On running

Whenever fitness and health come up, most people assume that since I’m tall and thin, I must automatically be in good shape. These people clearly haven’t seen me try to run from zombies or take a flight of stairs to my apartment with groceries weighing down my back and hands, but the misconception remains nonetheless. There’s an underlying assumption in our society: thin people are all gorgeous and in the best shape, and anyone who isn’t supermodel thin is a lazy being whose main hobbies include sitting on the couch and watching Netflix while enjoying a Costco-sized bag of chips.

While I won’t deny my interest in sitting around and eating chips (particularly salt and pepper kettle chips–pass them over), this assumption is certainly not true. People’s exercise and fitness habits are as diverse as humanity itself, and that’s not getting into how genetics like to screw with our bodies. And my fitness habits involved me sitting in front of my computer, tapping out key after key in an attempt to make something. If exercising my wrists and fingers contributed to overall fitness, I’d be a younger Jane Fonda.

Unfortunately, finger exercise doesn’t count. When some of my friends started working on their fitness over the last year, the friendly peer pressure rubbed off on me, much like it does during NaNoWriMo with talk of higher word count goals and one more word war before bed. I can walk like no one’s business, but my dislike of walking without a destination makes me put off going for a walk for the sake of fitness alone. Why go on a walk if I’m just going to turn around and come back? I reasoned with myself that this line of thinking made no sense. If I had to run for any reason, I was screwed.

My newfound adventures in fitness started sometime in late March. I was returning home from somewhere and approached the top of a hill. Then I started walking down the hill faster and faster, letting gravity take its course. My fast walk turned into a gentle jog, one that I maintained when the hill turned to a flat surface. I jogged most of the 2km back home and wasn’t as exhausted as anticipated. Hot sweaty mess? Definitely. Hot sweaty mess so exhausted that I wanted to flop into bed without a shower? Not quite. My fitness standards are low, but they’re not that low.

That’s when the thought crossed my mind. Everything lined up perfectly. My friends were working on their fitness. One in particular had just walked a 5k. Winter had just ended, making the outdoor adventures more palatable. And these friends had a spreadsheet with goals and friendly competition. I was sold. I added my goal to the spreadsheet, strapped on my shoes, and went outside, slowly but surely passing the people taking a leisurely stroll down the multi-use trails near my house.

As with everything worth doing, it was slow going at first. I found myself running for seconds at a time before resuming a slower walking pace. I walked up hills but ran down them, thanking gravity for my increased speed that would never be maintained on flatter lands. Audiobooks became my friend as I ran more and further, becoming a little less exhausted over time. Oh, and I signed up for a 5k mud run later in the month.

I was in no way ready to run any kind of race, nor was I ready to get that dirty, but none of that mattered. What mattered was finishing and having fun. With the obstacles along the way, I wasn’t going to get a particularly great finish time anyway.

**

Mud run day came, and along with it came rain. Not just a few sprinkles here or there, but consistent rain, starting well before my 6am wakeup time.

It’s a mud run, I reasoned with myself while eating a pre-race breakfast of champions: chicken biscuit and Dr. Pepper. The rain will just make more mud, and that’s exactly what a mud run needs. Excitement ran through my body as I waited for my wave to start. I pinned my race number (900) to my tank top. I braided my hair and attached the duck to the end of the braid. I finished my Dr. Pepper. I checked on my braid and took a bathroom break. I checked Twitter. I put my phone in @tiakall‘s car so it wouldn’t become a very expensive brick.

Best of all, the rain stopped by the time I crossed the start line. I jogged across the parking lot in an attempt to save my energy for later, then continued jogging slightly downhill in the mud. That’s when all of us ran into the first obstacle: a muddy hill that we had to climb.

There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned here yet. I really do not like getting dirty. I’m not sure how this aversion got started, or even if it had a chance to get started. But I’ve spent my whole life dodging mud puddles, staying out of the rain, and trying not to get dirt, mud, or anything else on my clothes. This has resulted in lots of creative puddle-dodging, stepping on rocks, and regularly washing my hands to get the dirty stuff off. Getting dirty doesn’t stress me out significantly but annoys me enough that I try to avoid it. Sure, a mud run sounded fun, I though to myself before signing up. But now, faced with the prospect of climbing up a slope with just sticks and roots to rest my feet? How on earth was I supposed to do that?

I grabbed a root and pulled myself up, trying to figure out the best place to put my feet. After four or five slips of the foot, I grabbed another root and pulled, dragging myself up the slope and somehow finding my way to the top. By that point, avoiding the mud was futile, so I did the only thing I could: kept going.

I forded a river, climbed up another muddy slope with only a rope, threw myself across hay bales, climbed up wood ladders, forded a small lake, walked down another stream, even crawled under fences. And you know what? As I climbed up that last hill toward the finish line, sweat and mud dripping everywhere, I felt great. Not great enough to run the whole course over again, but definitely good enough to go conquer something else.

After returning from the 5k and changing into non-muddy clothes, I went to a nursery’s open house weekend. In my brilliance, I didn’t think to bring an extra pair of sneakers and wound up wearing bright red flip flips instead. Tia and I arrived at the nursery and discovered, to no one’s surprise, paths of mud leading to plants of all kinds. One woman looked down at my flip flips and said “Your feet are going to get so muddy.”

Lady, you have no idea. I stepped around another mud puddle so my flip-flops wouldn’t get stuck and kept on going, knowing the excess mud on my feet wasn’t for the last time.

**

My next mud run is this Saturday. Wish me luck… and lots of mud.

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