I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be thinking about how much I hate my good friend Val right now. I hate her for being able to fold at the waist, wrap her arms around her legs, and kiss her own knees. She’s got her face nestled into her shins and I can barely touch my own ankles.
When you get an email from one of your oldest friends asking you to join her and the nine-year-old who calls you Auntie Rachel to come to Chicago for her first 5K, you can’t not go.
Earlier this fall Val sent me a message about a conversation she’d had with her daughter Ivy that morning. She told Ivy that she would do the Girls on the Run 5K with her and that since she’d been working on me to come for a visit around that time, and since I’m a big runner, maybe we could all do the run together.
[First published in The Outdoor Journal]
Let’s begin by admitting that when you start, it’s bloody awful.
After you lace up your new running shoes for the first time, step into your short shorts with the built-in panties, pull on a tee-shirt made of recycled plastic bottles or some other technical material that will, eventually, start to stink in the armpits no matter how often you wash it, when you head out the door for that debut run, you might feel good for the first few minutes. You might even feel great. You might hear Bruce Springsteen singing that tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
It’s easy to spot Nikki Kimball in a crowd, even in a crowd of super-fit runners. Her auburn hair is unruly, her pale skin wallpapered in freckles. She’s boisterous, laughs easily, and loudly. Nikki Kimball is super-fit, but also sturdy, solid, and short. Her thighs are brawny. She loves bacon and burgers.
The years I don’t go, it feels like I’m missing a party. I get texts and emails and photos in the weeks and days before the race. I get invitations to gatherings and receptions. I feel left out. And then, on race day, I sit at the computer and look up bib numbers. I read the split times to see who started out at a pace I know he can’t hold, who’s slowing in the second half, and who surprised herself by doing better than she expected to. I read updates on the elite racers from my many writer friends and hear about all the fun I missed.
There are a few good reasons to watch the 1999 movie, The Runaway Bride. They are: Julia Roberts’ laugh, Richard Gere’s hair, and the bit about the eggs.
The movie is about a woman who molds herself into whatever and whoever the man she’s currently with wants her to be. She eats eggs the way her man likes them and doesn’t realize that she doesn’t know her own preferences. She can get herself to the brink of marriage, but then something—let’s call it reasonable fear—kicks in and she understands she’s about to make a mistake.
Used to be, I was the youngster. I scrambled up the professional career ladder of scholarly publishing so fast that I often had a hard time getting people to believe that yes, I really was an editor from Oxford University Press, not a graduate student. I had to devise ways to make sure that wait staff in the fancy restaurants to which I took my authors, often men twenty or a hundred years my senior, gave me the check. I cringed when Hannibal Lector pointed out Clarice’s good bag and cheap shoes. I had good bags and cheap shoes.
When I worked in college admissions, one of the most damning things we could say about a student was that he had the “Ds”: determined, diligent, dedicated. Students with the Ds get the work done. They don’t slack off, they tend not to complain, they’re the little workhorses of their class. So what was the problem?
We have never entered the same race. We have never trained together or stepped onto the same track. We have never lived in the same place—not the same state, not the same side of the Mason-Dixon line. Now we are separated by mountain ranges and big rectangular states and three time zones. And yet, if you ask me who is my best running buddy, I will tell you Candace Karu.