Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The beginning of running and etc.

This will be a post with three topics.

The inauguration! Whether you are red or blue, you have to agree that today occurred one of the most historical moments of the century. I dearly wish I was able to see the inauguration live on television. I tried to watch it at work on CNN.com and MSN.com but I, and the rest of the office, had problems connecting to a consistent live feed video, especially as the time of the swearing-in grew closer. I did get to see the motorcade though, which was really cool.

A co-worker tried to connect to the live video of the inauguration on the large monitor in the conference room but was unable to. Instead the office listened to the inauguration on the radio. Of course, not I. In fact, I didn’t even know they were listening to it until another co-worker asked if I could find Obama’s speech in a signed video online because they were listening to it on the radio. As she spoke, her face grew more and more strained and I realized she felt sorry for me. Until that moment I thought everyone was standing around still awaiting the video! Oh.

“No, I wouldn’t be able to find that. That’s okay, I’ll watch it tonight,” I said. She threw me one last strained look and went back to the conference room.

It was a potentially embarrassing moment but I brushed it aside and kept myself busy. I’m pretty good at that. I think it’s the Brit in me.

Riding. My total post-Pennsylvania 2009 riding time remains at 50 minutes. I wanted to ride last night but the indoor arena is incredibly dusty. The poor pasture horses spent a good chunk of time in there late last week and over the weekend, and their bored hooves stirred up a permanent dust storm. It is way too cold to settle the dust by hosing down the arena so there is nothing we can do but throw open the arena doors and wait for the dust to clear. Blah! I’m not about to sacrifice Lim’s respiratory health (nor mine, particularly now that I’m running more…yes, big words for a former smoker) for a ride or two.

I guess I’ll need to wait a little longer to try out the lovely new green, blue, and black plaid flannel quarter sheet I got for cold rides. (For the non-horsey folks: It’s a blanket that covers the horse’s butt and haunches and the rider’s thighs and attaches in front of the saddle. I guess almost, sorta, like a regular equine fleece sheet except with a hole cut into the middle of the back for a rider!)

Running. I said my first post of ’09 would be about how I started running. I guess post number…what is it, five? of ’09 will need to do.

Many posts ago, when I wrote about my beloved Tiger, I mentioned that I was a solitary kid. I was a solitary pre-teen, too. My life was school, homework, horseback riding and myself. I had friends at school—deaf friends—but since they lived quite far from me (or far for one who cannot drive), I rarely saw them outside of school. I liked to read but became bored with books for kids my age, yet was not allowed to read many books written for adults. Always full of energy and inspired by the horses I rode, I liked to venture outside, set up homemade hurdles consisting of trash cans on their sides, cardboard boxes, and other odds and ends, and run and jump over them. I would set up “courses” around the yard, or a string of them in a long line, and try to jump everything as fast as I could, or for as long as I could. I tried to make the hurdles as big as possible but that proved difficult with my limited resources. I never stopped looking around the basement, yard, and garage for new materials or ideas.

(And in fact, this tireless search led me to break my right pinkie finger at the age of nine. I thought a horse blanket in the concrete aisle of the barn was an ideal hurdle but mistimed the jump and tripped over the thing, breaking my little pinkie in two places).

I found jumping these hurdles exhilarating and would do it for hours every day, rain or shine, in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer, in dusk to night and sometimes even shortly after I woke up on the weekends, which was about 11am to noon. The more I jumped over these hurdles, the stronger my legs became and the higher and faster I could jump, which led to higher hurdles, more challenging courses, and even stronger legs.

One spring after I began jumping over the shrubbery in the yard (no doubt breaking a few branches here and there) my dad made me some hurdles. They consisted of two wooden poles with nails at measured one-inch increments, the measurements carefully marked, with another, smaller, loose wooden pole to lay across these nails as I wished. One hurdle was painted brown, the rest were plain. I think there were about five sets total. Oh, I was in heaven!

The highest marked nails were at exactly 48”. At the time I was five feet even (I am 5’3” now). Prior to these homemade hurdles, the highest I had jumped was about 3’6” but it had been quite a feat. I could not imagine reaching four feet even but I was determined to, nonetheless.

And so I set these hurdles up on one side of the house and began jumping them with fresh enthusiasm (not that it had soured before, but, you know). Rain or shine, in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer, in dusk to night and sometimes in the late morning on the weekends, I was there. I would run a lap or two around the house, set a hurdle at two feet, jump it, add another hurdle at two feet, jump it, and so on so forth. Sometimes I made “oxers” and put two hurdles very close together and tried to jump both at once. I quickly found that if I set the first hurdle at three feet and put another one two feet behind it and set it at a higher height, it was easier to jump that than the higher height all by itself. Why? I don’t know, but it was the discovery of the year!

