This I Believe

Patricia - East Greenwich, Rhode Island
Entered on May 8, 2007

I Believe in Running

I believe in running. But not for its cardio-vascular, bone-strengthening virtues.

I came late to running. When I was 42, I moved to Costa Rica with my family and found that an old dog could learn new tricks. I packed the name Patty away in a box and unfurled the more worldly “Patricia.” I learned to speak Spanish. I forced myself to do things that terrified me, like give speeches to large groups of strangers. The new me decided she needed a physical challenge to match the intellectual ones she’d been tackling. I registered to run a 5k race.

Of course, I had no intention to actually race. I’d be happy to cross the finish line standing. I began to train for the event. It wasn’t pretty. Eyes bulging out of my head, knees creaking, I’d deviously exchange running with walking. One day I was deep in thought when I began my run, and stayed that way during the entire slog. Suddenly, I was back at my house, and my watch showed that I’d run the two miles faster than usual. But what was more amazing was that I had no memory of the actual run, only what I’d been thinking about, although that too would fade after a glass of water. Instead of dwelling upon how sore, hot or tired I was, my body switched to auto-pilot, setting my mind free to mull over vacation plans, practice Spanish in my head, and appreciate the riotous tropical scenery that the physical torture of running had forced me to ignore.

That first 5k race was a killer. The course was hilly, the weather uncomfortably warm and sticky. Eight-year olds zipped by me with ease. My legs were Jello; my throat burned; I wanted to quit. The final few hundred meters were steep inclines, but when I rounded the corner and saw people cheering for me and the other runners, I knew I’d make it to the finish.

Since returning to the States, I’ve continued to run–not particularly far or fast, but consistently. Serious runners balance speed work with endurance training and tempo runs; I do not. When illness forced me to give up running for six months, I mourned those early morning jogs. The minute my doctor said go, I did. As I turned out of my driveway and settled into a an easy loping pace I started to think, not hopeless thoughts about my weakened condition, not about whether I was cured, when my hair would grow back, or how I’d wean myself from a smorgasbord of medications, creams, salves and ice packs.

No, I thought about the dream I’d had last night in which my hair was waist-length, like it had been in college. Which made me think about my daughter heading off to college in the fall, and then about creative ways to pay tuition now that our finances were in shreds. I thought about finding the healthy person I once was, reinventing myself from scratch.

Thoughts bend time and melt miles, flying in every direction. Sometimes I work out a knotty problem while running, arrive at a decision, snatch an idea out of nowhere, and if I’m lucky, hold on to the fleeting bits of brilliance. I chase after memories, zigging and zagging across time, my mind racing in ways my body never will. I pass zen-like through space, amazed at how much turf I’ve covered in a handful of hearbeats. Anxiety is banished, I’m briefly bullet-proof and I believe anything’s possible. Thanks to running.