"Why I Run"
Hitting My Stride
By Bethany Gumper
Born to run? Not me. Picked last in gym class? That's more like it. In fact, the only reason I took up running is that it's one of the few sports in which things don't fly at my face.
My dislike of sports is deep-rooted. In kindergarten my parents signed me up for soccer. I knew I was in trouble at the first practice: I showed up in oversize hand-me-down shin guards and huge pink glasses, and the other girls looked like mini Mia Hamms. I've blocked out the most tragic memories, but I do remember three things: (1) The only goal I ever scored was for the opposing team; (2) playing goalie, I nearly wet my pants; and (3) I felt absolute terror when the ball came at me like a black-and-white bat out of hell.
At season's end, I traded my cleats for ballet shoes. Pliés and pirouettes were more my speed than penalty kicks and passes. For years I steered clear of sports -- until the summer before sophomore year in high school, when a friend suggested I join the cross-country team. Because it seemed like a sport that would keep my specs intact, I gave it a try. At the first practice, I ran only a mile. But the coach and the other kids were encouraging, and I grew to love it. One mile became two, two became four; by the end of the season, I no longer finished last in every race. If my life were a movie, this would be the happy-ending moment, when I realize that there's a Flo Jo inside me waiting to escape and I lead the varsity team to victory while the marching band plays "Don't Stop Believin'."
Sorry, readers; I didn't become a running star. But my personal record for three miles was a respectable 23:28 (I remember it to the second!). I nearly puked after fartleks, suffered through long, slow weekend runs, and had butterflies in my stomach before meets (I pictured the little guys wearing Nike Airs to calm myself down). The crazy part? I liked it. I was finding my inner athlete.
Through the years, I've been a faithful -- not fast -- jogger, and I've kept it up for many reasons: to boost my mood as a homesick freshman at Boston University, to retain my sanity when I moved to Manhattan and was nearly eaten alive by the city's chaos, to keep married life from going straight to my hips. I still fear company softball outings and cringe at the mention of a pickup game of basketball. But at least now I have an excuse: "I can't; I'm going for a run."
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