28 September 2011
Thirteen Point One
I jump up and down to keep myself warm, attempting to let the nervousness that grips my body manifest itself in some useful way. I think about how much I need to pee but I observe how long the line for the port-a-pot in Barksdale Field is. No time to think about that now. I take a look around. A young couple stretching to my left. A father-son duo to my right. A sweatband donning man old enough to be my grandfather to my rear. My best friend and training partner, Nicole, in front of me. Moments later the siren beckons us to begin what we had all come there to do. It is time. My jumping ceases. Nicole turns to me and we pound fists. With Outkast blasting in my ears, I mouth, “Let’s do it. “
Miles one through four are lovely and enjoyable. I set off at an easy pace, just as all of the running magazines preached. Negative splits, they told me. I listen despite how much my body wanted to propel itself forward at a much faster rate. I know I will be thankful if I conserve some energy for later. With my breathing relaxed and my mind at ease, I drift off in my thoughts: Erin, look how far you have come.
Second grade. Mr. Miller’s class. I sat in the back row at my desk listening attentively, like the little teacher’s pet I was. A few desks over from me Howard and Jeremiah attempted to talk at a whisper but failed miserably. Their chatter is heard not only by me, but also by Mr. Miller too. Mr. Miller asked them, “Gentlemen, what are you discussing that is more important than what I am teaching up here?”
“Nothing.” Howard answered, avoiding eye contact.
“No. You were talking while I was. What was more important than what I was saying? What were you talking about?” Mr. Miller asked, approaching the boys
“I don’t want to say.”
“We were talking about if Erin or Savannah was the fattest girl in the class.”
Mr. Miller, embarrassed that his prodding lead to this scarring confession, yanked both boys out in the hallway, leaving the class unattended and leaving me feeling, for one of the first times in my life, bad about myself.
I see the “4” spray painted in green on the gravel road. End of mile four. I get water from the water station. By now I am feeling thawed on the cold February morning. The sun is just now beginning to beat down. I finish the paper conical of water. Feeling rather full of myself, I crush it in my right hand and throw it on the ground, Four miles was nothing. Just gotta run that two more times, then you’re there, Er. No problem.
I buttoned what seemed like my sixtieth pair of jeans. “No,” I tell my mom. I looked at myself in the mirror in Sears’ dressing room, angered by the reflection: a chubby, freckle-laden fifth grader. I wanted to wear the cute clothes so many of my classmates and friends wore. They would never have fit me. I had to shop in the plus girls section. “I’m tired of this,” I plea to my mother from the pedestal in the dressing room with tears in my eyes.
Mom came and engulfed me in a giant hug and told me, “You are beautiful.”
I did not buy it for a second. She told me I will see a change in my body if I cut out some junk food and go on a walk with her once in a while. It wouldn’t hurt. I’ll give it a try.
The next month I was at my grandfather’s farm in Maryland. A particularly nice day prompted us to walk to the post office instead of drive, as we usually did when I ran errands with him. With mail in hand, we started back to the farm.
“C’mon, Miss Erin. Lets jog to the telephone pole.”
I obliged and took off towards the pole. Naturally, the ten year old beat the sixty-year-old man so I waited for him and we walked to the next pole.
“How’d ya like that, Gramps? Beat ya pretty good, didn’t I?”
“You sure did. Let’s run to the next pole,” he said after walking a ways.
Breathing heavily, I nodded my head and made my way to the next pole at a much slower pace. We continued this walk-run pattern for the rest of the half-mile journey home.
“I know, Mom aren’t ya proud?” I excitedly exclaimed over the phone, while downing a vanilla pudding cup. Famished from my fitness endeavor, obviously.
Only mile seven? Oh my gosh. I am only a little over half way. Sheesh. Strawberry Pop Tart at the finish. You’re running for that. It’s been literally five years since you have had one. Keep going.
A few months later, on another visit to the farm, my first running partner and I did our first race. We participated in a two mile run-walk in his town in a little over 30 minutes.
I can do this. I’m running 4 miles in 30 minutes now. Keep pushing. Don’t be a baby.
The course takes us past the Anheuser Busch Brewery. The cold is no longer a factor. Proud fans stand along side of the road with homemade signs cheering on their loved ones. I see a little girl bundled up in a winter jacket holding a sign that reads, “Go Mommy!” I used to be that fan.
