeling alive and part of something bigger. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself.

I’ll take a break from races until next spring at the earliest. I already signed up for a big bridge run next fall, but that has special significance and it’s a chance for me to run with my younger (faster) sister. I’ve thought about trying a 10-mile run in the city, but I honestly don’t have time to train for that with my work and family schedule. Not this year, and again, it’s not a race. I will continue taking my sweet old time because that’s kind of my thing.

I wish I didn’t realize how slow I run compared to most people, but I also believe there’s a lesson about perseverance and acceptance and humility that I haven’t quite learned yet.

I want to share this picture my husband took as I neared the finish line this weekend. The course ended with a lap on the same high school track where the running group meets. Something about hitting the soft, familiar surface with crowds of cheering people and the end so close in sight gave a dizzying high. I saw my husband and two girls in the stands and felt like I was running home.

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Warm and fuzzy math

If you had told 7th grade me I would one day use math every day at my job, I would have said get the fuck out, minus the fuck because I was a pretty good kid. I was not good at math, though, and in fact struggled so much I was downgraded to a class for math misfits. I muddled through, with strong hope that I would at least not need to remember algorithms and linear equations. And I don’t, but I do a lot of simple math every day.

Yesterday I went back for the third time to the early morning runner’s group I joined to learn to run faster. The first time I showed up late and had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Everyone else ran really fast and I left feeling pretty discouraged. The second week, I showed up on time but didn’t understand the directions and everyone else ran so fast I lost the group altogether and felt even more discouraged. Walking back to my car, I started talking with a veteran member, who told me his pace one day increased mysteriously. Yesterday I showed up and again didn’t really understand the directions and again was passed regularly by herds of runners who remind me of light-footed gazelles. But yesterday I also beat my old personal record from October. I did some math and calculated a 27% increase in speed from when I first got my running watch in June. I’m elated and motivated and so glad I didn’t give up.

I’m also doing the Camp Nanowrimo thing this month, though I’m only 6.7% through my self-prescribed word count goal and already 10% through April. I’ve decided I won’t get 100% bummed if I don’t make it because, you see, for the first time ever I’m sitting down to write creatively and so far I love it. Plus I still have 90% left of April. And please don’t correct my math if I’m wrong because I didn’t even do any better in that 7th grade class for math misfits. I transferred back out because if I was going to get a C in math, my parents figured it might as well be in regular math.

I’m reminded once again why it’s important to stick with something. Oftentimes I have this quiet but persistent voice in my head telling me what I’m doing won’t work and why. Occasionally, another voice that is never my own will offer another point-of-view. It will tell me I can get faster or write something substantial and all I have to do is keep running and writing, though never at the same time. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other or huddling over the keyboard in my spare time (ha), I may one day not recognize myself anymore, but in the best possible way.

Random stuffs

I’ve decided in the back of my head that once I hit one year of sobriety, I might stop going to meetings. I’ve thought this for a little over a month now, and I’m honestly not sure what my motivation is. I don’t want to drink again. I think I’m just afraid to get more involved and the group mentality is starting to turn me off. I technically should keep my one-year secretary commitment, and I probably will. I’d also like to stick around through August because my home group will celebrate its 20th anniversary and there will probably be cake (more on that in a bit). It’s a small group, really. We meet at a church about a mile from where I live. The first spring we lived in our house, we bought an oversized novelty wine glass at this same church when they were having a rummage sale. The irony of this escaped me until just now.

My kid’s birthday party went just fine and the clown did a fantastic job painting faces and twisting elaborate balloon creatures to life that popped a lot less than I was expecting in the bitter cold the day turned out to be. The clown showed up without makeup because she confused me with another client who specifically requested she come that way so the younger kids (and parents?) wouldn’t get scared. She looked like a nice, normal woman in a ponytail, dangly earrings and black pair of those athletic shoes that are supposed to give you a nice butt. I was equally disappointed and happy that she came looking less like a clown and more like someone’s mom. She made some really wonderful things with balloons. The kids seemed to have a great time and kept asking to take their jackets off because they were too warm. My grandmother kept complaining about the cold and how far away we live.  The party was a mixed bag.

After the party was over, I failed to feel the flood of relief that it was over. I sat on the couch that night watching a dumb movie and waiting for the relief to wash over me. In the movie, the main characters kept meeting at a bar and the camera kept showing them take thirsty gulps of beer. This bothered me almost as much as my inability to feel relief. I can best describe it as feeling restless. I’ve always been irritated when people say “life’s about the journey, not the destination” but I have this phrase stuck in my head. There is a lesson in all of this that I am just starting to make out beyond blurred edges.

Since mid-March I’ve lost 11 pounds through a combination of eating and running. Not at the same time, though that would be pretty awesome. I am about 5 pounds from my goal weight so naturally I celebrated by eating a bunch of cake this weekend. It strikes me that the way I binge on sugar is like how I used to drink. Something about wanting something and indulging with no thought to consequences is so seductive. It’s a I want what I want when I want it kind of thing. With cake, I can not eat cake the next day and get on the treadmill and sweat away a serving of cake, which, eww, sounds gross, sorry. But I can’t treat alcohol as casually. It is absolutely true that my relationship with alcohol over time always got worse, never better. The verdict is still out on cake, but I am sure I will keep testing my limits there. The only thing I have left after that is porn and nail polish, and I will be holding fast to those.

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