I have never been an athlete, unlike my brother and sister. While my brother played soccer and ran on the cross country team and my little sister earned belt after belt in judo, I was content to read my books and play an occasional game of badminton. That’s why it came as a surprise to my daughter (My Pajama Days) to hear yesterday that when we lived in Philadelphia in the late seventies, I used to run. We were discussing her preparation for her half-marathon race that’s coming up in five weeks. “I used to run, you know,” I said. But she didn’t know.
We lived in an apartment in a neighborhood with lots of kids. I had all three of ours by that time, and only my daughter was of school age, just starting kindergarten. One day one of the other moms decided we should get up early, meet on the corner and get an hour of running in before we sent our kids off to school. I had just had a baby, so that sounded like a good way to get back in shape. My husband was supportive and even took me to a running store so I could get a really good pair of shoes.
I was as excited when I bought those shoes, my Etonic KM Joggers, as I was when I was a kid and I got a new pair of Keds. Someone should have told me that there is a lot more to running than putting on a good pair of shoes.
Our little cadre of six mothers decided we would need to meet at 5 A.M. in order to get our run in before we had to get the kids up for school and our husbands off to work. A couple of the mothers also had jobs to get to. Since we started at the beginning of the school year, things went pretty smoothly as the weather was still warm in September and the sky was still beginning to get light when we started our run. The running itself, though, was a struggle for me in the beginning. I had no idea about pacing myself or easing into it. I just wanted to keep up with the other mothers so I didn’t look like a dork. I didn’t tell them I had never run further than the mailbox. Oh, how I suffered from shin splints those first few weeks! My sides ached and my lungs felt like they were about to burst, but after buying those expensive shoes I was so proud of, I was darned if I was giving up.
Gradually, the running got easier. We ran in a beautiful suburban neighborhood near our apartments, away from the traffic. We all dreamed of owning a home like one of those one day. As the fall wore on, the light dimmed, and the temperature dropped, the determination of my compadres wained. One by one they began to drop out until, by December, I was the only one left. You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to drag myself out of bed at 5 A.M when the rest of my sweet little family were snuggled deep in slumber. But I wasn’t giving up! I kept going, even in the dark, even in the cold, coming back at 6 A.M. and crawling back in my toasty bed next to my husband. I would put my cold feet next to my husband’s warm ones, and he’d jump a little before he drew me close and cuddled for a few more minutes before we had to get up.
Then one frosty winter morning in February, it all ended. The temperature had dipped into the teens and every breath I took made the hairs in my nose freeze and my lungs burn. It was pitch black out except for the occasional street light. I was rounding a curve in that pretty neighborhood when a huge German shepherd came charging across a lawn, growling savagely and ready to spring. I screamed and the dog’s owner, who fortunately had just stepped out to retrieve his newspaper, called the dog off before he surely would have taken a chunk out of me. I was so shaken, I walked home the rest of the way and decided my running days were over. Simple as that. Truth be told, I was grateful to that dog.