Two weeks ago, I ran a 5k for the first time, which is something I never thought I’d accomplish. I hate running.
Remember the fitness testing in gym class where they’d measure your fat with calipers, measure how far you could reach past your toes, and then haul the entire class out to the fields and make you run like hell? You had to make it under twelve minutes or you’d be branded with the butterball badge of failure and shame. I remember feeling like my damn lungs were going to collapse. Yeah, I totally hate running.
That weird pain you get near the kidney after about 15 minutes? I really, really hate that.
As I run, I imagine I look like a beautiful gazelle. But what I really look like is that kid in your high school with the oversized utilitarian backpack who always ran to his classes in between the bells. That’s how I run. Like a nerd.
You know how words like “geek” and “nerd” are sort of cool now? Some people who use them have reclaimed them, while others like to use them just because they went to see a comic movie and look good in horn-rim glasses. Me, on the other hand, I have a coke-bottle-strength prescripton. Long ago in childhood, I was cursed to wear the sort of thick, heavy lenses that are impossible to look good in. Add in the fact that my parents would only let me choose from frames on the “budget wall” at the eye doctor.
I had it real bad. My fashion sense back then was bright, one-size-larger Russell Athletic t-shirts tucked into whitewashed jeans from JCPenney. Keep in mind, these are jeans that I had chosen for myself because I thought they were what was cool, what was in. Secretly, my favorite music was Michael Jackson and the California Raisins, but I would memorize cool band names like Green Day and Stone Temple Pilots in case another kid ever talked to me and asked what kind of music I liked. No one ever did.
I wasn’t a nerd in the context that it means today: that I liked cool outsider shit and computers. Nope, I was just a nerd: innately, genetically, physically. As I’ve grown up and become confident, I’ve shed most of it like baby fat. Yeah, I fucking love Michael Jackson. I’ve never even listened to Green Day, and guess what — they’re lame now. I stick to black t-shirts and dark-wash jeans, even if that 100% cotton bright-green offbrand shirt hypnotically calls for me over there on that clothing rack. I wear contact lenses. Everyday I thank God as I stick tiny suctioning pieces of plastic directly on my eyeballs. My two-year-old touches his eyeball if you ask him to put in “his contacts.” I don’t know why I added that detail except that it’s hilarious to watch a toddler touch his eyeball.
Still, a bit of the inherent, genetic nerdiness remains behind in my running gait. That’s where you see it and you know everything there is to know about me. I hate running. I really do.
So how the hell did I end up running in a race? Welp. I got fat.
Let’s go back to middle school for a moment. I’ve always been proud of not being fat. Fiercely proud. Cocky. It’s simple, really. When you’re in the bottom echelon of the middle-school hierarchy, the first thing you have to do to self-preserve is identify those below you on the social scale. I might have been a nerd, but hell, at least I wasn’t overweight.
I’ve always been able to eat whatever I’ve wanted without consequence. You’ve seen my blog over the years, as I’ve reviewed every Little Debbie and eaten every odd item that’s showed up in the freezer section. As a child, I basically survived on Ecto Cooler and Fritos. As an adult, I’ve survived on Taco Bell and Red Bull. I’d describe eating chips as one of my hobbies.
Once, in childhood, I remember reading an article in Disney Adventures Magazine (R.I.P. you glorious beautiful beast of journalism) about how there was such a job as Snack Food Taste Tester. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I still don’t, but actually I’ve had the answer all along. That is what I wanted to be.
Maybe life finally caught up to me. My mom died, we had a kid, I turned thirty-five. I hit the crossroads of grief, stress, and middle-aged metabolism. I started packing it on. It shocked me. It still does, as I’m sitting here typing this. I got fat, yo.
I blame the kid. It started when he was an infant — when I’ d be awake at 3AM, starved for sleep and a semblance of normalcy — but feeding my stomach instead. The defining moment was when I bought an aboveground-pool-sized tub of mini-chocolate bars. The wife’s brother was visiting when he asked in surprise/shock/horror if we’d still had all that candy left over from Halloween. It was August, and no, that’s just our everyday supply of three-hundred candy bars, thank you very much you skinny, athletic, designer-jeans-wearing Brother-in-Law who lives in Los Angeles.
