“Well, I’d better get going with my run,” the beau announced, shortly after waking up on Sunday morning.
“Your run?” I asked. Weekend runs were our thing, last time I checked.
“I really have to get serious about this half-marathon next month,” he said. “I gotta figure out my pace.”
“Right. Of course,” I said. Because I am the model of understanding and support.
Then: a pause. A long, jealous, indignant pause. If he was running by himself, where did that leave me? Huh? Forced to run alone? Made to stagger along on my own personal helltrek? Missing my partner in friendly workout competition? Compelled to push myself up long hills completely of my own accord? Utterly bereft of distraction, of companionship, of encouragement? Slowly army-crawling through a stranger’s front yard, leaves and sticks in my hair, inexplicably speaking in tongues?
Come on. Don’t act like it’s never happened to you.
“What if I just, like, ran behind you?” I brightly suggested. “I’d wear my headphones and I wouldn’t talk to you or bother you or anything. It would be just like you were running by yourself, except a weird person would be silently following you.”
“Um, I’m not going to make you run behind me,” he said.
I verbally threw myself down on the floor and begged. “Please! Please? I’ll be good! I won’t even look at you! You won’t even know I’m there! I promise!”
That old weary look crossed his face. “You can run with me. You can even talk to me. But just so you know, I’m going to try going a bit faster this time.”
“That’s fine!” I chirped. I enjoy a challenge! Boy, who doesn’t?
So we set out, briskly, merrily, and all was fine except I could have sworn we were running at a dead sprint. Every few feet, my body was like, “That was great! We won! We’re done!” Except we weren’t. We just kept going.
“It sure is clear today, isn’t it?” the beau remarked of the mountains rising to our right over red-tiled rooftops, saturated with every hue of green and set sharply against a sea-blue sky. Only I didn’t see them, because I was busy gazing earnestly at the broken concrete directly in front of my plodding feet, trying to figure out how I was still moving under my own power.
“Enghh!” I replied, in what I imagined was an affable, engaging tone.
14 years later, we had traveled four blocks. I briefly considered stopping right there; delivering a perky two-fingered salute and a chipper Smell you later! before turning heel and trotting back home. But that would mean admitting that I was unable to run at a higher level. It would mean admitting that I was categorically A Failure across the board. You know who would never get anywhere in life? Me, because I couldn’t match my partner’s pace that one horrific, life-defining morning.
Come on. Don’t act like it’s never happened to you.
So onward I slogged. By the fifth block I was audibly panting. Somewhere around block eight a stitch tightened in my right side. Breathe into the pain, I told myself, because I am nothing if not original when it comes to motivational quotes.
Somehow, one foot kept finding its way in front of the other. Strides slowly accumulated in agonizing miles. We passed house after house and neighborhood after neighborhood until finally we turned onto a small highway through a canyon that would lead us to the foot of a big hill.
By that time the sun had climbed to an unrelenting point in the sky. The only shadows cast were our own. We were solitary figures staggering across an asphalt desert as a white hot orb beat us mercilessly about the head and shoulders. Even when I closed my eyes, I saw light.
That stitch in my side had become a full-on cramp. No, it had become a gaping wound. An invisible person was swinging an invisible hatchet into my ribcage, cleaving a very real seam of pain through my torso. I tried to breathe deeper but I couldn’t take in any more air.
My internal motivational quote had been replaced with something to the tune of OMFG, OMFG, OMFG.
Even as we finally reached the very bottom of the big hill, part of me still believed I would make it. Call it blind optimism if you will, but I’ll call it for what it was: delusional. For the initial push I dug ever deeper, willing my legs to go.
That lasted all of 20 seconds before I gave in.
For a few seconds I just stood there, hands braced on my thighs, gasping. Then, suddenly, the craziest thing happened: my face crumpled in on itself and I started crying.
