On being bad at running

I started running when I was dating my husband. I’m terrible at it. But now, twenty years in, I like it even though I never seem to get any better. Still, I keep running and now I'm even in a running group, which does sound like the kind of thing a runner would do.

Three years ago, a really dear friend died suddenly. She was the nucleus of a group of moms and neighbors, and for a year we scattered in our grief. Two years ago, one of the other moms rallied some of us to join a local running group. We meet at a gym near my house at 5:30 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (I know! I can hardly believe it myself!) and at 7:00 on Saturdays. It helped us with our grief and I got a bit more fit. Now, I’m the last one still in the group.

And I am the worst.

I mean, well and truly the worst runner in the group.


And it’s hard to be the worst. Every time I meet the other runners, I have to remember not to compare myself to them. I am the only one with a tummy. And my pace--my goodness!--I won’t confess it here, but let’s say it’s somewhere between “oh, so basically a walk” and “well, at least you’re out there!”

Except that I really like the other runners. And they like me. And it’s fun to come back from a 45 minute run and stand on the sidewalk while the commuters race to the train and stretch and plank in a group like a middle-aged school child. And running makes me happy. And it’s humbling, in a good way, to remember that, like so many other things in life, it’s not that we are aiming to be the best, but that we are just doing them.

I don’t get caught up in competitiveness over mothering or cooking or decorating. I’m ok with where I stand in those areas--I’m only aiming for competence, pleasing myself, doing right by my children. But running is a sport and a competition. You set a distance and you set a pace and you meet it or you don’t. Other people beat and pass you. And it’s hard, when faced with something that’s so measurable, to let go of the hopes and expectations of being any good at all even at the same time as you work to improve.

Two Saturdays ago, I ran six miles. Afterwards, I felt wrecked for the whole day. Last Saturday, I ran the same distance and route and was only pretty tired. That felt like a victory. But this coming Saturday, there’s a 10K race and, judging by my time, I can see from the results that I’ll be the last on the course. (I came in second-to-last last year.) It’s been a hard spring and my ego just doesn’t have the elasticity to be cheered by a bunch of folks who lapped me ages ago. I’m going to run solo. I have mixed feelings about this. My coach, who is a rock star, says “why do you care? You’re a grown up.” And then, when I tell her more, she says, “I get it.”

All of this, I think, I tell myself, is going to help me be a better and more compassionate teacher. Understanding what it means to persist even when you’re wildly behind the pack isn’t my favorite lesson, but it seems like a good one.

(An ancient post--2005!--on this topic.)