Run for your life
Joan Rivers once said “The first time I see a jogger smiling, I might consider it.”
She has a point – because it is bloody hard – but then again, she’s resorted to expensive, public and painful processes of plastic surgery, liposuction, botox injections, chemical face peels and dermabrasion for her own well being and now looks like this:
...which, if you view a bit closer, ironically makes the viewer actually want to run. Run away from the image and what it represents and hope like hell that the chin hairs she invariably uses electrolysis to remove are not in reality, her super-stretched bikini line....
There. That makes anything I’m about to write about relating to sweat, farting, breathlessness and burning muscles seem like a sweet rest in a field of violets by comparison, doesn’t it?
And so, approximately five mornings a week I open this secret door...
.... hang my sweat towel over the rail, take off my gold bangles (they jingle too much) and polar fleece jacket, twist my bum bag around to the back once my playlist is selected and then press ‘start’ on the treadmill panel, selecting a speed of 12.6km per hour.
In less than thirty seconds my legs start saying “Stop Kath, please stop. We don’t think we can do this today.”
My lungs say, “Give up now. This is too hard for us.”
My right shoe says, “Can’t you feel me swimming here – I’m so much smaller than the canoe in the left shoe and a blood blister’s now growing on my second toe.”
My arms say, “Crikey, we’ve forgotten how to swing properly and it’s freezing in here!”
My arse says, “I don’t think I’ll be able to hold out for the entire session, so I’m going to start sending you a few fragrant warning signs, OK?”
But my head says, “Ignore them all. Listen to the music and RUN.”
My father always springs to mind, veteran of several marathons in the 1980s and a patient companion on my first runs as a teenager. We’d wake up at 6.00am and jog along the edges of the Murray Bridge race course, me complaining, him encouraging. “But Dad look, this is the WORST run I’ve ever done and it’s the WORST I’ve ever felt. It’s starting to rain and each drop is sizzling on my face like a hotplate,” I’d puff out raggedly, somehow still continuing to keep on running as I did so.
Philip Wells, school star sportsman and President of the SRC approached us from the other side of the road one morning, running faster than a gazelle and barely cracking a sweat. My whingeing stopped as I automatically increased my pace, held my head up high and sailed right past him, nodding a silent ‘hello’ in respectful recognition of our mutual athletic endeavours.
As we rounded the corner and out of sight, I collapsed into a mulga bush and Dad roared with laughter.
I loved running with him and knew that he was slowing his pace considerably just so he had an activity to share with his overly-dramatic fifteen year old daughter. He’d say to me, “Yes your lungs are working hard; yes your feet are hurting and yes your legs are aching, but think about each of them separately. Are your lungs really going to explode? Your feet break down or legs drop off?”
“No,” I’d pant and realise that my body was indeed a pretty wonderful piece of work, allowing me to run the outskirts of my home town before anyone other than Philip Wells, trainers returning their horses to the stables or interstate truck drivers were up.
His words stay with me today amongst the lyrics I’m hearing in the earphones. I’m not seeing the dull wooden wall in front of me but looking inside to memories old and new and having a good look at the ideas swirling around for articles, remembering all kinds of inexplicable events and reflecting on others, sentimentalising my darling Sapphire and thinking about what I’m dying to tell Love Chunks later when I see him. They’re all there, running with me, keeping me going.
My heart is thumping hard but strong, now louder than any song or memory and the sweat is dripping down my forehead and into my eyes making them sting. I'm no star runner - Nutella's advertisers and Steve Monaghetti aren't going to be tracking me down any time soon - but it has become an essential part of my life.
There are days when I do need to stop for a few seconds because I'm afraid that my body can't match the merciless pace of the black belt I’m running on and will fling me back onto the exercise bike, cracking my bones, skinning my knees and making me cry. But after a breather, I always get back on, feeling all the better for doing so.
I can’t say that I’m smiling during the run but it allows me to move further away from the black dog and self-doubt and closer towards a contentment of sorts. Afterwards I look at the data on the treadmill panel with pride and go outside to flop on our cold and hard metal bench seat, resting my head in my hands and my elbows on my knees, watching each splat of sweat hit the paving stones.
It is then that I smile. My little orange dog Milly wanders over for a pat and a sly lick of sweat from my legs. No matter what else happens today, I’ve already won.