Thursday, May 19, 2011

Running the Distance Between Pages and Streets

Moving has always felt foreign and overwhelming to me. Not just my house, but my body.

They say a body in motion stays in motion but I say a body lying on the bed reading a book stays in bed reading a book until it is time to pay the required fine, because getting to the library requires movement.

Although at one point I made frequent use of public transportation I have traveled far more miles through pages than streets. When I was thirteen and took a cross-country trip with my mother it was not the radio station we fought over but whether I would take my nose out of a book long enough to notice we were no longer in Kansas. I’ve always been a terrible book snob, judging people by their covers, dropping author names like bread crumbs. I made the mistake early in my marriage of giving my husband hell for not reading enough “novels,” even though his preferred reading material baffled me enough to finally seal the deal. What kind of man read Feynman’s Lectures on Physics in the bathroom? The kind of man, apparently, I would spend the rest of my life trying to figure out.

In high school I discovered that I might be book-smart but that my nearly flunking step-brother had a sort of intelligence I would always envy. Street smarts. He might have misspelled every word he spray-painted on his bedroom wall but when the bully at the bus stop threw rocks at my head, it was my step-brother who knew what to say. “Stay the #*@! away from my sister, you $#&@*.” To me, no single sentence before or since has ever sounded smarter.

Particularly not last month, when my husband— high from a newfound running jag- told me he had signed up our entire family not only to run a 5K, but a 5K MudRun. I wasn’t sure whether to kill him or myself. I hadn’t run a mile since those last tortured laps around the field in high school. But, to avoid complete humiliation- and to avoid losing our deposit-- I decided I had better start to train. And by “train,” I mean elevate my feet from the ground at a pace slightly faster than shuffling. But, as the miles added up something weird happened. I started to like it.

Running with my husband allowed me to marvel at his kinesthetic, animal-like intelligence which I could not seem to trump with any quote from any novel. Running with my son allowed us to spend quality time together without having to play baseball or practice kung fu, although perhaps, dear God, those sports are probably next on the horizon. We counted bunnies and butterflies, made up hand signals and sang songs happily hoofing it to the next Stop Sign. Running alone allowed me bursts of energy, confidence and pleasure that I never dreamed I could achieve by moving more than the muscles in my eyelids.

And to my surprise, the race itself was actually ridiculously fun, another in my series of mind-blowing revelations that are already obvious to everyone else [NEWSFLASH, PEOPLE! EXERCISE MAKES YOU FEEL GREAT!). When we first arrived at the island downtown amidst a throng of lithe athletes I felt like an illiterate at a city-wide Spelling Bee. But by the time I actually started to run, I felt A-Part-Of.

A-Part-Of my city, A-Part-Of the river we were running through, A-Part-Of my family, A-Part-Of my body which was sky-rocketing over rocks, trails, suspension bridges, embankments, nature paths. I felt like a thousand million bucks as we crawled across the finish line in the mud on our hands and knees. Even though we were almost last, I knew we were winners. We hadn’t died. And we’d had fun doing it.

Two days later, when I took my pile of books back to the library, I felt a pang of sadness and regret that I had not cracked any of them. I realized this was the first spring I could remember since prepubescence spending more time exploring the world beneath my feet than between two covers. And then, even though I still owed a fine, I didn’t feel sad at all.


  1. JenniferUnlimitedMay 20, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Beautiful article!

  2. Oh Valley, your blog needs to become part of my breakfast every morning. I love this post - especially how training connected you even more to your husband and son, our city and the river.

  3. I criticized Ben for not reading enough when we were dating. And then I eventually figured out that he just reads differently from me (weird magazines, websites, and design books) and he kind of does it on the sly!