Searching for a Starting Block

“When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can’t fool yourself.  In this sense, writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike.  Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.” (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, pg. 10.)

So spoke Murakami.
I think that’s how I got into the running game – with a more road-ready inner motivation.  Although my foray into the athletic stage isn’t nearly as eloquent as Mr. Murakami’s.  Bascially, I used to work in restaurants.  Scores of restaurants (delis, diners, five stars, bars) that brought employees together in the only way they knew how: the back dock smoking lounge.

People don’t peg me a smoker, and I can’t say I don’t appreciate their surprise.  When I worked in restaurants I worked long hours.  When one works long hours, one capitalizes on any and all breaks given them.  Which is to say, I smoked some cigarettes.  Daily.  

But I wasn’t a portrait of long savory puffs in a darkened alley with the strong arm of a tall man in a driving cap around my waist.  No, no.  These were harried puffs amongst angsty bartenders and hostesses that did little to welcome or elevate friendships.  We just past the time in the only way we knew how.  And for us, that was enough.

But, bad habits have a way of having a way with you.  So, I developed a sore throat and, as luck would have, three back to back shifts.  But, even more opportune, I had a 10 minute (10 minutes!) back dock break between shifts one and two and ran out to enjoy a smoke treat with Ellie.

I still can’t attribute my dramatics to anything in particular, but just as I was about to light one up and take a drag something happened.  My mind completely rewired and I made a declaration.  A very loud declaration.  I told all the servers in proximity that I was going to change my life and quit smoking.  We were in tuxedos.  Near an oversized dumpster enjoying a brief reprieve and I was hollering about health and happiness.  No one said a word.  I think I was afraid no one would take me seriously so I threw my cigarette pack to the ground and jumped on them.  My jumps weren’t incredibly effective and still, no one had spoken, so I picked them up and lobbed them into the dumpster.  Only Ellie said, “I would have taken those.”

And then… synapses.  Something fired in my mind.  I convinced myself in the span of Ellie’s sentence that I would have to do something representative of someone with good, clean lungs.  It was then I decided I would have to run a marathon.And, true to form, I yelled it out to my industry friends.  Someone smiled.  I remember Matthia smiling.  So I ran inside, grabbed my purse, ran out the building, down the street to an area with internet-equipped computers and registered for the Walt Disney World Marathon.  It cost $90 to register.  I had $99, at the time, in my meager bank account.8 months later, entirely smoke free and with a personal library of over 14 books on marathon training, I completed said marathon in sub 5 hours.  And I loved running.  Absolutely loved it.  I bought costumes and water weight belts and got personally fitted for shoes.  I ran for charity, I ran for health.  I ran for the sake of running.  I thought myself addicted.  I know I consider crossing the finish line to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

So yes, Mr. Murakami, you’ve got it about right.  Less the fact that I started to again smoke.  And I fell into old habits and patterns.  And I lost that ability to announce life changes on a makeshift podium on a back dock.  Which is all good and well when you can re-fashion the back dock elsewhere.  Which is where adventure 8 begins.

The aforementioned story, I always carry with me.  Always.  And my life had changed on account, and I started to take stock.  Currently in Boston I am berated with runners, and the best of the best runners, chasing the Charles day after day.  I read of Murakami’s love affair with running.  I see the city in absolute heat over the Boston Marathon and I thought to myself; why did I give up something I loved?

So, pretty opportune that I was able to reprise the marathon adventure by telling (okay yelling) (okay shouting) my friend Lauren that I was changing my life!  I was going to quit smoking!  I was going to run a marathon!

And you know what?  Lauren wasn’t a passive nodder.  Lauren did not ask to finish my pack.  Lauren shouted too.  And we decided we would together run the Hyannis Half Marathon (taking it step-by-step in our older age).

Lauren!  A woman who didn’t think she could run a half mile!  And me, with a voice concerningly close to Pat Benetar’s running 13.1 miles.

3 months later Lauren seriously injured her foot.  But her intensity never sullied, but sadly she could not run.  But painful limp and all, Lauren drove me to Hyannis.  Lauren carbo loaded with me.  And she was the first person I saw at the start and the last person to wave me on at the finish.

I finished.  In 2 hours, and so overcome with emotion and endorphin, Lauren and I impulse bought admission into the 2010 New York Wine Glass Marathon, a cool 8 months away with time to train and tap into that quiet, inner motivation.

But I loudly challenge Murakami’s assertion that runner’s needn’t seek validation from the outwardly visibile.  Because I dont’ know that I saught it, but I definitely received it in the form of Ms. Lauren.  And for all the runs I’ve run, that felt like the greatest reason to stop smoking I know.