March 22, 2013 by kmwelden
This is a creative nonfiction essay I recently finished. It’s getting workshopped in my class next week, but I figured I would just throw the first draft up here anyway.
And PS, Caroline, since I know you’re one of the only ones reading this: I love you anyway.
PPS: In my googling, I’ve come across these from my running days. PROOF:
My time at a Fun Run race in 2000. I was 8.
(Don’t worry, both were for charity.)
People who run cannot be trusted. I firmly stand by the fact that if someone proclaims that they enjoy running, they are either lying or crazy. And I don’t like to be friends with any of those types of people. Liars. Crazy people. Runners.
They thrive on superiority, the way they casually drop the fact that they are one of those “runners” in conversation. The conversation could be about anything, about a famine in Somalia, and I promise you that they will weasel in a way to mention the “quick five miler” they did that morning. At five in the morning. In the rain.
They are always so smug, waltzing around in their Coolmax, spandex outfits that manage to show every damn toned contour. They breezily claim to have “just left the gym,” but I am convinced they wear those clothes all the time so that other people who run can identify their breed. Personally, though, I am thankful for this. It is an outward way of identifying who they are—a Star of David for the gym rats. I would hate to get in a perfectly good conversation in the line at Starbucks with someone and find out halfway through that they are one of them.
I can see it now: I would be in line, preparing to order my double chocolate chip frappuccino and chatting with the cute guy in front of me whilst bonding over our eerily similar opinions on Seth Macfarlane’s performance hosting the Oscar’s (sub-par) and the best type of scone available (blueberry). It’s obviously possible that we are soulmates. I’m tossing my hair mid-laugh and just about to suggest that we take our electric connection elsewhere, when I glance down at the floor to see obnoxiously colored Nikes peeking out from under his pants. My deductive reasoning skills kick into overdrive as I take in the eyesore of his Timex watch that is put on display as he reaches over the counter for a green tea (the running community’s version of crack), and I would immediately have to say, “I’m sorry. It’s not me. It’s definitely you,” and then sprint away to find the nearest burger joint, which is probably the most exercise I’ve gotten in weeks.
And how self righteous! Just because they run, they act like they are curing cancer, as if their time logged slogging away on a treadmill is a more worthy pursuit than sitting on the couch and watching television like the normal people. They host their charity 5ks for kids with cancer or saving the sea turtles and act like they are humanitarians. Hey, guess what, runner man? If you really want my help to raise money for your Aunt Helen’s coworker’s dog’s extremely rare heart surgery, there’s no need to drag me from my bed at the stroke of daylight to run down the streets with a hundred other people. It’s like being a part of a herd of cattle. I can donate twenty dollars to little Benji from the comfort of my own home. That’s what Paypal is for.
And speaking of money, if runners are so into charity, isn’t it kind of a wonder that they spend a small fortune on running shoes? The sheer volume of running shoes on the market is absolute insanity. There is an entire subset of magazines dedicated solely to running shoes that all look vaguely the same, but the manufacturers will assure you that their product is infinitely more technologically advanced than the competitor’s. How advanced can running shoes actually get? Are they not 99% rubber? These shoe companies would have you believe that they have the engineers of the Manhattan Project locked in a basement working in sweatshop-like conditions to produce super-shoes. Then, they sell these shoes to millions of (questionable-at-decision-making) runners who shell out over $100 a pair, not just once, but three or four times a year, or every time they clear another 300 miles. If I’m spending $100 on a pair of shoes, you can be damn sure they better last more than a few months. At the same time, though, the closest my shoes have ever come to travelling that number of miles (spatially) is when they fly to Iowa with me for Christmas and sit comfortably, idly in my suitcase.
Runners: time for a math lesson! If you give up running for five years, you could save about $1500 in shoe purchases! Personally, I would take that money and take a non-running related vacation to Barbados, where I could relax with my callus-free toes in the sand.
Also, as a woman, I take my shoe game seriously. Life is just too short to wear ugly shoes, and let’s be honest—running shoes aren’t the most attractive things to sport around town. This would be a bit more acceptable if they were just worn for running, but as I mentioned earlier, runners have the propensity to wear their running clothes everywhere. It seems like manufacturers have some idea that runners won’t buy their shoes if they are not neon with weird springy soles, contrasting colors with mesh, or a combination of any of those wacky attributes. They are desperately trying to scream, Look how fun I am! You see my colorful shoes? I’m free-spirited and fun-loving! Don’t let the clever manufacturers fool you, because no one who runs is actually free spirited or fun loving—um, they like to sweat for fun—but that won’t stop them from buying shoes to give off this persona. Runners are tricky like that.
