I can tell the instant he has met up with another runner when we’re out in public. A feverish light appears in his eye. In an amazing show of solidarity, he and his newfound friend break out in a “runner’s sweat” and begin a series of involuntary stretches, all the while comparing their vital stats – number of miles a week, mile times, etc. – right there in the produce aisle amidst the rutabagas.
Once our oldest son hit high school, he, too, was bitten by the running bug. This child, who once had no interest in physical movement of any kind, has become an avid runner. Track, cross country, half marathons – this kid has done it all. He, too, has found a very real and manly bond among his own group of “Male Friends Who Sweat Alot.” The camaraderie that exists on the cross country team is beautiful to behold. As one would expect, there’s the usual amount of horseplay wherever guys are gathered. This includes the occasional power wedgie (with my son ducking behind a tree to “unpluck the tuck”), routine wrestling matches, and team dogpiles on the unfortunate Victim of the Day. However, once the starting gun fires, it’s all for one and one for all.
Watching that kid run the course wearing the Panther uniform is one of the joys of my life. He nearly floats, his long legs eating up the ground on his race to the finish line. Seeing him, I am reminded every time of what a young man he is becoming and how quickly our time with him is passing. In true female fashion, my emotions swing wildly at every meet. They range from choking back tears as I realize this is our last year to do this, to delivering words of pride and encouragement at a high volume, to a malicious urge to trip the idiot that just passed him. It’s a mom thing.
In a heartfelt effort to show my love and support for the runners in my life, I devised a simple plan. Surely, I theorized, if I were to follow them closely in the family van, honking wildly and riding the accelerator, they could set land records.
“You could be stars!” I enthused. They blanched. Nothing – not even a veiled reference to the five Olympic rings – could induce them to adopt my strategy for success.
“I just want you to be all you can be, but if you’re content with mediocrity…” I would harrumph at their quickly retreating backs.
Now, for years my personal motto has been, “I am morally opposed to sweating on purpose.” I admit it – I’m a wimp. I hate pain. So for years I watched them run. I clapped, I shouted, and I laundered, but nothing short of flying bullets or the promise of a new pair of sandals could make me get out on that road. Until.
Until, that is, we found out that – surprise! – I was expecting on the dark side of 30. Immediately I began eating everything that wasn’t nailed down and couldn’t crawl away.
“I’m spreading across three counties,” I would wail to my husband from behind my keyboard. “Innocent people in two zip codes are being smothered!” He would roll his eyes and fetch me another Krispy Kreme to calm my shattered nerves.
Slowly, during the next year and a half, a dark and very real fear began to grow in the corner of my mind. Now, please do not laugh when I share it with you. Fear is never rational, but when you throw raging postpartum hormones into the mix, all sorts of outrageous things suddenly seem entirely possible.
My fear was this – somewhere, sometime, upon leaving a local restaurant with my family, an overzealous little manager would follow me out the door and say, “Ma’am, you need to come with me. We’ve had reports of a cottage cheese smuggler on the premises and we have a few questions for you.” Oh, sure, you can laugh, but if you had roiling feminine hormones, it would make perfect sense to you, too.
And so, motivated by fear and desperation, I grabbed my Filas and hit the road. “Remember the Alamo!” I would cry as I headed out. “Let’s win one for the Gipper!” Thirty-some minutes later I would return, gasping and heaving, lips blue, but with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. As the summer went by, the girl whose motto used to be, “I am morally opposed…” adopted a new one, “Get out of my way!”
I now know why my son and husband run. It’s a high. I’m getting in shape. I talk to God. It saves lives – just ask my kids. I come back from running filled with love and warm fuzzies for my offspring who just 30 minutes earlier had been consigned to a labor camp somewhere in Siberia.
As for the fear, that, too, is abating. I am no longer afraid of eating out with my family. After all, I can now outrun any little hawkeyed managers who come at me with wild accusations of smuggling. If that fails, I’ll just beat them with a sweaty Fila. Be afraid, you managers, you. Be very afraid.