Friday, April 2, 2010

The First Mile (& a 1/2) is the Toughest

When my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning two thoughts went through my head: (1) I probably shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine last night, and (2) this latest harebrained scheme of mine might be over ambitious. But I crawled out of bed and toward the coffee maker and not long afterwards was careening along the beltway with some typically bad Mapquest directions on my lap. I was a moving stereotype—a well-paid white woman in her $125 running shoes, driving a Prius and listening to NPR, savoring the memory of her Peet’s coffee—headed off to Washington Highlands, one of the poorest and least well-served neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.

Today was my first day of running with some of the residents of the Southeast Veterans Center Shelter, a location I’d specifically requested from the DC branch of “Back On My Feet.” While the ever-growing problem of homeless makes me angry in general (really—the richest nation on earth and we can’t recognize that shelter is a fundamental human right?), I find the epidemic of homelessness among veterans especially galling. Over the course of a year, about 200,000 vets spend at least a night out on the streets, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates another 1.5 million are living on the edge, precariously balanced just this side of homelessness. And these are stats from BEFORE the current recession.

After some calisthenics we hit the road for a hilly 1.5 mile run. Generally speaking, I don’t get out of bed for anything less than a 5k these days, but for the vet I was running with today was a milestone. It was the first time he’d done one of his three-day-a-week runs without stopping to walk. In fact, as we turned the last corner he broke out into a sprint. We didn’t talk a lot about grand socio-political issues or the vagaries of life while we ran because for that mile-and-a-half we were both just runners; panting up the hills, praising the down slopes, remarking on the view from the top of Atlantic and comparing strategies for dealing with sore muscles. I know he was in the Air Force. He’s knows I’m from Ohio. Mostly we both know there’s a 5k race coming up in 3 weeks that would be a monumental achievement for him to finish and it’ll take some real work to get ready for it. Will a 5k change his life or his housing situation? Nope. But the pride and self-respect we’ll see on his face at the finish line will help get him there.

I myself am going to shoot for my first marathon in over 6 years. I finished my last one with an ice bag duct-taped to my knee and ever since I have slowly moved further and further away from seeing myself as a “marathoner.” I’m going to do the Marine Corps Marathon in October as a fundraiser for BOMF, even though I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work just to get to that starting line (the finish line is almost too much to contemplate right now). I think that my partner’s tips on muscle cramps are going to be more and more useful as we go along this summer.

If you’re interested in sponsoring me on this mid-life adventure, check out my fundraising page at: I’m going to donate a dollar for every mile I run, so be sure to give me a shove out the door each week too.


  1. We're with you AC! I may not have much but will kick in.