Note: This post was originally an entry in my personal journal, written less than two months after I went on medical leave and about a month after I started running per my doctor's recommendation. It is about running. It is also about much more than running.
Every time I run, I have the same memory play in my head as I start to get in my stride: when I was in grade 4 or 5 and the only girl to volunteer to run the 800 meters at our annual track meet.
A few years earlier I had been declared the fastest girl in class after a race around the field for P.E. For some reason I thought I was still fast enough, and that running 800 meters would be no problem for me.
It's strange how much I remember about that race. I remember my dad telling me I needed to be practicing in the weeks before, couch potato that I was. I remember him telling me that I needed to start out slow, or I wouldn't have enough energy to speed ahead and win at the end. I agreed to his wisdom, eventually.
But on the race day itself, the need to prove myself quickly voided Dad's good wisdom. As we were lined up, another, older girl talked to the boy from my school running in the race ahead of me. "Who's running the 800?" she asked. He nodded in my direction, and she sized me up She had permed hair and cool accessories, and an athlete's solid build. I was skinny and awkward and had thin, straight hair (anathema in the late '80's, early 90's).
"Is she any good?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders and somehow (I don't remember if in words or whispers) informed Miss Amazing that I was the only one who had volunteered, and thus the only one running from our school who had not qualified by trying out.
By the time we were lined up, it was desperately hot outside and I was equally desperate to prove to everyone that I deserved to be there. So when the "Go!" was given, I set off in a blaze of speed, ahead of Miss Amazing.
But only for a moment. Very quickly I could feel that it would be all I could do to finish the race--winning would be the least of my concerns. As we made the first round, I saw my dad parked with his work truck on the other side of the school fence, watching me race.
I knew I was going to disappoint him. I had not practiced, and I had not paced myself. I was going to lose, and badly. Which, of course, I did. I believe I came in dead last, which was bad enough, but I was so exhausted that I fell on the ground after crossing the finish line, panting and sweating and in agony. I looked to my best friend for sympathy, but she just looked horrified and mostly embarrassed.
Looking back, I have so much compassion for that little girl, alone and in last place, heaving on the ground. If Dad stayed, I don't remember it. If anyone came to help me, I don't remember it. The only funny thing I remember--and this can't be right, but I'll say it anyway--is my foster brother running the boys' 800 right after me and not only winning by a long shot but doing so after initially missing a turn and having to backtrack to the right course for the race.
Whenever I run now and am tempted to race ahead to look faster--more fit, more worthy of respect and admiration--I think of my Dad by his truck, watching and saying, "Slow down or you'll have nothing left at the end." I have to tune out the lifetime of other voices that say THIS moment, THIS impression is what you must kill yourself for.
Run the long race. Listen to your body. Pace yourself. Slow down.
Words to live by, if I've ever heard any. And now, finally, I am learning to listen to them.