The other defining moment was the aboveground-swimming-pool tub of Animal Crackers. The tub was shaped like a bear. We considered that bear a member of our family. It would be me, the kid, the wife, and that bear all sitting on the couch together. So that’s where it started. I wasn’t just eating junk food anymore — I was now eating obscene tubs of it that I was emotionally connecting to as loved ones. That’s the line, folks. You don’t want to cross it.
Eventually the baby began sleeping through the night, and my wife and I discovered each other as human beings and a couple once more. Now we could put our kid to bed at 7 o’clock and we could spend the evening together. We began dating at home, ordering take out, having drinks, and sitting on the couch watching movies. Every night. Our hobby became eating. When you spend all day with a baby, eating together in quiet is THE. BEST. THING. EVER.
And then the baby became a toddler. Unlike me, he exudes a natural confidence and athleticism. He’s built like a running back — stocky, strong, head full of steam. He’s frightening in his fearlessness. He is constantly on the verge of a head injury. This triggers some stress-related hormone that’s been the nail in the coffin for my metabolism. My body has just been NOPE CAN’T DO THERMOGENESIS IF I GOTTA WORRY ABOUT THE KID FLIPPING BACKWARDS OFF THE OTTOMAN. JUST GONNA GO AHEAD AND PACK THIS AROUND THE MIDSECTION.
I had to lose weight. First, like a true 1980s kid, I turned to Nintendo and tried the Wii Fitness crap. As useless as the Power Pad. Then I tried the Gold’s Gym, but what is it with gyms and the TVs playing the news? Who likes watching the news while working out? Especially in an election year — it’s pure hell. Still unable to lose weight, next I tried just not eating. Kind of like the Atkins diet, only with even less food. I didn’t last long.
And that’s when the nerd in me had a reckoning with running. Being an all-or-nothing type person, I wasn’t content to just jog around the park. I wanted purpose. So I signed the wife and I up for a 5k. There. I better haul my ass outside and practice so I don’t DIE during the freaking three-mile race I just signed up for.
Cue up Rocky training montage. It went exactly like that, only with way more obsessiveness and weirdness.
I spent entirely too much time before the race wondering what the hell I was going to do if I had to use the bathroom. I still haven’t been able to answer this question, even two weeks later. WHAT IF I DID? WHAT IF I DID? WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE?
Fortunately, I didn’t.
What if I had become scorchingly thirsty? But I didn’t want to carry one of those fanny pack running things to hold water. But maybe I should get one? MAYBE I SHOULD. MAYBE I SHOULD.
Well, I survived thirst, but two weeks later, I’m still contemplating buying one.
WHAT IF I’M LAST? This is where agonizingly self-conscious middle school me comes out out. OH GOD WHAT IF I’M LAST?
Then I imagined a far worse scenario — what if it was between me and my wife being last? What if I had to make the decision to blow past her like a jackass at the last minute, just to avoid being last? What if I had to make my own wife be last? What if it came down to that?
After much hand-wringing, ultimately I decided I wouldn’t do that to her. And when I confessed this to her, she scoffed and said she would have easily made the decision to speed up and make me be last. Damn. Cutthroat.
Well, I wasn’t last. I finished the race in just under 45 minutes, and I did beat the wife, although not intentionally. We jogged alongside each other the entire way, but at the last moment, my awkward nerd side got the best of me, and I leapt over the finish line in an excited goober way. And yeah, 45 minutes is slow as balls. 15-minute miles would make my gym teacher weep for childhood obesity.
Hey guess what, I’ve lost ten pounds. And I’ve got my eye on a half-marathon next, which is a ridiculous leap from a 5k, especially coming from someone who hates running. But in my mind I’m just a beautiful gazelle racing towards heaven, aka Fritos and cheese dip and Hi-C drinks filled corn syrup.