I sat on the curb of the Pitman Fourth of July parade decked out in patriotic apparel from head to foot. I watch my mom finish the four-mile race that precedes the parade while eating a Pitman Bakery Cream Donut. My entire family cheered her on as she was in the last sprint before the finish line.
I gave my mom a hug, my sticky sugar covered fingers clutching her waist. “Think I could ever do that with you some day?”
“I know you can.” She replied with a smile.
The next year I finished the race more than five minutes before my mom, something I never dreamed of doing. And here I am now. Running a half marathon.
And with that I am back. Mile eight. The time is going by slower now. My legs keep moving without even thinking. I look around. I see a slender teenage girl in front of me opening up a pack of GU at the next water stop. I am getting hungry. It makes me think of my Pop Tart my best friend is bringing me at the end of the race. I love the things, despite their awful nutritional contribution to my body. I justify the consumption of one by running a half marathon.
“No, no, Dad. She’s fine,” my mom said firmly into her cell phone.
I heard a man’s voice on the other end of the phone. I munch away at some chocolate bark while shopping for Easter gifts with my mom.
“Dad…I know she lost fifteen pounds….I know that’s a lot for her frame. But listen to me she’s sitting here eating a bag of white chocolate right now. I guarantee you she is fine.”
I smile. I did it. I am one of the “skinny” girls.
My legs beg me to go slower. Just four more miles. I grant my body its wish and take on a more comfortable pace. There was a time where I would not allow myself to slow down.
The last 100. I saw Coach O’Connor and her bright yellow stopwatch. I heard her voice, but I could not make out the times she is yelling. I could not make out faces, but I didn’t see many girls ahead of me. I was one of the first finishers, maybe even the first junior. I didn’t know who was behind me so I made my legs turn over faster and faster. Like a machine. My breathing was out of control. I crossed the finish line and I heard her yell “6:31. Good job, Erin.” She turned to the rest of the track, “Come on ladies! One mile, that’s all this is!”
I made my way to the side of the field and try not to collapse. I poured cold water all over my face. I finished sixth on my field hockey team of over 60 young women. I was no longer a “skinny” girl like I was a few years ago; I was not built like a runner. I had grown up a bit and developed a bit of a curvaceous posterior, but I was in top shape. I finished with all the skinny girls. Once all everyone on the team finished, Lindsey approached me.
“Er, you are the fastest not-fast looking person I have ever seen. You give me hope that one day I can finish near the front. I want to be able to run like you someday.”
Some people may have taken that in the wrong way, but I still think it is one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. I was recognized for just being me, for making the best of what I had.
I pick up the pace thinking about it. Mile 10. I can’t do this. I am so tired. I cannot believe I thought I could do this. I think of another something else I never thought I could do.
I ran. Up and down the rows of Asian pear trees. Again and again. Searching for something unknown. He surrounded me. I just needed to feel him. I ran through the trees for almost an hour. Just trying to make sense of the whole thing. I needed to be with him before I started one of the toughest things I have ever done: writing his eulogy. I found myself running to deal with the death of the man who I ran with for the first time on that beautiful summer day beneath the telephone poles.
Mile twelve: What on God’s Green Earth made me want to do this? I honestly cannot finish…like actually.
And here I am. A little more than one mile left of my first half marathon. What made me want to do it? The Pop Tart? Yeah, it helped. But food was not the impetus to my interest in running this. I need to run this for me. I need to prove to myself that I have come full circle.
Mile twelve and three quarters. Oh my gosh. I see the finish line. I am actually going to finish. I. Did. It.
I cross the finish line in William and Mary Hall. I feel like I am in a fog. A sea of fans inhabit the chairs in the indoor arena. I am shaking. My legs feel weak. I try to catch my breath. Tons of runners are walking around the floor, extending congratulatory remarks to fellow runners who just endured the grueling journey. I have no energy to even talk, so I just smile at the friendly faces cheering me on. I continue to walk out of the shoot and look up to see none other than Nicole. She outstretches her arms. We embrace. We slowly make our way through the crowd to our group of friends. I see them in the stands holding signs with our names and cheering loudly. One of them throws me my Pop Tart and a bottle of water. I smile. I did it. I have difficulty realizing what I just accomplished. But I know one thing to be true: I am no different than that girl in the dressing room almost ten years ago. Not at all.