I would like to clarify something here. When “hurdling” I didn’t actually go into a virtual split over the hurdles like, say, Lolo Jones or any other track star. Go ahead, do a little jump. Your knees just lifted up a bit there, together, didn’t they? That’s what I did. And sometimes when I jumped the higher hurdles, my knees were tucked so high that I hit myself in the chin with them, or when I knocked the pole down it wasn’t my legs doing the knocking—it was my butt!

It must have looked funny but that’s how I did it.

One late summer afternoon, for the heck of it, I set the brown hurdle at 48”. Was I ready for it? I didn’t know. The hurdle stood by itself. I could barely see the pole in the lengthening shadow of the house. I went to the end of the “runway” and faced the hurdle. It stood a dozen yards away. The path to the hurdle was so worn that the grass wasn’t growing in spots. (Sorry dad!) A little shiver went down my spine and I dug my Converse sneakers into the dry ground and ran. I ran and ran and, in a spot that I thought, at the last second, was a little too far from the hurdle, made the jump. I pushed off as hard as I could and tucked my knees as high as I could. They floated somewhere around my cheeks for a split second. I expected my butt, or even a small flap from the hem of my shorts, to knock the pole down.

I landed and immediately looked on the ground for the pole. It was not there. I looked at the hurdle. There, in the ever-lengthening shadows, sat the pole, still snugly nestled on the 48”-height nails.

I was twelve years old and the astonishment I felt at that second has really never been matched since.

I was only able to jump that height once more. It was winter and there had been snow on the ground for a couple weeks. The ever-present “runway” down the side of the house was now a two-foot-wide path of packed snow. It was hard to jump. Sometimes upon landing I would slip and fall on my butt. Sometimes I would lift a foot, ready to jump, and the other foot would simply slide me forward into the hurdle instead of over it. But ever-determined, I kept at it.

One cold wet gray afternoon I set up an oxer. The first fence was three feet and the second was 3’6”. I jumped it several times, and quite easily. Hmm. I raised the second fence to 4 feet. The first time I tried it, I knocked the higher pole to the ground with my leg. The same thing happened on the second and third and fourth and fifth tries. Sometimes it was my butt that knocked the pole to the ground, and sometimes it was the baggy sweatshirt I had on. Once it was my foot, which sent the pole flying a couple dozen feet. I laughed. But I remained determined.

Once again at the head of the “runway”, I felt that little shiver down my spine. I dug my Converse sneakers into the packed snow and ran. Not wanting to slip, I placed my feet tidily at the jump spot and pushed off from them as hard as I could, straight up. Over I went. I felt nothing but that didn’t mean anything—when my clothes knocked the pole down, I rarely felt it. I landed. Slipped. Fell hard on my butt. The wet snow soaked my jeans, which were already damp from previous falls. Still sitting, I looked behind me. The poles remained. Somehow, I didn’t believe it. The hurdles were set on top of the snow so there was no cheating. But there it was.

I never again repeated that feat. At thirteen I gradually stopped jumping the hurdles and by fourteen I was done. At fifteen I—na├»ve freshman that I was—initially wanted to join the track team in high school but I quickly realized that the other girls that were to be on the track team were not nice and would not make me feel welcome. My high school was overflowing at the gills with smug, superior types, and unfortunately they ruled all the sports teams in the school.

And so running fell to the wayside and I focused on horseback riding. I loved riding, of course!, but a part of me was jealous of all the runners I saw. I would see the cross country team, donned in the orange and black of my school, running after school hours heading for who knows where, the coach following on a mountain bike. I would remember all the times a gym teacher told me I should join the track team. In 1992, when I beat the boys at 100 meter races. In 1993, during the same. In 1995. In 1997, when I fell during a difficult obstacle course, suffering four instant hematomas on my legs, but got up and continued on in good time.

“You’ve got guts!” that teacher told me. Mr. Schaefer was his name and he had the legs of a runner. I’ll never forget that compliment.

Running never even crossed my mind during college but the 30 pounds I gained from bad eating habits and beer did.

One day I took a harder look at the Lake Shore Drive path running along Lake Michigan in Chicago. I lived only a quarter mile from it. I watched the runners gliding along. I watched the muscles working within their legs and that old familiar runner’s envy erupted within my heart. I remembered the exhilaration I once felt. I remember the amazement at myself. I remembered what a mighty machine my body used to be. I used to run. I can run.

It was April of 2005 and yes, I did. I began running again and I never looked back.

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