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May 02, 2010

Run for your life

Run Over the past few years, I’ve noticed runners. In increasing numbers. People who I never imagined taking up running started doing it. Since I tend to either hang out with middle-aged people or kids, I take more notice when it’s the middle-aged ones huffing and puffing down the sidewalks. 

I used to run when I was in college and into my early 30s. I never really liked it, but it was a convenient enough way to get exercise. In my best running days, I didn’t run more than 5 miles on a regular basis. And those days, as my Hershey Kiss shape will tell you, were traded in for long hours in front of a computer screen long ago.

Take a good look at runners. Do they look happy? Not usually. Their faces are red, and they typically have a look of consternation. Not exactly selling points for that ‘runners’ high’ I’ve heard about but never experienced. I actually don’t think that exists except for some running marketing type who wants to keep selling fancy sneakers. What a genius idea. Tell these aging Boomers there’s a natural high to it. If you can’t feel it, just keep running until you do (which might just be the moment before unconsciousness occurs, but I can’t swear to that.)

Over the years, I’ve known some people who are dedicated runners and they would train for various races. It was no surprise to see them running with their dogs in the mornings. Or the evenings. Or pretty much any old time. But when the running vocabulary began creeping across my consciousness, when I’d get a card from a friend who moved away and I’d read how they were training for a certain race, my eyebrows raised.

Eventually, people must’ve thought I botoxed because my eyebrows were raised so much of the time. I began to speculate on the why of this. And the best theory I could come up with that these people were trying to turn back the clock. Looking down the barrel of the Golden Years not so far into the distance, the choice to toss on the sneaks and hit the sidewalk (or better yet—treadmills at gyms where they have to pay to run) seemed like a good way to make a grab for lost youth.

Wondering if this was a fad, maybe a little more pervasive than the Macarena, I watched and waited. One of my younger cousins had her second baby, and she was back at her running within two weeks. Her mom and I are close in age and are kindred spirits; we sniggered at this but gave it enough credit to say it might her help avoid postpartum stress, which might be a positive side effect.

Oh, how Fate has a wicked sense of irony.

Last fall, a friend of mine—not known as a spandex maven—completed the Disneyland Half Marathon. Well, that one really made me sit up and take notice. First because of the distance. A half-marathon. That’s like…a lot of miles! (13.1 to be exact.) I was amazed…and impressed. A half-marathon sounded way cooler than a 5K. Yes indeedy. And well, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m halfway to suckered in just by the word Disneyland. (OK, maybe even a little more than halfway.)

To top it off, I found out that my friend completed this half marathon, not by running it, but by walking. Yep, walking. And then, my mind simply opened up and that little viral thing that apparently had gotten to so many others wormed its way inside and found a comfortable spot in my softening brain.

“If she can do that, I could do that,” I told myself. And darned if I didn’t completely believe it! Never mind that I hadn’t walked more than a couple miles on any given day except at a Disney park, when I walk a whole lot more, but somehow, deep in my core, I knew I could do this.

My friend told me how she was going to the Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World next. Months into a future where everything is possible, especially considering the heaps of pixie dust involved, and I said I was going to sign up too.

All it would take is training. Training to walk more. After all, running isn’t required (although there is a pesky minor rule about maintaining an average of 16-minute miles throughout). So, I’m not a runner, I’m a walker. That seems more dignified, less edgy, and certainly less stressful on my knees. And what the heck, it would be good to lose some of that Hershey Kiss-ness.

My older daughter, with her strong ice skater legs, decided she wanted to go too. Even though this is the same child who moaned about how poorly she ran the mile in PE and how much she hated it. But walking…that’s a different story.

I called my cousin, thinking I’d give her a good laugh, and when I told her about going to the Princess Half Marathon, not only did she surprise me by not laughing at me, she stunned me with her instant “if you can do that, then I can do that” response of “I’m in! I’m sure my daughter (the runner) will want to come too.” So, suddenly, we had a girls’ weekend planned.

Far from my college days when all you really had to do was buy a pair of running shoes that fit well and a jog bra to hold everything that jiggles in place, going to a running store was an eye- (and wallet-) opening experience.

We had our footsteps analyzed (OK, this was pretty cool technology) to see the pressure points on how we walked. This, of course, was to determine the precisely right shoe (ultimately, those same shoes gave me the worst blisters of my life; go figure). As we meandered through the store, there were rack of specialized ‘wicking’ clothes and socks; GPS systems to monitor your time and speed; ‘fuel’ in the form of ‘gels’ and ‘goo,’ ‘bars,’ and—my favorite ‘sports beans’--to keep energy levels up while running; and little belts that looked like modified hardware utility belts to keep all that ‘fuel’ handy…it bordered on the absurd. Because after all, I just needed good shoes because I was a walker not a runner any more and impervious all those ridiculous upsell accessories.

Finally, the day of the half marathon arrived—and I was convinced this running thing was for the certifiably insane—because 14,000 people (mostly women since this was the Princess half marathon, after all) had assembled at Walt Disney World, getting on buses starting at 3 am in order to be in their designated places by 5:30 am. In the cold. In the dark. So, I use that term “day” rather loosely. Our 'sporting event' day needed to be completed by about the time that the day guests arrived to ride Space Mountain and see Mickey.

Bursts of fireworks signaled the start of each ‘corral’ of participants, and finally, it was time for us to go, just as the sun was about to come up. I was actually going to walk 13.1 miles! Through Walt Disney World. Pretty exciting because it was the moment we'd been anticipating.

We started off briskly, wore down over time (some of us—me—worse than others), learned to love the joys of BioFreeze to soothe sore muscles with its near narcotic effects, pondered whether this endeavor was worse than childbirth and questioned my sanity,determined to not look like a loser in front of my kid, until barely escaping the shame of ‘being swept’ (meaning taken off the course for taking too long) and staggering in a zombie-like stupor over the finish line to receive my shiny (and quite heavy) medal! I was last not only of my family but of pretty much everybody there, but nonetheless, I finished a half marathon (and I got the same darned medal as my young cousin runner with her admirable finish time, so there).

What am I going to do next, you ask? Revel in my glory, just be glad to tell the tale? Not exactly. See, there’s a catch. If you complete two Disney half marathons, one on each coast, you get a special medal called the Coast to Coast. I figure, I’m halfway there. Right? And after all, I know I can finish one half marathon, so why not just keep training for the next one? So, I’ll be at Disneyland over Labor Day weekend…

And that wicked wench called Fate just laughs and laughs at me.

Mary Kraemer spends most of her time planning amazing vacations but also loves to write about the funny things she finds in life. This is an original 50-Something Moms Blog post.


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