Monday, October 27, 2008

I am a runner

Have you noticed that women can get away with a lot of things that men can’t? It’s easy for a gal to approach a total stranger and compliment her hair, an article of clothing or body part. And we (or at least I) can get downright nosy after the sweet talk. “What product do you use on your hair?” “Where did you find your bag?” “How did you get those gorgeous gams?”

That’s what I thought when I saw a woman in a short skort in the security line at LAX. She had the firmest, shapeliest legs I’ve ever seen on a 50+ woman. Actually, they were among the best-looking legs I’ve seen on any age woman. Of course, I felt obligated to share my observation and envy.

She beamed and explained, “I’m a runner.”

I wasn’t surprised that running produced her firm, athletic legs, but I was caught off guard by her choice of words. Not “I run” or “I like to run” but “I’m a runner.” Running was clearly more than exercise; it was part of her identity.

For the third time in less than a year, I’m rebuilding my body. Prior to my most recent bout with pneumonia, I exercised fanatically – three to four mile walks several times a week interspersed with Pilates, strength training and cardio at the gym. I was a perpetual motion machine determined to increase my stamina, strength, muscle tone and flexibility. But my identity wasn’t tied to any of these activities. If someone asked me what I did for exercise, I wouldn’t say, “I’m a walker” or “I’m a weight lifter” any more than I would declare, “I’m a toilet flusher.”

And yet I frequently hear those three words, “I’m a runner.”

As a post-middle aged, post-cancer woman in search of identity, this appeals to me. My friend Barbara, who has just returned to graduate school at age 40, said that one of her professors asked students to introduce themselves with just three words. (She chose mom, cats and Democrat.) At one time I also would have included “mom,” but now that Cynthia is nearly 20, my role and influence are diminishing. I will always be a mother, but it’s no longer central to my identity. I don’t think “wife” has ever been part of my identity, and yet I’m still adjusting to the identity shift that comes with a separation.

So where does that leave me? The only thing I know for certain is that I am a writer. It is what I do and it is who I am.

But I’m fascinated with the possibility of adding “runner” to my three-word ID tag. It’s power packed with imagery and metaphor. We run for our lives, run for cover, run amok.

I love to visualize myself as a wild cheetah effortlessly using my long, lean legs to stride across the Serengeti. And I love the thought of pushing myself and running toward a finish line.

I ask Running Woman, “How many miles does someone have to run before she can call herself a runner?” “That’s the beauty of it,” she answers. “If you run even one mile a week, you’re a runner.” I’ve often said the same thing to aspiring writers, “If you write, you are a writer. You do not have to be published to say ‘I am a writer.’”

I plan to start off with an easy walk-run routine and will gradually build. (At this point, I’m grateful that I can walk a mile, let alone run one.) I may love it, I may hate it or as Running Woman advises, “You will probably hate it at first, but in just a few weeks you will be surprised at what happens.”

Soon after my encounter with Running Woman, I get a chance to test my lung and leg capacity. A landing delay has shrunk my Chicago O’Hare layover from 40 to 10 minutes. I ask one of the American Airline agents if she would call the gate of my next flight to let them know I am on my way. She urges, “You can make it. You just have to run.” I want to tell her that the gate is in a terminal far, far away. I am tempted to protest that I am recovering from a severe case of eosinophilic pneumonia and have diminished lung capacity, but there is no time for that.

Instead, I run. Almost immediately I feel the cumulative effects of lung damage and three months of near inertia. I run and gasp, then power walk and run and pant some more. I can’t run all the way, but I keep moving until I reach the finish line.

“What’s your name?” the agent asks. I am so out of breath that, after what seems likes minutes of a heaving chest, I sputter, “Carrier, with a C.” She prints my boarding pass and I’m on my way.

I (pant) am (huff) a (puff) runner (gasp).

What three words describe you?


Marc said...

Susan, you haven't seen my legs yet. I'm a cyclist. :)

I also do some running (but I don't call myself a runner).

Oh yeah, and sometimes I even refer to myself as a writer as well.

Keep training!

Mrs. Duck said...

I'm afraid the only kind of runner I'll ever be is the kind that lies flat (or not so flat) on the floor in a long hallway.

Maybe I could also say "I'm a talker". Or "I'm an eater." Or (gasp, choke) "I'm a lawyer."

But right now I prefer to say "I'm a voter!" I was also a volunteer phoning Floridians this weekend. (You can guess on behalf of whom.) That was easy because, as I said, "I'm a talker."

Other words you can add to your list are "survivor", "foodie", and last but not least "wild thing".

Marc said...

Well I could guess Mrs Duck, but.....

I just hope it was Obama you were phoning on behalf of.

altadenahiker said...

Well written, well said! I eat (lots), therefore I run. I do max, three miles a day, but these hills take it out of you.

Petrea said...

I like this powerful post. Vivid. You're making me think of three words, and I don't want to waste two of them on "I'm a."

Communicator. Friend. Learner.

I get to change those whenever I want to.

Ronni Gordon said...

Great, vividly written post!
Well, since my blog is called Running for My Life and the url is, I guess I'd say, runner, writer and mom, though of course not in that order. (Once was a wife, but that was a long time ago.) When it comes to exercise, I've written more about tennis because it was easier to do, but I'd really love to build up to running again. That post coming soon, as long as my hematocrit stays high enough.

Nelle said...

I am so envious. I had a long bout with mono before I was diagnosed with Hodgkins. I then had surgeries and radiation and I have never regained any of my stamina that I once had. I have gained weight over the years adding to my inactivity. I keep hoping someday I will at least be a fast walker, as I am a fast talker.

Paula L. Johnson said...

Creative. Funny. Fast.

Susan C said...

Marc, I agree that cyclists have great legs.

Mrs. Duck, Yes, you're a talker, but I like Petrea's choice of word, "communicator." Great to hear that you're using your voice for the O Team.

I'm not sure about foodie or survivor (although I like Wendy's definition of a "healthy survivor"), but I do like the thought of being a "wild thing."

AH, I eat, therefore I run. That may be the case with me when I go off the steroids. I didn't know you did three miles a day.

Petrea, I love your choice of words. And I especially like the fact that you aren't locked into any of them. That takes some pressure off.

Ronni, You're certainly one of my inspirations for wanting to become a runner, both physically and metaphorically.

Nelle, How discouraging not to regain your stamina. I too hope that you can gradually regain it. I'm starting out very slowly. Too bad fast talking doesn't burn calories! You should get together with Mrs. Duck and Paula, an infamous fast talker.

I'd like "advocate" to be one of my words. I'm always the happiest and most on fire when I'm in advocate mode.

Susan C said...

Paula's comment came in as I was typing my last comment.

You nailed it, Paula. Don't forget ornery.

Mary Kathleen O'Looney said...

Me: bubble dancer

U: Great blog post writer

Barbara Roth said...

I like the term, run amok. I can think of lots of words to describe you: communicator, optimist, motivated motivator, stylish, incredible friend and liver of life.
I just got back from Paris where I bought a new purse because all the French women were carrying huge black purses. Just wanted to let you know it isn't perfect at all.

Susan C said...

I wanna' be a bubble dancer too.

Welcome back from the City of Lights, Barbara. Thanks for all the compliments. And if that black French bag isn't workin' for ya', you know where to toss it.