I generally run into someone I know every time I go running. And each time I look kind of like a cross between a misguided Guns -N- Roses tailgate party refugee and an extra from Olivia Newton John's Physical video shoot. On top of that, I am also poured into black spandex. Now, it's true I have never been really able to rise to the occasion of high fashion for many reasons:
1. I don't really have the money for that kind of thing nor the creativity and style to pull it off on my own budget. I know tons of ladies who can do it, and it seems this is not where my talents lie. These women, femme or butch or any other gendered presentation, are a continually fascinating breed to me. Style envy.
2. While I love shoes, I am generally attracted to the looks of shoes which do not value any kind of comfort or mobility or are so over the top fabulous, I can't afford the outfit that goes with the shoes.
3. I am entrenched in the American Legacy of low self-esteem for women and shopping often leaves me feeling depressed and outcast. The upshot is, it also engages my inner feminist to combat this feeling, which I enjoy tremendously.
So regardless of my relatively inoffensive lack of groundbreaking style, my running look makes me feel, well, humiliated. I often leave long-winded messages for my friend Michelle about this problem. She invariably calls me back telling me the she, too, a style icon in my world, finds herself navigating her walk to the gym as a kind of social minefield, bobbing and weaving through the streets in less than ideal outfits.
I am happy to report here that after 3 months of marathon training, I am beginning not to care. I have to wear the sausage outfit so often in order to reach my running goals that I actually don't have any room at all for fashion worries. And in all truth, I would probably just be wearing jeans and a hoodie anyhow. Although to my own credit, my accessories would be notable. I love a good accessory.
I'm telling you this because it is a simple example of how running has worked on me in so many subtle ways that feel good, that the whole endeavor is about the other 22 or 23 hours a day that happen besides the running itself. People ask me if I enjoy it or if I like it. To tell you the truth, during the actual run itself, I would classify very few moments as enjoyable. I don't listen to music when I run. I don't jog with friends. It's just me and my mind and my body out in the world. It's a lot to face the chatter in my brain with nothing but itself to answer to.
The day before yesterday I decided I would tackle the piece of the marathon course I've been the most scared of. I had run along the water past the Marina and along Crissy Field before staring at the big, famous, orange majesty that is the Golden Gate Bridge ahead of me. The thing is tall. Like Godzilla tall. And I just kept trying to picture the terrain of the road through the Presidio that led up there, terrified I would never make it. This process lets me not only be afraid, but have time to accept I'm afraid, and just go ahead and try anyhow. I'm more than willing to fail. The running has shifted my entire relationship to the notion of failure.
I have a meditation practice combined with a bargaining practice that happens while I run. I count my strides in little packs of 4s up to 88. 8 is my lucky number so I thought that would be a nice one to work toward. So when I began the run at the Ferry Building, where Market Street butts up into The Embarcadero, by the 23rd set of four, I felt like quitting. I think that's not quite one minute into the run. I cut my first deal with myself of the run to just make it to 88 and then see how things felt then. Often my mind will wander from the strides and I never make it to 88. Or i will mentally veer off and when I come back, some part of my brain has been keeping count, and I'm at 106 and have missed my mark entirely. I start over. Again. Eventually I'll be at the first hill of the course that heads left off of Aquatic Park where crazier bitches than me are swimming in the Bay at 6am, and I'll go up over Fort Mason. It's a steep hill but it's short and it feels awful. Until I get to the top and there's the ocean and the bridge and my heart is slamming blood around my chest and just like that, I the awful turns amazing. I'm about two miles in by then, maybe 24 minutes or so and I finally feel like maybe I can make it to the bridge.
I'll go through this hundreds of times during a run. Wanting to quit and just running through it. Turns out the first two miles of every run feel terrible to me. Every time. At least two. Some days up to four. The thing is that I already know that on the other side of that, things can feel good. That open hearted feeling waits for me, the part where I ring out my bandana after the run waits for me, where I stretch out hot muscles that were made of stone when I set out. I envision those things when I want to stop. Tiny things. Until I'm there.
I made it. I made it up to the bridge. And I got up there and I looked back over the path I had come on. San Francisco is a staggering looking town. It's gorgeous. And it puts itself together in weird pieces you can see from up there, like a lady who makes her own style. So when I come back down and run for that 9.5 miles for the day, and I get to the train and take it along Market headed home so I can get to work, and I run into someone I know in my stupid outfit, it doesn't matter anymore that I look hilarious. It matters that all the little failures more often than not are just stops on the way to little successes, trudging in the wind to an big orange bridge.