Last week, I finally registered for the Twin Cities In Motion Valentine’s Day 5k, which will be my first race in almost a year. I’m excited, but more so really nervous. Anxiety always likes to greet me before any type of test, whether it be a workout or a midterm.
I have ran this course once before, a couple years ago, but it was sort of miserable. My best friend was supposed to race with me but cancelled the morning of, due to the subzero temperature. In other words, I ended up running around a frozen and extremely windy Lake Harriet, on one of the coldest days of the year, surrounded by couples in a bunch cute couple-y outfits.
Needless to say, I listened to Sam Smith for the duration of the race, and glared at the people passing me, holding hands while running. It’s just not good form.
This year, though, is different (which, I know, is everyone’s catchphrase in January). Sure, I’m boo’ed up now and a solid thirty pounds heavier. But more so, I am equipped to run all 5000 meters all by myself, headstrong and positive, with my eyes laser beaming toward the finish line.
For those of you not keen on the metric system, 5000 meters is roughly three miles, and each is a problem.
Problem 7: The First Mile
I’m not sure how it started, but all the sudden we were single-file lined up on the way to the scale.
Along the pale yellow brick wall, the twenty of us fifth-graders leaned against the chilly mixture of colored clay, sand and concrete. Mister Marx, our gym teacher, freshened his breath with mouth-spray before he addressed the class, signature silver whistle dangling from his neck, Welcome children, to The Presidential Fitness Test.
The way I remember it, he spoke to the class as if he was welcoming us to day one of military boot camp. And for a chunky gay preteen like me, he might as well have.
The Presidential Fitness Test, for anyone that is blessed enough to be ignorant of it, was basically the stereotypical physical education experience that you see in movies. Every day for a week, we got measured in quantifiable ways to gauge our, you guessed it, fitness, as well as being measured for height and weight in front of the entire class (holler to all the other people who found out they were under five feet and over one-hundred pounds, in front of all of your adolescent peers).
Other metrics included, but were not limited to: the pull-up test, the duration of time you could hang with your chin over that same bar, and the distance your fingertips stretched past your toes while stretching and sitting down. Spoiler alert: I scored a 0.01, 0, and another big 0 because you couldn’t write down negative numbers.
The arc de triumph, though, was the one-mile run.
A few us of looked at each other when Mister Marx brought up the mile. See, I had only run one time before in my life (at least on purpose and not out of fear). It was with my sister on a street in our neighborhood, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I cried the entire time. If anything, I am downplaying the amount of tears.
Anyway, Mister Marx told us that there was only one rule. If you did not complete the mile before twelve-minutes, you had to write on your Test, DNF, or Did Not Finish.
I’m not sure how we decided to do it, but we did.
Maybe it was because she already knew how much I weighed, or maybe it was just the fifth lap around the soccer field, and we could acknowledge that we were clearly the slowest runners. Maybe she was lapping me and decided to be empathetic, or maybe it was the only time in my life that I wasn’t competitive to my detriment.
But there is one thing, an image specifically, that I do remember, as clear as ever:
A crowd of ten-year-olds standing along the sideline, neither cheering nor mocking. My vision turning into a pinpoint, while my lungs are doing anything but breathing. Mister Marx standing on the other side of couple orange cones, just a few strides ahead of us, counting down from ten.
I turn to Aria, who is equally flush, and reach out my hand in solidarity. We nod to each other, close our eyes, and run like there is a fire.
And, just before the credits roll, I hear Mister Marx exclaim, Spencer and Aria: 11 minutes, 59 seconds.
Problem 8: The Second Mile
The day of the inauguration, I woke up to my boyfriend repeating himself, just saying Fuck.
With my eyes still squinting, I asked, What’s wrong?
And all he said was, It’s happening.
So, I ran.
This funny thing happens every time I begin training for races, after not doing so for weeks (or in this case, months): I sprint the first mile so fast, that the rest of the run is shot. This time specifically, my body started laughing at myself to the sound of cigarette coughs. While my thighs felt like pork loins dangling from hip-bone meat-hooks.
After that first mile, every synapse in my brain was firing Girl, you better don’t. And on top of it, the sidewalk was more water than concrete.
When I encountered my first dozen puddles, I told myself, Not today, Satan. I am not about to be afraid of some melted ice. So I just charged through them, splashing the almost-icicles onto my shins, until the frozen soaked wool socks stuck to my toes.
And then, it happened. I’m not even sure how it was possible. But on 24th and Bryant, there it was. The symbol of everything that I was running against: a small lake encapsulating a majority of the intersection. So I stopped and assessed my options.
The easiest option would have been to just turn around, and start training another day, especially because I was just a few blocks from home. Or, I could either keep running through all of these demonic bodies of water, ignoring the truths of the matter (mainly, my feet). Or, I could just say, Nah, to everything that was fighting against me.
I know that vague statistic, about humans being a certain percentage of water, but there’s one quality we do not share: it finds the path of least resistance, whereas, when need be, we will resist, resist, and resist again.
And so, I decided to run in the street. All by myself and not turning around. A one-man pride parade.
Problem 9: Mile 3
This week at Solcana, we had an extended workout that was more metcon than weightlifting. And it wasn’t before the first set of burpees that it was clear: I was going to be one of the last two people to finish.
My first mistake was loading my barbell with way too much weight for the first set. Which was paired with the fact that I have not really worked out much all month. And to top it off, the last part of the workout included hanging knee raises. Or, in other words, I would need to hold onto that bar as long as possible. Hopefully, this time for more than 0.01 seconds.
Luckily for me, I was accompanied the entire time by my #HunkPatrol teammate, Adam, and surrounded by a chorus of cheers from the 11:30 class. Looking at the whiteboard, after the buzzer chimed time, I felt a twang of disappointment. But then I took a step back, and literally looked at the bigger picture.
Although I had one of the slowest times for the entire day, there was a set of facts, just in front of me that were reassuring: I also lifted some of the heaviest snatches, I never felt a sense of loneliness or shame throughout the entire workout, and I showed up and finished.
But most importantly, we were there for each other. And we were safe.
Because at Solcana, we are safe, we are there for each other, and we really show up, even if it’s the coldest day of the year.