Why I Will Never Be “Athletic People”

I’ve been watching my mother run races and triathlons for years now.  I arrive with my dad and sister, crusty-eyed and cold in the early morning.  I almost always feel self-conscious amongst all of the “athletic people.”  They flex in their spandex and their calves ripple.  They pinch their bike tires, calloused fingers feeling the subtle swell and fall of the air inside, like a rubber heart beat.  They laugh and smile with their families, but soon, they are determined, and they are focused.  They do not pause, and they only smile again to encourage a fellow racer, and at the moment of their final stride under the balloon-marked finish line.

But this morning, albeit still bleary-eyed and chilled, I ran amongst them.  I ran an entire 5k, with a little bit of walking because I was stupid and ate half of a Lara Bar this morning, and then had to throw it up in the tunnel along the route.  That was gross.  It also made me feel slightly tough.  As in, my stomach is pretending to be Shawn Johnson right now, so I’m simply going to toss my cookies in a corner of a public pathway and continue on my merry way.

Despite the pause, and despite the attained toughness, the last mile was hard.  There were hills, and there were 85-year-old men passing me (humbling and awe-inspiring), and I was sweaty inside my oven of an Under Armour shirt.  But as I rounded the last bend, behind the grocery store, behind the dentist I switched from because he was a little drill happy for my taste, behind the car wash, the crowd came into view.  It was parted, and a narrow path — the path I was on — lay in the middle.  Let me tell you something I learned today: it is difficult to stop and walk when your mother is holding a camera, when people you know are cheering your name and people you don’t are simply cheering.  It is difficult, also, to pick up your pace and hurtle toward the finish with the best form you can muster.  But that’s what I did, because I have a — often deeply-buried — competitive streak.  I also just wanted to finish quickly so that I could stop running.

And so it’s over, and my legs are sore, and my running tights are streaked with vomit, but my friends, I ran a 5K.

Happy Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for bleach and for legs that can carry me farther than I ever thought possible.  And for pie, of which I partook with a relish that surely further deepened the gorge between me and “athletic people.”

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