I’m happy to report that I accomplished my goal of “running” the 5km event in the Marathon at the end of October. Not without its dramatic road blocks. A bum knee (old dancer’s injury) and a pesky heartbeat thing (all is fine) sidelined me for almost three weeks and put a dent in my training, but somehow I still managed to “run” the whole way. Considering the fact that I’d never actually “run” an entire 5km distance before, or even “run” outside, I’m pretty fucking proud of myself.
At this time, I feel I need to come clean about something. One day, as I was “running” on the treadmill, the perpetual dancer in me glanced in the mirror to check out my technique and form. I was shocked to discover that, what felt like a smooth and swift “running” stride, looked more like an urgent trot to the bathroom. Were it not for the sweat dripping into my eyes, my accelerated heart rate and sore calves, and the milliseconds when both my feet were actually off the treadmill, I’d almost have thought I wasn’t “running” at all. My mirror stride did not measure up to my spirit stride. Even in the Marathon, as I rounded the final corner and headed into the home stretch, I swear I kicked it up a notch and put on the after-burners, crossing the finish line with well-earned open arms of victory. Days later, when Marathon organizers sent photos and videos of me, I looked less like Chariots of Fire and more like Older-Middle-Aged-Woman-Who’s-Not-Actually-Running-But-Thinks-She-Is.
As a dancer, I’ve spent more than three decades trying to perfect my technique and form, caring that what I looked like on the outside reflected what I felt like on the inside, and most of all, giving too big a shit what critics, teachers, choreographers, other dancers and the audience thought. The first time I watched a video of myself dancing, I was mortified. Well, not mortified exactly, more sort of fascinated, critical and shy at the same time. For all the reasons why dancers use video and mirrors in dance training, I could probably make a stronger argument against using them, especially when it comes to daily technique class. We get so distracted with our image that we lose sense of what dancing feels like anymore.
Of course running is different. I’m not trying to convey anything when I run except, evidently, that I really have to pee. I’m running for no one but me, no audience, no judgements. Er, well, I am still a dancer, and technique and form to prevent injuries are important to me, but aside from these fundamental aspects, I really don’t care what the hell I look like when I run.
There was an episode of Friends when Phoebe’s childlike running embarrassed Rachel so much that she avoided running with her. But for Phoebe, running like a kid—all gangly arms and legs—brought her so much joy. I can’t say running has brought me that amount of joy yet, but I think approaching almost anything with a more child-like sensibility is a good thing, especially these “older middle-aged” days, when life has a way of smacking you upside the head a bit too often. Did five-year old me care what I looked like when I ran, skipped, jumped? How about seven or nine? When did that start to matter more than how I felt?
I’m a big fan of joy these days, and if not being a pretty runner brings me closer to it, then get out of my way.