Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not quite born to run

After watching 38-year-old Constantina Tomescu-Dita cross the finish line for an Olympic gold, smiling after running 26 miles, I thought, I want to do that. No, not win the Olympics, no, not run a marathon, not even a half marathon, heck, not even a 5K. I’d like to be able to just run across a parking lot. And forget about the smiling.

I’m a wannabe runner. I tried it recently and did okay as long as I had landmarks. I would tell myself, “Run to the tree, run to the streetlight, run past that mean-looking dog.”

I made pretty good progress until I hit the parking lot of the local BBQ joint. I tried to concentrate and ignore the smell of onion rings. As I ran, I didn’t acknowledge the stares from the good folks inside, watching me sweat while they stuffed their faces with pork sandwiches. I must confess, I had a moment of weakness thinking about their sweet tea with crushed ice. I started to slow, but my inner voice soon took over.

For heaven’s sake, Leigh, don’t tell me you can’t run across the parking lot, it said. What would you do if you were being chased? Play dead?

Boy, my inner voice is a bitch.

Don’t get me wrong, I exercise. I use free weights and play tennis on occasion. I just wasn’t quite born to run. I grew up with a weightlifting dad who doesn’t believe in long distance running.

“Look at them,” he said. “See how terrible they look.”

Watching some of the skinny bodies and agonizing faces of the marathon runners during the Olympics, I had to admit, he has a point.

I have participated in several one mile run/walks with my kids, however. You can spot me; I’m the tallest. Note, I didn’t say fastest. At these events, I’m always envious of those who run the 5 and 10K. In the fall at the Halloween race, I saw teenagers running barefoot ("Why?" you ask, "because they can.") and people running in elaborate costumes, including fat suits. But the piece de la resistance, was a mom who finished, pushing not one child, but four. She had quadruplets, and they were not babies, mind you, but good-sized toddlers.

Perhaps the best part of the races is the celebration afterwards. The fall race offered gumbo and beer for longer distance participants. Now I believe I could run across a parking lot for that.

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