Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Moon Shadows

I don’t know how it happened. I mean, I know. But I can’t believe I let it happen. It just happened so slowly. Over time. It wasn’t one thing I did or didn’t do. Rather, it was like the tide eroding at the dune’s edge. Little by little, stealing away form and shape. Who would have ever thought it would come to this?

My husband has been encouraging me to exercise for years. For years I have had any number of excuses. I had to work. I wanted to join a gym to work out. I was healthy enough.

Until recently.

A few weeks ago was my 48th birthday. I had to face the truth. I have a three year old and I want to live a long healthy life so I can be there to watch her into her forties. To do that, I would need to be in good physical shape. I don’t need to win races anymore. It’s not like in the old days. I just need to be out there. So, for two weeks my husband and I have been going to the Roosevelt Highschool track to work out in the evenings. (Who am I kidding? What I have been doing looks nothing like a work out.)

It has been unbelievably hot this summer. I can’t remember summer heat that has affected me like the heat this summer. I haven’t been able to accomplish very much, including cleaning the house. It has been too damn hot. That’s my excuse anyway. So, instead of running during daylight hours, we have been going to the track after dark – when we hoped it would be cooler.

If I hadn’t been there and seen it for myself, I would never have believed it. We weren’t the only crazy ones running by the light of the moon. There is a veritable cadre of people who clandestinely appear at the track after dark at 9:00 p.m. The young black sprinter with his long tight sinewy legs, practicing his sprints and stretching. The dark-skinned hurdler, gliding over hurdles like a gazelle. The thin white woman with her long blonde hair and skinny legs, ipod connected to her ear, running up and down the stadium stairs. And the father, maybe a decade younger than Tim and me, yelling to his boys interchangeably in English and Arabic. Or was it Hebrew? It was hard to tell. The actual words just disintegrated in the air before they reached me across the field. (Seeing his children play in the dark at the edge of the track brought to mind children I had once read about who had some condition where their skin couldn’t be in sunlight; their mother took them behind their house to play at night. Under the moon.) The father had good form and was covering his miles at a fast clip, checking in on his children with each quarter mile.

Then there were Tim and I. Tim had been running one mile three times a week for years. Last year, he stepped it up to three miles and began to swim on the off days. Many a night he could be seen running around our block which makes a circle – six laps to a mile. With Trent and Michela, when they were young, and lately with Maya, we often waited for him to round the bend and yelled “Go Daddy Go!” from the front lawn.

I hated running around the block. The street banked from the high center of the street to the lower side by the curb. It always hurt my knees to try to run there – on the few other occasions that I tried to exercise. So it was I who told Tim that if he would run with me at the track, I would exercise with him. He agreed and has come to enjoy the track as much as I once did. His form is not the best; he lopes and his arms swing from side to side somewhat, instead of efficiently going back and forth. But he makes pretty good time around the track. Three laps for every two that I run. And two laps for each one that I walk.

The very first day I approached the track I was excited. I had run many a race in high school on various tracks. I had made good friends and learned many life’s lessons from my coach on the track. Just walking on, I thought about striding around and feeling good, like I always had. (Some dust-covered trophies in the attic and newspaper clippings would testify to my former ability to run a 2:18 half mile and a 5:15 mile at my best. I had been our high school’s scholar athlete the year I graduated. Previously this had been awarded to the best football player who could maintain a C average. I was the first girl to receive it and the only graduate to attend Harvard.)

That first day is when I realized what had happened to me. I may have felt like I could just hop on the track and run a mile. But my 48 year old body would protest otherwise. With each slow small step that I took, portions of my body began to hurt. My upper thighs. My calves. And my knees. Oh, my knees! All the extra weight I have carried for 30 years have taken a toll on my knees. I was reminded of Coach, who used to faithfully run, if a bit wobbly, around the track and on the streets with ace bandages or braces around his knees. I had reached *that* age.

The first night, after jogging/walking a mile and a half, my aching legs wouldn’t let me sleep. I had to take Ibuprofen to ease the pain. A couple of nights I jogged/walked two miles. So far, that is the farthest I have made it. All the while, I am reminded of the days in high school that we ran twice a day to train. Early in the morning, my friend Eileen would come knock on my bedroom window to wake me so that we could go run around a field 20 times or the equivalent of five miles. In the evening, we would have practice around a track at a neighboring school, where we had to jump the fence, because our school was too poor to have a track. Or during cross country, we would run out in small packs, grouped according to how fast we could run, and run for 7 miles or more.

I still need someone like Eileen and am grateful to have Tim, who nudges me each evening to come with him to the track, even when I have excuses: “I have to cook. I want to go to Shanikqua’s house and watch my new favorite TV show.” Tim is gently persistent.

So many memories flood back into my mind and keep me going on the track. My coach would say that every mile is like putting money in the bank. Each one makes you stronger, no matter how slow you go. So I push on. In two weeks, I think I have saved about 12 dollars! Me, with my wobbly knees and ace bandage.

And I am reminded of a wonderfully inspirational speech I recently heard by Jay Hewitt about his iron man competitions. In his speech, he describes pain and depletion of a magnitude that I can only imagine. He describes thinking that he can’t make it any further. And then asking himself, “How bad do you want it?” He concludes by advising children with diabetes (he, himself, has Type 1 diabetes), “You may not win, but you will do better than those who never tried.”

As I run around the track, I think of my children, and my coach, and Jay Hewitt. And I hear the melody of my earrings. “Clink clink, clink clink!" The harmony with each step I take. “Shuffle, shuffle." And my breaths keeping time. “Huufff, huufff, huufff.” The sprinter runs by. “Pitter patter pitter patter!” The hurdler glides. “Whoosh!” The young girl runs up and down the steps. "Tap tap tap tap.” The father passes me on the outer lane and my husband laps me again. My knees go “clickety clack.” Under the dark sky, as I chase my moon shadow around the track, I am determined. I may never win anything again, but I will do better than if I had never tried.

Wish me luck.


  1. Good luck. I envy your being able to run around the track. I know what you mean about it being flat. Shiela reminded me of the summers we would walk fast around the Bronxville track under the stars, and we weren't the only ones there. I still can smell the honeysuckle and the joepye weed in the early summer and see the clouds moving across the starlit sky. So enjoy.
    Love Fran

  2. Wow, fantastic! Major props to you for getting out there and getting moving again . . . And you describe how difficult it is oh-sooooo accurately! It is not easy to get going, and you should be very proud of yourself that you are doing it. Our bodies need it. Our minds need it. Our souls need it. So why is it so hard to do what's so good for us???
    I just joined a gym two weeks ago, and it's torture getting myself to go. But I, too, am determined to make the most of my aging, spreading body before it's too late!

  3. @Fran, sorry you can't get out there on the track! No smells at Roosevelt except sometimes the waft of Indian food or frying from the nearby apartments. There are crickets, amazingly. @Ellen, you're welcome to come to the track any evening. No need to go to the gym.