Running into Myself

On our first morning in California, with Mike’s encouragement, I got up to run along the beach in Santa Barbara. Six weeks ago, I started the Couch-to-5K program. I’m eager to tell you more about the how and the why of its beginning, but today, I want to share with you Week 5, Day 3.


Couch-to-5K is walking-to-running program. It begins slowly, with very short running intervals and much longer walking intervals, for a total of about 30-40 minutes of training every other day. I’ve been committed to it. I walk at least 5 miles every day and I try to stick to C25K every other day. Sometimes I go two days between runs; sometimes, I repeat the previous day’s run because I’m not satisfied with my own performance.


I haven’t been tempted to give up, but I have worried more than a little about whether I will be able to finish.  Every once in awhile, I get utterly disgusted and send Paddy my performance record. I do this because I know Paddy will only respond with exactly the encouragement necessary. I’m not sure how he does this, but I am very certain it’s an extraordinary gift.


The night before my Santa Barbara run, Mike and I took a walk. I have become something of a marathon walker. I can walk and walk and walk, without tiring. I’ve literally logged half marathon walking days, just doing my everyday thing. On this evening, my husband was a very cheerful companion for all eight miles. Since I’d walked so far, I knew exactly where I wanted to run and how to time it the next morning.


Week 5, Day 3 is the first time the aspiring runner is asked to run without a walking interval. It’s a 5-minute walking warm-up, a 20 minute run, and a 5 minute cooldown. The longest I’d ever run without walking was 8 minutes. And that wasn’t pretty.


I timed the warm-up so that I arrived at the beach just as the run prompt was voiced. Mary Beth has made me a new running playlist of uplifting Christian music that was supposed to inspire me to run around a 10-minute mile (hah!). I started running. And I felt great. The sun was just coming up. I took some pictures on the go. I tried not to glance too often at my phone with the app running, clocking time and speed. I’d told myself I would turn around at the halfway point. I never heard her say I was halfway. I glanced at my phone. Seven minutes to go.


Maybe I could run those seven minutes and end up at the pier. Then I’d walk the pier and stop to take some pictures. Maybe I could do it fast enough to get there in time to get good sunrise pictures.


My hair began to curl in corkscrews across my forehead. Persistent neck pain all summer has kept me from wearing a headband. The corkscrew bangs drive me nuts every day. On this day, though, along the beach and feeling so good as I ran, I thought about my grandfather. He gave me these curls. He had tight, tiny corkscrews all over his head.


My grandfather was an athlete. An Olympic caliber swimmer, an avid cyclist, a man in motion all the time. He taught me to swim. First, I laid belly down on a board suspended between two chairs in his kitchen. Stroke technique without the water, over and over I stroked and he critiqued, going absolutely nowhere. Then he took me to the ocean and I swam off the coast of Long Island. A few years later, we swam together off the coast of Florida.


I remember a conversation in his basement, before he moved to Florida. I must have been about ten. I remember exactly where we were standing—the way you remember defining moments. He showed me a picture his brother had painted. His eyes grew dark and serious.

My brother was a talented artist, so very creative. Sometimes, many times, creative people have a dark side. They get sad; they think too much; they are held captive by their thoughts. The darkness can kill them.


He watched me carefully and I knew he was trying to tell me something important.


You’re a pensive type. I don’t know if you will paint or draw, but you will create. You will think big thoughts. Don’t let the darkness come too close. I keep moving. You can keep moving, too. Exercise will always be your friend. Take good care of your body. Always take good care of your body.


I haven’t thought about that conversation in so many years. I didn’t really know what he was driving at then and I still don’t know exactly, but on the beach in Santa Barbara, grace lit the morning. I think it’s entirely possible my grandfather knew a thing or two about depression and he was passing along his anti-depressant of choice.


I reached the pier and still had more time left to run. I ran the whole length of the pier and started back towards home before I heard the prompt to cool down. I’d run the whole time—no walking breaks, no real struggle.  Twenty minutes: I’d done it. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not too late. Maybe I can be a runner after all.


The sky was glorious. I wanted to laugh and to cry at the surreal moment at hand. I was on the beach, 3,000 miles from home, staring wonderingly into the sky.


I was middle-aged and still figuring it out.


Who decides to start running when she’s 48?


I have about four weeks left of couch-to-5K. I got a little off track while traveling. I’ve never been very good at the “31 days of ….” October challenge. I don’t have a button made or a catchy title for the series (suggestions welcome). But here we are at the beginning of October and I’d like to share a little bit about the marathon that is life and about how I see the long run taking shape before me.  I’d like to share with you the things I think about as I run and walk and try to sort out how fast life is changing in my home and in my body.


Come along? I promise we will stop to walk and take plenty of pictures along the way.