The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 29, 2005


How slow can you go: Confessions of a strictly mediocre runner

The calendar says that spring begins with the spring equinox. Sometimes it feels like spring begins with daylight savings, or on the first day that the temperature climbs to fifty degrees. For me, spring began this year on March 31. That was the first day that all the snow — save for a few maverick piles here and there — had melted off the roads, which meant that I could go running.

The fact that I wait for spring weather to go running makes me the exception, at least in Carlisle. All around me are die-hard athletes who hit the roads year-round: snow, sleet, hail or heat wave. I'm a fair-weather runner of sorts, but it's not because of the cold or the precipitation; it's because of the roads themselves. In a sidewalk-free town, there's no place to get out of the traffic when the sides of the roads are buried. So I stop running with the first snow accumulation and take the winter off. Come March, it's a wonderful feeling to get out on the road that first snowless day.

In a community that brims with accomplished athletes — from runners and cyclists to fencers and soccer players — I find myself in a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, I'm in good company. Whether I'm at the post office, the playground, or Parents' Night at kindergarten, I can count on finding people who will talk about running with me. On the other hand, I'm surrounded by experts in the field whose mere presence reminds me constantly that I'm strictly amateur at this pursuit.

The thing about running is that I'm committed to it, but I'm not, by conventional standards, very good at it. More people than I can name have said to me, "You don't look like a runner!", which always strikes me as slightly snide but true. I love getting out on the road for long stretches of time — forty-five minutes, an hour, even two hours at my longest distances — but I won't even consider training for a marathon. In fact, I greet the day after the Boston Marathon with relief every year: finally the rest of us — those of us not gearing up to do twenty-six miles any time soon — can face the roads without shame.

"But haven't you ever thought about training for a marathon?" I'm sometimes asked. "Or even a 10K?" The truth is that I go running for the solitude and the serenity, the lack of pressure and the fact that I can do it on my own schedule. Races require you to be at an exact place at an exact time and run a predetermined distance, all within a herd of runners moving elbow-to-elbow. It's exactly the opposite of what I like about running. Merely hearing descriptions of the 45-minute lines for the portable rest rooms at the start of the Boston Marathon convinced me I'd never, ever consider taking part in that race.

A friend and I were talking recently about the importance of doing things you're not particularly good at. Her daughter's teacher had said in a conference that the daughter was developing perfectionist tendencies and needed to know that it's all right to take risks, make mistakes, be second-best or third-best or even worst. It's a hard lesson to teach, the teacher agreed. But she also said that parents can model this behavior by taking part in activities at which they notably do not excel.

I like to think that my running is a fine example of doing something you're not too good at because you love it. I'm slow. I'm not particularly high on lean muscle mass. My legs are short. But it's something that fills an inexplicable need. As a mother of young children, I spend most of my day surrounded by people and commotion, attending to requests for a snack, phone calls, dishes to wash, and yet another chorus of "Baby Beluga." On some level, am I simply running away? Sure I am. Running away from household chaos. Running into the serenity and solitude of the long, quiet roads of Carlisle. Running on narrow winding back roads, wide well-trafficked main roads, wooded trails, gravel footpaths. Running to be outside, by myself, on my own. Running for no reason at all. In some elusive way, that's always been what running is all about for me.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito