“Carla tagged you in a post,” said Facebook one Monday night in August.
That’s nice! I thought.
The post said simply, “For Tori and Benjamin!” above a link to the Zombie Apocalypse.
“What?” I said, clicking the link.
“Navigate a series of challenging obstacles throughout a 5k zombie infested course,” it said.
That sounds so fun, I thought, for someone else!
Because I am not a runner.
“Did you see the link Carla posted?” Benjamin said with too much enthusiasm as soon as he arrived at work the next day.
“Yeah,” I said. “Looks like fun for you!”
“For us, you mean,” he said. “You should do it with me!”
I looked slant-eyed at my coworker, ten years younger and fifty pounds lighter than I am. “I don’t run,” I said.
“You could learn!!! You have time!!!” he said, enunciating the exclamation points.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t,” I said.
But that night, I looked at 5k training programs online. “Couch to 5k in 8 weeks!” said one. “In 10 weeks!” said another. I counted off weeks on the calendar.
I had twelve weeks.
And no excuses.
The next morning, I stepped outside with my ipod and my determination. In my earbuds, a cheerful jock encouraged me to join him on week one of his “Couch to 5k” running program.
“This program is designed to be run three times a week with a resting day between each run,” said the podcast.
“Okay,” I said.
“You’ll have a five minute warm up walk followed by eight sets of sixty second runs and ninety second recovery intervals. You’ll finish with a five minute cool down.”
“That’s a lot of numbers…” I said.
“I’ll give instructions every time you should change your pace,” the narrator guy promised.
“Good, because I didn’t follow half of that,” I told him.
“So let’s get started!”
“Oh, must we?” I said. The sun was only just peeking over the horizon.
After the first run, my leg muscles collapsed in on themselves like neutron stars. I writhed on the floor with the agony of stellar evolution.
“I expect to fail,” I told my husband from my place on the floor. “Then I can get the whole mess out of the way.”
My idea of “failure” was to collapse in an exhausted heap on the sidewalk, like an Olympic marathoner just shy of the finish line. That didn't happen the first week. When you get right down to it, sixty seconds of running is not a lot. I was able to finish the run, even if I felt like celestial death afterward.
But the second week! Yes, that would be the real clincher. Then I would fail to get through the podcast and I could tell Benjamin I had given it the old college try but that, for the good of the galaxy, running just wasn’t in my future.
The running intervals got longer as the weeks went on.
Ninety seconds of running was only slightly worse than sixty.
Three minutes is a lot at first, but then you have to run for five minutes and suddenly three minutes seems like a very easy goal.
Ten minutes is just two five minute runs without the walking in the middle.
By week five, my legs stopped trying to implode. By week six, I was running for twenty minutes straight. Even then, I never did collapse on the sidewalk. I wondered if I ever would.
The only way I can possibly fail now, I realized, is if I decide not to run in the first place…
I didn’t like running. It was hard. It was too early in the morning. It was hard. Sports bras were ugly AND expensive. Also, running was hard.
I huffed and puffed outside of my inner brick house, at constant war with the inner pig who demanded pizza and donuts in payment for these torments. The best part of running was getting to stop at the end. “This,” I said of my hot shower after each run, “must be that runner’s high everyone talks about.”
“I should never have told Benjamin I was 5k training,” I complained to Matt. “Now I can’t quit without looking like a wimp.”
At the end of September, we signed up for an ironically named two mile “fun run.”
“It’ll be good practice!!” Benjamin said. “It’ll be fun!!!” Again with the exclamation points.
He tried to stick with me for a while. He zigzagged. He ran backwards. He literally ran circles around me. I was just too slow.
He got bored and said, “I’m going to go finish and then I’ll come back for you.”
I plodded along at the best pace I could manage. Several moms passed me. With their kids. And their dogs.
I’m the slowest slow person there is, a sad voice whispered from the dark recesses of my mind.
Don’t be ridiculous, another part of me responded. There are plenty of slower people in the world. And they had the good sense to stay home and take a nap.
I stared at my feet as I ran, not even noticing when Benjamin came back for me. “You’re doing great!” he said. “You’re almost done. Let’s go faster.”
Maybe today will be the day I collapse on the sidewalk, I thought.
But it wasn’t.
At the 5k a month later, the exclamation points struck again.
“Come on! Let’s go faster!! You can’t stop yet!!! Let’s go!!!”
“I expected this from Benjamin,” said Sarah, who came to town to run with us, “but not from you. When did you become such a drill sergeant?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Sometime in the past twelve weeks, I guess?”
Around that time, Benjamin jogged back to us from the finish line. “Hey, you’re almost there! You just have to get through that field of zombies!”
“More zombies?” Sarah said, pulling up short. We stopped on the crest of a hill and looked out at them stretched out below us.
Benjamin looked at me and grinned stupidly. “Think you can keep up with me?”
“I can damn sure try,” I said.
“Then catch me,” he said as he set off, and he screamed it again over his shoulder, “Catch me!”
I ran. I ran the fastest I’d ever run in my whole life. Past the zombies and the spectators and the finish line. I’m not ashamed to say I couldn’t keep up with him. I’m proud to say I didn’t quit. I haven’t collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk yet. Because I’m a runner.
A slow runner.
But I make up for it in enthusiasm!!!