On December 13, I am scheduled to run the Dallas Half Marathon, and maybe it will rain, maybe it will snow, maybe I’ll wake up with energy to spare, or maybe I’ll go out too fast and fizzle all the way to the finish line. You never know what will happen on race day.
The only certainty is that when the rooster-less city morning breaks, I will line up with thousands of people who have also, knowingly and as consenting adults, been robbed blind by the spandex industry. At the appointed time we will cross the starting line at speeds ranging from sprint to shuffle. I am a middle of the pack runner — I will spruffle.
This race has been on the calendar since August, when both Andrew and I signed up. And let me tell you, in August, 13.1 miles was a great idea. From the comfort of the couch we congratulated ourselves for making physically demanding and possibly even excruciating plans that we wouldn’t have to follow through on for at least a couple of months.
As someone who works in advertising — an industry where people congratulate themselves for ideas no one will have to pay for until later — I have often heard such moments referred to as “lightbulb” moments. And believe you me, my lightbulb burned bright through the end of summer and all the way across September until a fateful morning in early October when my lightbulb spark flickered. And then, without further hesitation, extinguished itself completely.
That was the morning I actually had to begin training.
‘Twas not my first mile. ‘Twas not even my first training plan. For almost 20 years I’ve been running. When fall comes to Texas, bringing cool-ish temperatures, I usually love to be training on the roads.
And for the last six years we’ve run a race around the holidays, the exception being the year Santa delivered a new baby to our house, with just a little bit of help and a few “easy” pushes from me.
So why the burned-out bulb this year? Why the unhappy muscles from day 1? Why would I rather be running away from the roads? I have thought long and hard about this and sadly, for my mental calm and my calf muscles — those trusty, ol’ gastrocnemiuses — I have no answers.
The woman I usually run with will give a few “easy” pushes of her own this month, so she has not been running. And Andrew is one of those people who can wake up, take an extra shot of Starbucks and run a half marathon with no training required. We are a couple who race together but do not train together and so maybe, just maybe, I’ve been a little lonely with only the cows and cactus on my long runs. Maybe some years are just easier than others. Or maybe the ads in running magazines really are full of manure and wrapping my gastrocnemiuses in brightly colored, overpriced spandex won’t actually make them any younger.
Luckily, youth is not required for a road race. Nor is a lightbulb. Gumption and old-fashioned sunshine — even when hidden behind the clouds — do just fine. And so at the end of my training plan I will line up with fellow runners, strangers, people who have completed banner running months and others who, like me, have struggled every mile.
When the gun goes off I will spruffle my heart out. And no matter how fast or slow I hit the finish line, I will cross with the knowledge that traditions are born from repetition. In good years and not-so-great ones. And that the stories we remember and retell the most usually come from years when nothing goes quite like we planned.