One of my favorite authors is Haruki Murakami, and he writes brilliant novels like The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, but he also wrote this nonfiction book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I used to think that Murakami was a cool guy, and that we would get along if I spoke Japanese. We would sit around, shooting the breeze about the art of writing, preferably lounging on a veranda looking out over the ocean and drinking tea. But after reading his book on running, which chronicles how he has run every single day for over twenty years, I now doubt our status as potential friends.
“When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody,” he says. “This is a part of my day I can’t do without.” And I love times when I don’t have to talk to anyone and I don’t have to listen to anyone too, but with all due respect to Mr. Murakami, I do not have to take a two hour jaunt in circles around town or on a rat wheel at the gym to do it. A nap accomplishes the same thing—and you don’t even have to shower afterwards!
And have you ever gone out to eat with one of them? Not a jogger— that’s the friendly lady in your neighborhood who puts on her sweats a couple times a week and jogs slowly around the block until her Wilson Phillips mixtape starts repeating. She would probably order pancakes at breakfast, and if you catch her after a jog, she would definitely order bacon, too. That’s my kind of lady. No, I mean have you ever gone out to eat with a runner? It is like each meal you eat with them is directly responsible for the functioning of their body. You can be sure that their salad dressing will be “vinaigrette on the side, please,” because God forbid full fat ranch cross the lips of the sacred vessel of their body, capable of running miles at a time. All of the best foods are missing when you go out to eat with a runner: where’s the pizza? Where’s the cheeseburger? Where are the extra onion rings? What the hell is kale anyway? One misplaced fat gram and their whole ecosystem of their body could come crashing down.
First of all, I’m not really one to think of my body as an ecosystem. The healthiest thing I do for my body is inundate it daily with well over the recommended eight glasses of water. This works two fold by (supposedly) keeping my skin looking amazing, but it’s also the one bargaining chip I have when talking to someone who is healthier than I am, which let’s face it—is basically everyone.
“Gotta run to the bathroom again, everyone,” I take any opportunity to announce to rooms full of friends and strangers alike. “You know, I just drink liters and liters of water a day. It goes through me like a race horse!” I then focus my attention onto someone who looks like they run. “You know, hon,” I say condescendingly. “You should really hydrate yourself. Your skin’s looking a little dry.”
I know I sound bitter, but I wasn’t always this way. I used to be one of them.
Truly, the uneasiness I have around people who run and many of these stereotypes probably developed from my own perception of my mother. She is a marathon runner and a special education teacher for preschoolers, and I think these two facts sum up our lives together.
She encourages me to exercise and talks to me like I’m a five-year-old.
We don’t have much in common.
I have spent my entire life, though, watching her wake up at 4 AM to run and do Pilates (or some form of self-inflicted torture) before she goes to work. When I was in a stroller,I accompanied her on many runs, being indoctrinated into the cult before I was even old enough to give consent.
She used to take my sister and me on drives in the evenings before her “long run” day on the weekend and planted secret water bottle stashes where she planned to stop and rehydrate the next morning when her miles hit the double digits. Even up to the age thirteen, I remember my heart pounding as I surreptitiously stashed yellow Gatorades in the bushes of stranger’s yards, and then sprinted back to my mother’s idling car, all the while convinced that someone was going to call the police on me.
“I can explain, officer,” I imagined telling the officer who arrested me for trespassing, as I trembled in an interrogation room somewhere. “My mother is a runner.” The officer would, of course, understand and nod sympathetically, and he would offer me a donut and his sympathies for living in a house with a clearly deranged woman.
Growing up, most of our family vacations involved traveling to a city where she was running a marathon: Boston, New York City, Washington D.C., Disney World, Atlanta, and many more. I stood at many finish lines in horrible weather—the hottest Boston Marathon on record, an inexplicably freezing spring day in Florida at the Disney World Marathon, a severe thunderstorm in Atlanta wherein any other outdoor event would have been cancelled— waiting to hug a woman who was sweating from every orifice of her body.
