I remembered that I used to hate running. It was probably my least favorite form of exercise. My legs would ache, I was constantly out of breath, and after just a couple of minutes I was ready to throw in the towel and do something else.
Secretly I wished I was good at it, I wished I enjoyed my feet pounding the pavement and that I could proudly say "I went for a run this morning" and be one of those people. However, outwardly I cursed running. I wasn't good at it and it hurt. Besides, as a teenager I was more interested in boys and showing off my gymnastics skills than I was about being good at running or being in good shape.
I guess you could say it really started when Nathan broke up with me back in January. I mean, prior to that I would hit the gym and run on the elliptical for half an hour but I wouldn't really break a sweat. I was doing just enough to keep from gaining weight, but I wasn't exactly getting anything else out of my workouts. And then suddenly I found myself with a terrible need to distract my brain from reality. So naturally, working out was the best option.
I would watch What Not To Wear and do squats, sit ups, leg raises, lemon squeezers, everybody's favorite burpees, you name it. And then I transitioned from that into running around the neighborhood once the weather warmed up. My tennis shoes hit the pavement and my calves started to ache. My thighs would burn and I would be out of breath before I even got halfway around the block. But I wasn't going to give up. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, determined to make my body cooperate with me.
I was going to make myself like running if it killed me.
The first time I ran a mile I could barely contain myself. I mean, I ran an entire mile, folks. I RAN THE WHOLE WAY! Exclamation points and things! Neon flashing stars! And I've been addicted ever since.
And now Nathan makes me run with him when we're together. He's a lot faster than I am and sometimes I feel like all I do is slow him down, but he swears he doesn't mind. So Saturday night rolls around and it's dark and windy but we lace up our running shoes anyway. He gives me a jacket to put on over my t-shirt because, seriously, it is cold. We're just that hardcore, I mean, what can I say?
He puts a leash on Lance and we're out the door and down the sidewalk. My legs feel good. My breathing is steady. The jacket is nice. The night air is crispy and the wind is biting. I'm thankful for my hat over my ears.
I feel like I'm in the middle of a movie adventure scene, dodging tree branches that hang over the sidewalk in the dark. We are headed down a hill and I feel a little invincible, like I could do anything right now. Up ahead of me I watch Nathan and Lance. Lance keeps stopping to pee on bushes and Nathan tugs at his leash. I catch up, pass them, and then a few seconds later they return to the lead. It's not a bad system we have going, I can keep a slower pace and don't fall too far behind this way.
The sky is super clear and a deep black color with some of the brightest stars I've ever seen. It's beautiful out, despite the nipping wind. I rub my nose with the back of my hand and pull my hat back down over my ears. My ankle is starting to hurt. I can feel the dull ache in my left foot - the one that's injured the most from my chronic tumbling abuse in gymnastics and pole vault. I grit my teeth and keep going.
We're headed up a hill now. My breathing shortens and my quads are on fire. I will beat the hill, though. I can do this. I'm untouchable. And suddenly I love running. Even with pain shooting up my leg every time my left foot touches the ground, I can't stop. The rest of it feels too good. The burning in my legs, the shortness of breath, I love it. I pull my hat back down over my ears. I'm almost to the top of the hill.
Lance stops to mark his territory again and I pass Nathan. I come up over the hill and a gust of wind nearly takes my hat from my head. Again I'm thankful for the jacket. It's impossible to run and hold my hat over my ears at the same time in this wind, so I stop to walk for a bit and Nathan and the dog catch up to me.
Nathan remarks about how clear the sky is. We talk nonchalantly for a while, tugging at Lance's leash every so often because he has to stop and smell all the things. I slip my hand up inside Nathan's sleeve and his fingers wrap around mine tightly. His skin is cold, but so is mine. I'm thankful that we get to walk and talk together. I'm thankful that he runs with me. I'm also thankful that we brought Lance.
I'm glad we're almost back to the house. I'm starting to get cold and my runner's high is fading. But my mind is cleared and my body feels good. I'm rejuvenated. Running restores my soul. I smile to myself again and in the dark Nathan can't see. But I'm happy that I can finally say the words I've always wished I could. I may not be fast and I may not go far, but I at least I go.
My name is Natalie and I am a runner.