October 2008

Running on empty

By Suzanne Strazza

I’ve started running.

My neighbors are thinking “Is that what that is?”

Yes, believe it or not, it is.

It was time to get off my rapidly expanding duff and get some exercise. Due to various illnesses, injuries and ailments, my options were limited to wheelchair racing or running. This week, I am trying running.

I used to run. Long distances, as a matter of fact.

I lived in San Francisco and rode my mountain bike everywhere until my at-the- time-scrawny boyfriend told me that my thighs were getting bulky. Next morning, I rode the bike to the junkyard and ran home, thus beginning the process of de-bulking my legs and initiating my new running career. I ran every day, sometimes twice a day and all day on Sundays. I averaged 60 miles a week. Easy. I often ran until lost somewhere in the Presidio, not caring if it added another five miles to the day.

Now, after a month of serious commitment and determination, I am up to one mile, three times a week.

Is this age?

One of the problems is that the grace is gone. I used to look and feel like an Olympic athlete, hardly ever broke a sweat. Now, I am dripping by the time I get to the bottom of my driveway, wheezing by the next-door neighbors’ driveway and positively staggering at a half-mile.

Then there is the problem with peeing. Since giving birth, bouncing down the road has a decidedly negative effect on my bladder. My “route” is determined by the secluded places where I can duck into the bushes without being spotted by the school bus.

My boys would never forgive me if their schoolmates caught sight of me with my pants down from the windows of the passing vehicle.

So down the lane I go, music playing in my ears; carefully chosen tunes to help set the ideal pace so I don’t get too excited and take off running, exhausting myself in the first 100 yards. I pretty much have to listen to lullabies. I have also found that singing out loud to the tunes not only adds to being winded, but tends to scare off the birds.

I head down the drive and the hill at the bottom of it, shuffle up the next hill, pee, pick up the pace again across the flats then, after peeing, veer around the bend to my biggest hurdle: the dogs. Three of them, plus a wiener dog, run out at me every day, hackles raised, teeth bared. They are probably fine, just a bit freaked out by the lurching, stumbling human being in their midst. But I am terrified of dogs.

My heart races and my feet match the pace. Running forward, eyes looking over my shoulder to make sure I don’t get bitten in the ass, screaming and growling, I throw a rock at the red one, miss and trip over my own feet, landing smack down in the middle of the road.

The dogs cock their heads curiously and decide that I am not worth their time at all. No sport in going after one so weak.

All of this would be bad enough, but to make it worse, the adrenaline rush it has caused has used up every ounce of energy that I have left and I still have to make it back up two hills to get home.

So, after shamefully dragging the duff that I am trying to reduce, back to my house, I resolve to do it better the next time.

I take my dog with me. She will protect me from the vicious killers at the end of the road.

Turns out she is so embarrassed by me that she joins forces with the neighbors and laughs from their front lawn.

I crawl, shuffle, plod, and occasionally break into a slow-paced jog. I stop often to let my dog sniff at a bush, convinced that she won’t catch up if I don’t wait for her. Frequently I need to fast-forward through a song or change the volume on my player. This too requires pausing. Occasionally I stop to look at a cow.

None of this is resting; I could do the distance without breaks. I just choose not to.

And if you believe that, there’s this bridge…

After a month of this, I can’t figure out why it is not getting easier. I used to do this effortlessly and now, every inch is a strain. I think back on those earlier times and wonder what has changed. Is it the fact that I no longer own a bong?

Zoning out certainly takes more work than it used to.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I am no longer severely anorexic; meaning that my need to reduce myself to skin and bones has diminished. Without the 80- pound goal, it’s a bit harder to get motivated.

Which leads me to another issue. This exercise thing has gotten my appetite going. Used to be that anything I ate would either get run off or eliminated by laxative. I could eat whatever I wanted.

So now, I am hungry as a horse and eating like two of them, without the 60 miles or chocolate Ex-Lax, so all efforts to actually decrease my derriere are culminating in a marked increase. Recently, a friend said to me, “Wow, you’ve gained weight.”

My response, Thank you, I’ve started running

My legs are scrawnier (not a good thing) and my ass is bigger. My arms look like string beans and my knees are skinned from falling down. My back hurts, my knees hurt, I am perpetually dehydrated and my feet are getting flat.

Wheelchair racing is looking really good right about now.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.