In the mornings before I run, I roll out the yoga mat and try to stretch out my poor sore legs. I grunt and groan through a few sun salutations, do a few awkward downward facing dogs and spend some quality time with my foam roller smoothing out the tight tendons on my thighs. And not infrequently, I rue the fact that all this is in service to a hobby. I’m never going to make a living as a runner (though I do have a couple of “trophy” beer glasses and a high quality plastic trophy to show for my efforts). I pay for the shoes, for the clothes, for the race entries and for the trips to the doctor. Taking up knitting would be less painful and I’d have a closet full of scarves to show for it.
But as I slowly work the kinks out of my legs, in my mind's ear I hear the satisfying rhythm of my feet hitting the dirt on the trail behind my house. I flash back to those glorious moments (sometimes, fleeting moments) between getting warmed up and being exhausted when my feet, legs and lungs are all working in perfect coordination and I feel like I could just go forever. A good quad stretch functions like a madeleine cake, conjuring up all the wonderful people I’ve met while running: veterinarians, former boxers, policy analysts, aid workers, music producers, carpenters, students, soldiers and retirees. All of us made equal in our determination to cover the miles.
I recall what it feels like to cross a finish line; whether it’s the first time or the twentieth, and no matter if it’s after 3 miles or 30. And I start grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly I’m no longer that gawky kid who tripped over the red rubber ball during Kickball. I’m not the girl who consistently hit tennis balls not over the net, but so high up in the air that my teacher yelled “Skylab!” as they came back out of orbit. I’m not a full-grown woman who struggles with basic math or who forgets to pay the power bill. I’m not a middle-manager sitting at a computer all day writing up memos that nobody will ever read. I’m not getting gray hairs, wrinkles and a shape that resembles nothing so much as a Bosc pear.
I am a runner. (Albeit a sore, tight, mass-of-injuries-and-little-pains kind of runner.) I am a scientist tracking my miles and analyzing what works and what does not work. I am a coach, pushing others to explore their limits and cheering them on when they surpass them. I am a role model for those who have been told for too long that they “cannot” or “should not” do something hard. As I push through the stretching poses, I remember that for at least a few hours a week, I am an Amazon.
So, sure, most mornings it takes me a little while to be able to get out of bed. And, frankly, my toenails look like hell. But as Carl Jung once observed, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” And boy, this week am I ever conscious of my calves.