When people say this to me, and they do, I mostly feel at a loss to answer. I tend to smile, or shrug. Yesterday, during my long walk, I think about this some. The first answer that comes to mind is “well, not perfectly!” So much to learn, so many practices jammed into an already impossible schedule, and, sometimes, so little sleep.
Once, during a 5k race last spring, I forgot to double tie my shoelace when I adjusted it just before the race, and after a few laps, sure enough, I felt my shoelace flapping against my ankle. I just had no idea what to do about it! Racewalkers can’t just break form in the middle of a race, after all, and I really doubted I could bend over and tie the thing without moving my feet at all, and therefore taking a step. So I did most of the race with one shoe untied, gaining only one caution, and earned a personal best 5k time anyway. I got teased a whole bunch by my teammates, several of whom would ask “tied your shoes Karen?” before races after that! But I talked with the judges after the race, and learned the real options, and all about using the porta potty and stepping off the course during a race. And, of course, I never forgot to double tie my shoelaces again.
I left in a hurry for the airport when I was going to Florida for the 20k in November, so I didn’t have time to wrap my foot (for the tendinitis). I sat there in the gate area, with the directions and the tape (precut at home since I couldn’t bring scissors), just completely not able to see how the tape was supposed to go. This definitely intrigued my fellow travelers, me sitting cross legged on the floor with one sock off, holding the tape this way and that. And although I didn’t realize it until I got to Florida, my singlet was sitting happily at home on my couch, forgotten. When I’m working hard, or traveling, I often have to improvise. I’m supposed to heat my foot before a workout, and the first time I found myself at the Y, my heating pad safely at home, I looked around, then sat down at the vanity mirror and calmly blew dry my foot. I don’t even want to know what anyone thought about *that* one. One of my most comical moments was also at the Y, when I tried to shower without getting my foot wrap wet. Yeah, right, no problem, showering while standing on one leg in semi-public. Give me a hard 10 miles any day! A few weeks ago, I got caught up in my track workout and lost track of time, then suddenly saw the clock and realized I was due in a meeting in 5 minutes. I jumped into the car, and walked into the meeting 6 minutes later, in full athlete attire, and absolutely soaked through. (Nobody said anything — to me.
Every now and then, I’m right on the edge of *not* doing it. Thanksgiving day, I get into my gear and head out to the track, and its just pouring, lots of water on the track, and for a moment my legs just stop, right at the edge of the garage, and I’m just somehow not stepping out into it. This throws me — my head usually wins, so I’m startled. I make a concession to the legs, and put on my shuffle right there, and take two deep breaths, and then I just push those legs down the steps and onto the track and start the workout. Once I’m on the track, its go as always, no big deal. One Sunday I head out to the bike path, intending to do loops to my car; but after the first loop, I open the trunk, and realize what I’d thought was a bottle of sports drink is in fact just water — I have no calories at all. Disgusted, and frustrated, I throw in the towel, get in the car and go home. But I sit down at the computer to check my email, and click on itunes, and the next song on the playlist just happens to be the B52’s “52 Girls,” and as I turn up the volume and sing along, I see the race in my head, and I want it. I get back up, grabbing the actual sports drink this time, go back to the bike path, and finish the rest of the miles.
Of course, “not perfectly” isn’t the whole answer to “how do you do it?” I pay attention to what seems to help, and go with it, no matter if it seems silly. The theme from Rocky on my shuffle actually keeps me going, partly because it makes me laugh, and partly because I’m one of those people who went and saw that movie in the theater when it came out, and watched this guy take himself from nothing to running up those library steps, and it reminds me of that time when jogging just started, and the Legg’s Mini Marathon hit Central Park. To remind myself to keep good form when I’m getting tired, I tell myself “Use the feet, Luke!” in an appropriate Star Wars tone. I spent a few hours watching a show called “The Biggest Loser” on television, even though I mostly detest reality shows, just to see the images of these very overweight people jogging and working out and taking off their shirts right on camera to step on the scale; they’re the definition of determination, of focus on a goal. I watch videos: Miracles, about the winning US Olympic Hockey team; Without Limits, about Prefontaine; Walk to Me, about a woman training to walk her first marathon; and Run Like a Girl, about three generations of female distance runners. There’s this awful moment in Run Like a Girl, when an athlete explains that the male winners received as a prize well-crafted wooden chairs, but she was handed a wooden doll’s chair instead. (Sitting in my living room in 2006, I think of a few creative things I’d have wanted to do with those full-sized chairs, but incredibly, she just lightly jokes to the person handing out awards, “next year, I want a big chair.” She returns the following year, wins, and gets a big chair.) Another athlete completes a men’s cross country race, at a time when there are no women’s, but is physically prevented from crossing the finish line by a row of officials. I can’t whine about a few crunches after watching this stuff. My obstacles seem small by comparison.
The things that sound so impossible to people, are often not the bad ones. Today, in the dark on the track, stepping around the puddles, when it starts to rain, is one of those moments. To me, its a good workout — I’m warmed up and its above 35 degrees, and it doesn’t rain for long, and anyway, I like my fast interval day. I’m pretty used to wet. The time I chafed from my tampon string during a long walk, though, now *that* was BAD.