I once read a story where, right in the middle of downward dog, some emotional floodgates unexpectedly and inexplicably came crashing open and the author burst out bawling in yoga class. That was this. This was what was happening to me. It had to be, because there was no other explanation for my outburst than the exercise trigger. I didn’t feel sad or hurt. I was disappointed in myself, sure, but more than anything I was simply relieved not to be running anymore.
I wasn’t just crying, though. I was uncontrollably sobbing. I don’t know about you, but when I cry, I usually try to be as silent as possible. Not this time. This time I was openly blubbering. No, blubbering isn’t even it; I was more accurately possessed by a very expressive demon. When I wasn’t snarffling and snorting and hiccuping for air, I was emitting a keening string of vowels not unlike the sound I imagine a distressed walrus would make.
There we trudged up the hill, me loudly expressing my feelings and dimly wiping strings of snot with the hem of my shirt, and the beau following several steps behind in utter bewilderment.
“Babe?” he asked, tentatively.
“Aaannnggghhhooooooooooeeeeeeeeeaaghhhhh,” I remarked piteously, and frankly I’m surprised the bushes didn’t rustle and part to reveal a concerned walrus searching for his miserable friend.
Everything was too bright, and it was too hot, and I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t breathe,” I wheezed at the beau, except because I couldn’t breathe it came out more like, “AHGINTBEEETH.”
“What?” he asked, confused. “You can’t breathe? Why don’t you stop, then? Why do you keep walking away?”
I kept walking away because I had spotted one scrubby tree about 50 yards away that was throwing shade over the sidewalk, and by gum I had my little heart set on standing in that delightful-looking patch.
“It’s too hot,” I told the beau by way of explanation, except because I couldn’t breathe it came out more like, “EHSOOAWT.”
“What?” he asked again. “Stop walking!”
“EHSOOAWT!” I yelped desperately, between ragged breaths. I mean, Jesus, dude.
“Wait!” he said, getting a little frantic now. “Where are you going? Just stop for a minute!”
I tried to motion him on, but he wasn’t having any of that. He continued to trail me up the sidewalk, repeatedly requesting that I kindly fill him in on what was even happening, while I continued to alternately pant, wail, and mumble incoherently over my shoulder in his direction.
“Aaaaaaooooooooooonnnnghh,” I declared, and I’d be damned if anyone could convince me otherwise.
/// Cut to film of the local 6:00 news, where the beau is gazing awkwardly at the ground as a reporter holds a microphone in his face:
“I… I still don’t know what happened. One minute my wife was running, and the next she was possessed by a demon. Or a walrus. I couldn’t really tell, and I was afraid to ask.” ///
Over the next few minutes my heart slowed from 1,956,235 beats per minute to something more reasonable, like 827,449. I gradually stopped sobbing. Once I was able to speak English again, I told the beau I was very sorry for having ruined his half-marathon training. I encouraged him to go on without me and he finally agreed. That freed me up to go home and lie down on the couch, instead of right there on the side of the road like I was strongly considering, but home still meant I had to make it up that hill.
And boy, that was interesting. Have you ever walked up a hill before? I know I have. In fact, due to naturally-occurring variances in the elevation of our local terrain, I do it quite frequently. Cramazingly, I’ve even successfully run up them before — but shhh, we’ll not speak of that again.
This time, I couldn’t. I simply could not go anymore. My legs were like flimsy pieces of wood being jerked to and fro on strings by a looming Geppetto in the sky. Even when I was finally on flatter ground, I kept having to take breaks. Breaks! From walking! Leaving me standing there in the middle of the sidewalk with my hands on my hips, trying to act natural, and leaving passing pedestrians to gape and wonder why some creepy sweaty weirdo with snot stains on her shirt was standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, not moving.
It took me forever to get home.
It’s been a few days now, and still don’t even know what happened. My feelings and my legs got all broken all at once. On one innocent Sunday morning, everything changed. Friends, this is why I’m here. I need to share my story. I need to tell you the truth about running:
DON’T DO IT.