On the first day of junior high phys ed class, the teacher — Mr. B., a tall, toe-headed, rangy fellow — glanced down at the roster, then looked up excitedly. “Eber, where’s Eber?!” he said.
I raised my hand. Our eyes met. “Oh,” he said, flatly, as best I can recall. My brother had passed through his class two years earlier. He is, and was then, tall and dark and lean; gifted with natural athletic ability and an easy way that makes me wonder if I somehow got an uneven helping of the neurotic gene, while he got none.
Junior high was not my coolest time. I was a bit chubby and in the midst of a misguide attempt to grow my fine, somewhat stringy, brown hair all the way down my back. (By the age of 14, I had come to my senses – it’s never been past my shoulders since.) While some of the other girls in my class were discovering Bongo jeans and a rich assortment of sexy, mass-market mall fashions, I was prone to wearing horse shirts for as many days as the week, and my mom’s washing cycle, would allow.
Mr. B. smiled, then proceeded with the roll call. I’d been here before…in this shadow. Two years later, I would choose an all-girls Catholic high school over it, so long, if not dark, did it seem.
In junior high P.E., you had to run the mile once a quarter. It wasn’t so much “the mile,” as it was “The Mile.” It seemed a torturous distance. I remember once my god brother, a track and field star, telling me that a mile was actually considered a short distance, a mere sprint. Mind blown.
At Camerado Middle School, the mile was four arduous laps around a grassy field — a marathon unto itself. I would occasionally get out of it with some well-timed “female problems” and a note from home. In the suburbs, in the early-mid 90s, handing a male teacher a note making vague reference to your period could get you out of just about anything.
In the years that followed The Mile and the Presidential Fitness Test, I took to running here and there…the way one does when you’re prone to neurotic bouts of insomnia, the not uncommon too drunken night, and the occasional cigarette. I cringe at the thought of the state I embarked on some runs in my college years, in varying states of hangover, on just a few hours sleep (if any), my heart beat elevated more by whatever lingering mischief I’d been up to the night before than it was by healthy physical exertion. Sometimes, the finish line was a convenience store and a fresh pack of Parliaments
Because I never ran track or cross country, nor was I member of any sort of varsity high school athletics team, because I’ve never ran a mile in under seven minutes, because I have two exceedingly flat feet, because I am vaguely or quite lopsided (depending on which medical professional you ask on which day and the state of my health insurance), because I brought notes about my menstrual cramps to get out of running The Mile, I’ve long thought of myself as an unlikely marathoner. And, even when I haven’t, others have seemed to.
It’s easy enough to say you’re going to run a marathon. Yes, this is the year! No really, c’mon, you guys! Will you watch?! You’ll have to watch! Make me a sign. I’m going to have a little party afterward. Hell, I’ve been telling people I plan to for over a year, closer to two. But, as of this week, the marathon is less than four months away.
My 18-week marathon training program officially began this past Monday – which was our national day of drinking and grilled-meat-eating, so actually, it started Tuesday. Sure, I’ve been running several days a week already, including a longer run on the weekend; I did a half marathon earlier this year and have been training for another later this month. But this is still week 1, according to the training plan I happily printed out on pink paper and gleefully magnet-ed to the fridge. (Actually, I did this with two different training plans – one from Hal Higdon, another from Runner’s World. I can’t find the time to balance my checkbook or go through months of receipts, but I have puh-lenty of time to format and print out multiple training programs. And on colored paper, no less. I might even have time to dig some crappy stickers out of an odd drawer to smack them on my training plan as if I’m a child who’s finished her homework.) Now that the big day is just 17 and a half weeks of regimented mileage away, I can’t help but think something that starts with an “f” and ends with 26 “k’s” slowly lingering into silence.
It’s Wednesday night, and according to my training plan, I’m due for a five-mile run at a moderate pace. My inner 12-year-old is complaining about some vague cramps. And also her ankle is feeling a bit funny. My inner 18-year-old hasn’t had a fight with that dude she’s sorta dating, so she doesn’t see any need for a jog, especially a five-mile one. My inner 20-year-old is too hung over, but maybe it’d be good to run it off. And, my outer 30-year-old is lamenting the fact that it’s gotten later in the day. Jeopardy will be over by the time she makes it on the treadmill. She’ll be left with nothing but Wheel of Fortune and CNN to divert her as the distance slowly creeps up. But no matter, it’s week one, and there are multiple pink training plans on the fridge requiring some old stickers I have yet to find.