Previously on “When I Talk About Running:”
Our hero weighs 220 pounds, smokes about a pack of cigarettes a week, but still doesn’t think he’s that out of shape. But when he is called Old and Fat on the same day, it kicks off a mid-life crisis at the age of 27. He starts to work out at his school’s weight room, but hates it. He is on-track to be just another of those sad, slightly over-weight guys sweating away unhappily at the gym a few times a week, when he is joined by DeGuz . . .
Catherine DeGuzman was a fellow teacher, about two years younger, and both very in shape and very enthusiastic about everything. Besides our hero, she was the only other faculty member who frequented the gym, and while it great to have company down in the dank, windowless weight-room, he was somewhat intimidated by her at the same time. She was thin and attractive and could run for 20 or 30 minutes on the treadmill — since he could barely do 10 minutes without wanting to die, that seemed an inhuman feat of endurance. They chatted and encouraged one another, and then one day, Catherine inadvertantly changed our hero’s life with an off -the cuff conversation:
“Hey Van Dyke, I’m running a 5K in April for breast cancer. Wanna join me?”
“Are you crazy? I can’t run 10 minutes without wanting to die. I hate running.”
“You can so do it. It’s a run/walk, so you can always walk it if you have to. Come on, please? Some other teacher’s are walking it, but I want someone to run with.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“Dude, it will be fun!”
“Well, okay, I guess.”
And so suddenly the boy who hated to run found himself (much to his surprise) agreeing to run a three mile race and immediately began to regret it. He had a few months to get ready, but didn’t do anything sensible like find a “Couch to 5K” program to follow (I doubt he’d ever heard of one — its not like he’d ever thought about running as anything other an odious and regrettable task necessary for getting in shape). He continued to slave away on the treadmill, and he did manage to run a bit farther and farther (though it never became any enjoyable).
The weekend of the Revlon Run/Walk finally arrived towards the end of April in 2006, and he was not ready: he had never run more than two miles at a time. He had a race-number awkwardly pinned to his shirt when he met up with the other members of the staff who were taking part in the event. He and Catherine were the only runners, but using the term “runner” to describe him certainly stretches the definition to the breaking point.
“Catherine, I am so not ready for this. I haven’t run more than 2 miles before — I’ll stick with you as long as I can, but you’ll probably be on your own for the last mile, since I’m going to have to walk it.”
“Dude, you’ll be fine! This is going to be fun!”
Times Square was crowded with runners and walkers to the point it was difficult to move, and then somewhere a horn went off and a great cheer went up, and people began shuffling awkwardly forward. Our hero and Catherine made their way up through the walkers until the crowd began to thin out enough for them to start jogging, and then they were running up 7th Avenue and into the southern end of Central Park, and actually passing a few other people who seemed to be running as well!
It’s five years ago now, so the memory is a bit hazy, but for the first time ever, he enjoyed running. The weather was perfect, the trees were covered with new green leaves, and spectators along the route were cheering and he was running! Running, and keeping up with Catherine and at some point they passed the marker for mile two and he didn’t need to stop and didn’t want to stop and not only could he keep running but he wanted to, and it was hard and he was gasping for breath but there was a sign for mile three, meaning only a tenth of a mile to go, and not only was he going to keep running but he wanted to speed up, to sprint as fast as he could at then end, to just keep pushing himself and he did.
Our hero not only finished all 3.1 miles, but he beat Catherine by about 30 seconds, finishing in just over 33 minutes, and then they collapsed, panting in the cool spring grass of Central Park, laughing at how they had finished the race — he, he had finished the race — and it felt amazing, every inch of him alive and vibrant, and the world seemed extra bright and filled with light and life. They joked about how they couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly ever, ever run a marathon (“I mean, that 5K almost killed us!”) but that someday, maybe, if they were crazy, they could imagine doing a half-marathon, and that Catherine would have to come back from California and run one with him someday if they were ever that crazy. (I’m still waiting, Catherine!) Then they went off to find the rest of their group, the walkers, and tell them how they had just become Runners.