As I got older, I could sense her desire to groom me as a running partner. I had a rendezvous with cross country in high school, but I wasn’t ever entirely committed; I had my doubts about the running community.
I used to eat Funyuns before cross country practice and puke them up behind the bleachers. We sometimes had practices at a state park, and when the coaches instructed us to go run on trails for an hour, I took the opportunity to run to the most remote place I could find and hone my tree climbing skills in the deep woods.
Regardless, I slogged through three years of cross country, and I was accidently pretty successful. I suppose, though, that it’s easy to run when you’re fifteen and ninety pounds; the wind basically pushes you along. Even so, I mean it when I say that I’m convinced scientists are lying about endorphins and runner’s highs. They just do not exist. I have a ton of empirical evidence, and all running gave me was shin splints, an Advil addiction, and an eating disorder.
Even so, when I started running, she was overjoyed to have me to “talk running” with. It was like I was her running minion, and she loved to show me off at various road races around town. We were like a mother-daughter running duo, and we actually tore it up. Competition is a strange thing, though, especially among adults. Competition over who can move faster on foot is even stranger. Are these the Stone Ages? Why does this even matter? Get in your car!
Once, we went to a Turkey Trot (runners cannot indulge in a holiday specifically for eating without first earning it—that’s why there are approximately seventeen million Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving Day), and ran into her local running rival. Deborah was a woman my mother’s age, so they always competed in the same age groups. Unlike my mother, though, Deborah was legitimately crazy, and not in the I-enjoy-running-so-I-am-a-little-off-my-rocker way, in the I-have-been-institutionalized-for-being-nuts way. She spotted my mother in the crowd, despite our best attempts to avoid her, and made an immediate beeline towards her.
“Gonna beatcha today, Lynn,” she sang while her five foot ten frame pranced around like Rocky in Nikes, throwing fake jabs at my mother, who stood at least half a foot shorter. Deborah was unfazed when my mom refused to take the bait, and instead turned her attention on me. “Ohhh,” she said wickedly. “You must be Lynn’s daughter. I’m gonna beat both of the Weldens today!”
Deborah beat me by about ten seconds that day, and she turned around just before she crossed the finish line and stuck her tongue out at me. My mom beat her, and Deborah smashed a banana on our car. Like I said, competition is weird. It wasn’t long after that that I hung up my Aasics—which were as non-offensive a color as I could find, I might add.
This period of running was probably the time in my life when my mother and I were the closest. We discussed PR’s (personal records), fartleks (Swedish for “speed play,” also known as glorified interval training. See also: hell), and traded articles from Runner’s World (“10 Superfoods to Shave Minutes off Your PR!”). Running was something that we had in common, but that didn’t change the fact that I hated it.
I began to question my mother’s identity as a runner. Why would anyone subject themselves to the sport? There are over ten million people in America who run on a regular basis. This number is just unfathomable to me. That means that there are over ten million crazies running amok across the country (Ha—see what I did there?). If these people like running, what other crazy things could they like? Animal abuse? Ann Coulter? These are most certainly the same people who are buying Nickelback albums. Can you actually trust any of them? Can I trust my own mother?
It took years, but it eventually became clear to my mom that I wouldn’t be returning the folds of athleticism anytime in the near future. Now, she laments the fact that I consider the potato to be my favorite vegetable, that I do not participate in mother-daughter running excursions with her and my older sister, and that my risk for heart disease is probably increasing daily. The doctors tell her that she’ll live to be over 100. Apparently running is good for you. Or something.
Maybe when I’m older and concerned about my health, I’ll become one of those people I hate again: one of those runners. If I do, though, I’ll do it on my own terms. There will be no wearing of the running clothes everywhere I go. There will be no ugly shoes. There will be no ban on delicious, fatty food. I will always believe that cheese is God’s way of telling us that he loves us. I will commit to topics of conversation that are about more than just the amount of miles I’ve run.
Then again, maybe it’s not like that. Maybe once you become a runner, it becomes an intrinsic part of you. Maybe it’s impossible to be a regular person. In any case, I’ll need a running partner who hates to talk about running as much as me. Who am I even kidding? I won’t be able carry on a conversation—I’ll need a running partner to distract me while my lungs are busy preparing a mutiny against my body.
I’ll call Murakami. We can give our friendship another try.