The more I run, the more running seems to parallel childbirth. When I had my second son, I elected not to go the epidural route. “But why?!” I hear so many of you shriek, “Why be a martyr?!” I am not a martyr, I assure you. Had childbirth been an excruciating ordeal of unmitigated misery, I would not have declined the injection just so I could strut around and feel superior. In fact, aside from this blog, which you are free not to read, I don’t typically bring up my experience, and I certainly don’t tell expectant or new moms about it unless they ask. If I had been required to sign a total non-disclosure agreement and never tell anyone about the way I had my second son, I’d have done it. Because it wasn’t about you, it wasn’t about any other mom, it wasn’t even about my son. It was all about me. Running is selfish in just that way.
I know a lot of mommies who feel guilty for taking time away from their kids to work out. The decision is easier for me: when I don’t run, I get anxious and obsessive. When I get that way, I scream right in my kids’ faces and whap them on the backs of the heads for nothing. So I go out and run. Because the guilt that comes after you have screamed at your son until he cries is far beyond the guilt of running for an hour.
Yesterday, a 10 miler was on the docket. It was 25 degrees, windchill of 11, and winds gusting to 36mph. The snow had stopped, but the sidewalk-less and shoulder-less state roads around here were narrowed by slush and ice. I was nervous about getting done in by a plow guy. Or just a texting dummy driver. But I went out, running into a wind so thick I could lean into it like a solid thing, then sideways to a wind that blew me off the road twice. I willed the cars not to hit me, forcing them away from me through the sheer power of my baleful glare.
Sucking in plumes of woodsmoke and splintered cold, my chest constricted and then, gradually, a radiating ache spread all the way out to my back. Face festooned in snot, I turned onto some poorly plowed back roads and climbed the hills, sliding backward in an awkward moonwalk with every step. At mile 5, the maximum distance I could be from home, I was pulled up short by a cramp in my right calf. An interval of limping. Then it subsided to a dull ache, and I proceeded past the only other souls out in such weather: old men in ill-fitting coats and pom-pom hats snowblowing their driveways. They appeared astonished to see me out there. I astonished myself a bit.
There is part of running that’s about vanity. When a student of mine, a competitive 5K runner, asked what I run, I told him distance. He said, “Yeah, you look it.” I elected to take it as a compliment, rather than an assessment of my scrawniness. I never would have predicted that I would ever have the lean, sinewy look of a distance runner. I had always been solidly muscular, a sprinter and a soccer player. There’s an appeal in this new appearance, to be sure. Still, I won’t ever be described as lanky, and certainly not willowy. After all, there are things a 5’1″ chick can be only in her dreams.
In addition to the physical vanity, there’s the mental vanity too. I don’t keep my running a secret, because it helps me and motivates me to keep people posted on what I’m running and have run. But 7 miles in, in the sideways wind, and the trucks bearing down, and the snow blind slogging under the wan, feckless sun, it is about no one but me. I couldn’t do it just for bragging rights, and I couldn’t do it for smugness or superiority, or the martyrdom. But I can do it for my sanity. For the purification of my mind. And, but for the pom-pom hat guys, for the utter solitude.