Those people with calves so strong they could use them as nutcrackers and thighs so tight you could throw quarters at them and they’d bounce right back at you.
Those people with the sneakers and Nike gear and Underarmor. Those people on the Gatoraid commercials who look completely impervious to acute physical pain.
This morning, I put on two pairs of sweat pants. I laced up my Newbalance sneaks. I put on a sports bra, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, and then a hoodie (just to be safe). I safety pinned a rectangle with numbers on it to my stomach-area.
And then I started to get excited.
Because I looked like them. I felt like them.
This morning the city of Chattanooga hosted the 7 Bridges marathon, half-marathon, 5k, and fun-run. This morning a fleet of people with all of the aforementioned accouterments flooded downtown streets in 45 degree weather–all to do one thing: run.
Because they want to be fast. Because they want to be healthy. Because they can. Because they are alive.
And I was one of them.
Don’t get me wrong–I wasn’t a marathon-er. I wasn’t even a half-marathon-er.
But I was a 5k-er.
And in the months leading up to this scenic downtown display of running-ness I had laced up my Newbalances and put on my iPod and angered the neighborhood poodles, all in preparation for one thing: running.
I had taken Facebook pictures of my preparations with captions like, “This is me going jogging. This is me with the Bourne soundtrack in my ears so I feel epic. This is me about to incite the wrath of neighborhood poodles.
…this is me with shoes coming untied. This is me with side-cramps. This is me thinking “why do people do this?!?” This is me pretending to be a gazelle and bouncing on my toes like little tiny hooves.”
I was attempting to be a runner.
But as the 5k had grown closer, I had pooped out and frittered down to vigorously walking down the road with a stroller and a 3-year-old, calling it “training.”
Don’t get me wrong. The music still played in my head and I walked with a purpose in each stroller-step, but I kind of stopped prepping for real.
I let it get to me a little bit. The fear. The fear of being a runner. The fear of being worthy to be called a runner.
You see, I’ve not always been the most coordinated crayon in the coloring book. Sports and physical exertion have not been my area of excellence.
Actually, they’ve been my area of greatest embarrassment…and, dare I say? Shame.
Being coordinated and physically-fit is cool. And cool, in this way, always seemed like a club for which I didn’t have a membership card. I’d get hit in the face with basketballs. Volleyballs. I’d twist my ankles (so much so that when I was 14, my catch-phrase was “I’m OKAY!”). And cool running people always look so serious. So intense. So ‘on a mission’ BUSINESS TIME.
It was hard for me to feel like I could be good enough to take myself seriously.
So when I ran, I ran in fun runs. My family and I did a race-for-the-cure as a nice Sunday walk. No pressure. No competition. I did another 5k with my college, but I laughed the whole way through because I had a comedian for a running buddy.
Running, I didn’t try. Not seriously.
But as the dawn of recent Jesus-peace has broken upon my soul, God brought it up again. Running. Physical activity.
The one thing you think you cannot do or are excluded from–the thing you think you are not good-enough-for and are destined to disappoint or fail. Running.
The 5k downtown. A friend who describes running as “her life” volunteered as my trainer. Her 16 year old kid brother whose skill level (and quirky energy) matched my own appointed himself as my new running buddy.
It was time.
So even though I had frittered out and was power-stroller-walking for training, I decided to give it my best, anyway.
Last night we met downtown. We did things I thought only runners did, like “carb load” the night before (YUM). We got up early. We stretched. We drank energy drinks and ate power bars.
I kept thinking we were good at pretending–but as the race got closer and closer–as we lined up with the horde of runners, I began to look around and realize: we are not pretending.
We are going to be running.
The starting gun fired. The crowd lurched to a slow run, and we ran with them–16 year old kid and me.
We kept running. Up the street, around the corner, over the Market Street bridge where I said things like, “I feel like a car! Like a very small car!” and the kid made car noises.
We were runners. We were quirky runners.
We were doing it.
And as I looked out at the sun beginning to rise over the Tennessee River, I began to understand.
This was not some club from which we had been excluded, this was an open invitation.
This was not only something we could do, this was something we were doing.
I smiled at God.
We didn’t walk much. Turns out the positive peer pressure of running with a herd of other people who look like runners works really well. We kept on and on and walked sometimes, but then so did the other folks.
And when we crossed the finish line, people cheered and took pictures and gave us water bottles and free fruit and big smiles.
And all of a sudden, we were talking about the next 5k. We were talking about 10ks. We were talking about half marathons.
And I could feel God’s arms around me, holding me, smiling: saying, “See? Welcome to life. You can live it. You are allowed to live it. You are good enough for it.
You are one of them, my darling little girl.
You are a runner.”