by Debra Woods
One of the best things about the new house was it's close proximity to the high school. The kids could walk to and from school and many extra curricular activities, saving the "chauffeur" untold hours. Maybe with some of that time I would be able to start that exercise program at long last. In fact, the school came in handily because it seemed that they opened the stadium track early in the morning. I had seen joggers clearly past their teen years running laps more than once since we moved in.
I decided to take my chances one clear quiet morning just at sunrise. If I could get in, I figured I'd be able to spend 30 to 40 minutes going around the track before my family missed me. I knew better than to think I could "run" at this point, or even jog, but 30 minutes of steady motion of any kind was a big improvement over my current fitness regime.
What luck! The field wasn't actually open, but there was one gate that was chained very loosely so that even I could slip through it. To further dispel my trepidation, I saw that two earlier risers had forged the way and by the amount of sweat trickling down their faces, seemed well into their workout. "It must be OK or they wouldn't keep coming back" I muttered to myself. When I saw a gardener pull up in his truck and wave, I felt confident I wasn't breaking any rules, so through the gate I climbed.
I had decided a long time ago that I had to overcome my inherent self-consciousness if I expected to accomplish a goal. So I shrugged my shoulders at how ridiculous I looked in my husbands sweats and took a deep breath before I went through the warm up exercises I'd learned at one of the many aerobics classes I'd taken over the years. I held on to the fence and pointed and flexed every joint I could think of. Then I pulled out the stop watch I had worn around my neck and walked over to the track. I lined myself up with one of the marks on the outside lane and started my watch as I began my first lap. Walking without pushing too hard, I got around in 4 minutes and 22 seconds. I felt pretty good so I increased my pace. The second lap took me 3.5 minutes. I was breathing hard but I tried the little trick of talking to myself and found that I could so I figured I was not overdoing it yet. At this rate I should be able to do about six more laps before I should head home, if I could hold up. As it turned out, my shins started aching so I only did four more laps, but I figured that was plenty for my first try. I was smart enough to know I ought to stretch out again after my exertion and just as I had done all the grunting and sighing I cared to do, one of the other runners slowed her pace and headed toward me. She waved at me and said while jogging in place, "I see you have a stop watch there."
"Yes, I thought I'd time myself, it's my first day."
"That's a great idea. I was wondering if you weren't in too much of a hurry if you wouldn't mind timing me while I run one more lap?"
"Oh! Well, sure, I guess I could stay a little while longer."
"Awesome! I'll start back behind this line and when I cross it, start the watch, Ok?"
I followed her instructions and watched as she went around the track. She looked like she was in her mid- twenties and seemed quite the athlete compared to me, and still I was surprised when I looked at the watch as she crossed the line a second time. She had taken only two minutes, and that after running well over 30 minutes already.
"Wow, you're fast! Do you run in races?" I asked.
She talked to me as she paced back and forth, walking her heart rate down. "Not yet, but I plan on it later this month. My boyfriend races and he challenged me to try it. I've been training for about a month now."
"How often do you run?"
"Everyday if possible. I started out at four minutes a lap the first day, and it nearly killed me, that's how far I've come in a month. I was ready to give up till my boyfriend made the mistake of saying he really didn't expect me to stick with it in front of a group of his friends. I've been doing this on the sly ever since, but I didn't have a stop watch of my own so I wasn't sure how I was coming."
This little encounter must have inspired me, for I found myself back at the track four times that week. I enjoyed seeing my new friend, Angie, who was always there before me. It was nice to have someone to report to, and she sensed my admiration. We timed each other and congratulated one another on the improved times we both enjoyed. One morning about a week later, the track looked different for some reason. I was part way around my first lap when I realized there was a fresh layer of gravel on the track. When we timed each other that morning, both of our times had slowed down. Angie was in a hurry and we didn't have time to talk. The next time I saw her she said she couldn't figure out why her pace had slowed. I mentioned the new gravel and she was skeptical that that could make such a difference. Once again, both our times were slower that day. Angie didn't buy the gravel theory and was obviously discouraged at this first "setback" in her training. I tried to assure her that it would get better and we said good bye.
It was two days before I was able to run again, and the track was still wet from the rain we had the day before. Angie was cheerful and determined to improve her time. As it turned out, I slipped and pulled some muscle or tendon or something and had to stop running altogether. Angie asked me to time her. Her speeed was slower than it had been the last day we timed her. She thought maybe there was something wrong with my watch, or that I had manipulated it incorrectly, so we did it again, and again a third time. "I don't get it, I was really trying, how could I be getting slower?" She decided to quit early that morning and she drove me and my pulled whateveritwas home.
This time I was out of the running for five days while my leg healed. When I showed up at the track again, Angie wasn't there yet. I worried that she had really given up altogether, but she got there about 20 minutes later. I didn't even try to run, and besides, some equipment had been set up for a pep rally that day and we had to maneuver around it. I hadn't bothered to bring my watch, but oddly enough, Angie had bought her own stop watch. After she had run a few laps, I sat out and timed her. Once again, her time was yet slower than before. She got mad this time and she really pushed herself while I timed her again. This time, she got back closer to her best time and she felt some relief for that.
"You know the track is supposed to be off-limits for the next week or so while they re-wire some of the lighting in the stadium," Angie informed me. "I was thinking maybe you might like to run with me from the highschool to the park downtown tomorrow. I think a change of scenery might do us some good. Are you up to it?"
"Sure, if you don't mind that I won't be able to keep up with you."
"That's Ok, I'll just circle back if I get very far ahead of you."
I agreed. When the alarm went off the next morning I had a hard time figuring that it wasn't part of my dream. It must have been ringing for two minutes when I finally struggled out of my fog of sleep and realized where I was. "Oh no! Not morning. It can't be morning already." I hit snooze and fell right back to sleep. The alarm sounded again, but I was no more ready to get out of bed this time than I was before. I moaned and lay there arguing that I needed my sleep. Then I remembered my plans with Angie. I knew that if it hadn't been for her I would have given up on my running long ago. She cheered me up, and I know she depended on me more than ever since she stopped increasing her speed. I felt a sort of duty and worried that if I stopped coming, she might just throw in the towel and quit too, without running her race and surprising her boyfriend. That's the only thing that got me out of bed that morning. We met in the parking lot, and I was only five minutes late.
Angie was chipper and ready to get going. The route we'd agreed on was a lot more hilly than I had anticipated. I had to stop a couple of times and get my breath. Angie did better than me, but she was breathing harder than normal as well. We didn't get as far as Angie had planned before we knew we had to turn around and head back if we were going to get home in time for school and work. Everytime we parted Angie seemed more discouraged, and yet when we met again the next day, she was as cheerful as ever. Finally after a week of our new route, Angie admitted that she had decided not to run in the race after all.
"What!?" I exclaimed incredulously. "The only reason I keep getting up and running each morning is because I want to make sure you stick to your goal! I know you can really impress your boyfriend and his stupid friends! I really want that for you Angie. You've worked hard for it."
"You're kidding! I decided a week ago that I just wasn't an athlete after all and I'd save face and not race, and Kevin would never know the difference. The only reason I keep running is to make sure you don't let your injury stop you from all the progress you've made so far."
We both burst out laughing and ended up hugging and laughing through our tears as we both realized what a good friend we had in each other. Then we promised that since we believed so much in one another, we would both put away our ideas of quitting and go ahead and commit to keep with our original goals. The race was only three days away and Angie just made the deadline for late registration.
It was a 5K race in a neighboring town. Angie had wanted to run the route a couple of days before the race but couldn't fit it in, so the route was completely unfamiliar to her. It turned out to be very simple, and very flat. I got my whole family up early that morning and dragged them along with me since we had a big day of shopping to do together and the race was on the way. I wasn't going to miss this for anything. Just as Angie hoped, Kevin had no idea that she was there to run herself, and was completely shocked when Angie took off her sweats to reveal her new running outfit underneath. I helped her pin on her number and started cheering for her before the race even started.
"Don't expect much Kevin. You better not laugh when I come in last. Just be glad I'm running at all," she warned him before they lined up with the other runners.
I knew Angie underestimated herself, but I was so ignorant of this sport that I didn't know what to expect. 150 runners of all ages were lined up to race. Angie was number 147, an indication that she was one of the last to register. Angie hadn't really timed herself for nearly two weeks. She calculated a range that she might hope to finish in if all went well.
After the starters pistol was fired it took awhile for the tight crowd of runners to spread out enough to get up their speed. Angie was in the middle of the crowd and stayed that way until we were unable to see them as they turned a corner several blocks ahead. We then made our way to the car and followed our map to the finish line of the race. We couldn't park very close but still made it in time to get situated in a good spot and wait for the runners to show up. The first one was a man that looked about 30 or so, he was all alone with no one else in sight for a good 30 seconds. Then three other men came into view with the last one gaining on the other two and pulling ahead to come in second place. There must have been five or six more men finish before the first woman showed up. That's when I began to get tense. I looked at the time and murmured that I hoped Angie wouldn't be too much longer than she had anticipated. In less than 15 seconds the next woman came into view, followed by four others in short succession. There were men coming in larger groups as well and it took me several seconds to realize that Angie was in this next group of women. I was in shock and started screaming! We all started jumping up and down and yelling "Go Angie!" at the top of our lungs. She passed the woman just in front of her and started gaining on the next one in front of her. I can't remember being so excited in my life. Angie pulled ahead and kept her position finishing in third place 19.6 seconds after the first place woman racer! We were all ecstatic and hugged and jumped and high fived as if it were our own daughter and sister who had won the Boston Marathon.
It took several minutes for us to catch up to Angie through the crowd. We flung our arms around each other and laughed and laughed. "I can't believe it! I can't believe it," she kept repeating.
"I knew you could do it, I knew you could do it," I kept repeating.
Finally we relaxed our hold and Angie stepped back and started stretching out her muscles and shaking her hands and feet. "No, I mean, I can't believe how easy it was," she laughed. "It was like a piece of cake after our runs up and down those hills talking all the way."
I started laughing all over again. "I guess all those things that slowed me down really were making me stronger. I really was so surprised, I couldn't get over it till I saw that finish line, and then I really started pushing."
We hugged again and I said, "See, it all paid off in the end!"
"I guess it did. By the way, have you seen Kevin?"
My son pointed him out as he was headed our direction. What a combination of pride and embarrassment he had on his face. "When did you get so fast lady?" he ventured. Angie laughed and hugged him repeating the "I can't believe it" dialogue once more for Kevin.
"How did you do, I didn't see you after the first kilometer." she asked him.
"What do you mean you didn't see me!? You passed me about 50 yards shy of the finsih line!"
"What?! I guess I had my eye so focused on that goal that I didn't see anyone but the woman in front of me.!"