I’ve decided, at the age of thirty-two, to start running. Not as a result of a desire to be healthier or out of a competitive spirit; not even because it is a very grown-up thing to do and you will be assimilated into the cult of running if you wish to be taken seriously as a professional adult. I’m doing this purely out of spite.
I despise everything about running. I hate the New York City Marathon, which bisects my neighborhood every year, making my commute to work or any theoretical trips to the emergency room completely impossible. I hate people who are constantly posting about running over on Facebook, casually humblebragging about how they fit in a “quickie 5K” between picking up the dry cleaning and the children. I hate 5Ks, even though, where I live, they usually conclude with free beer and six-foot-long heroes (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: Turning Everything into an Excuse for Day-Drinking Since 1853). I hate “fun runs” because, seriously, fuck you.
A few years ago, I had several business meetings scheduled during the marathon. Thanks to the fact that the MTA still hasn’t figured out, after over forty years of hosting an annual event that now draws more than two million spectators, that there probably should be extra trains running that day, and thanks to the marathon’s route itself, which effectively draws a “do not cross” line straight down the center of Manhattan, not only did it take me six hours and walking ten miles to conclude my business dealings, but I also was forced to run two stretches of the race myself, while carrying multiple boxes filled with cakes. The final stretch saw me surrounded by a cheering throng as I emerged from Central Park with all the normal marathon finishers. As I balanced my stack of baked goods, they gripped their prizes for enduring 26.2 miles of hell — each received a medal, a snack-sized bag of Utz potato chips, and a coupon for a free Subway sandwich.
Even killer incentives like that couldn’t entice me to run.
What finally motivated me to start was my husband. After hearing me recount that story for what felt (to him) like the hundredth time, listening to me bemoan the lack of parking on race day and wonder why marathons didn’t take place in a faraway rural field where these endorphin junkies could just run in circles for hours without disrupting a major metropolis, Matt blurted out something he hoped would shut me up on the topic for a bit: “You just hate the marathon because you wouldn’t survive it for a mile.”
“If I trained, I could totally run the marathon! I’m just too busy. What with running a business, raising the kids, writing a book, and all…”
“Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit. You’d never be able to do it. You wouldn’t even survive a 5K.”
“Oh, yeah? WATCH ME, ASSHOLE!!!”
I started training, which lasted for about three weeks before the initial reactionary anger wore off and I remembered how much I hated running. Sessions began to slide backward from short couch-to-5K run/walks to casual sauntering on the treadmill while leafing through a People magazine. Work would get busy and I’d skip a day “but promise to do two sessions tomorrow.” Then tomorrow would come, and I’d use what little free time I had to watch reruns of Boy Meets World while eating Cheetos.
Several weeks ago, on one of my few days to sleep in, my phone began blaring at seven AM. With no recollection of having set my alarm, I panicked. Did I have a meeting or an event I forgot to plan for? I blindly sprinted across the room, grabbed the phone, and brought it within inches of my nearsighted eyes.
It was a wake-up alarm for a 5K I had entered into my phone months earlier.
It had been over a year since Matt bet me I couldn’t do one, and here I was, nowhere closer to proving him wrong. In fact, you could go so far as to say he was almost closer to being right. Couldn’t go any farther and say I was wrong, though. I could still fix this. Plus, Matt and I both know that, as the wife, I’m never wrong about anything.
Instinctively, I turned to Facebook, where there’re a solid three-dozen runners in my network (I know this because they won’t shut the fuck up about it). I’m given pointers on apps to download, shoes to buy, courses to train on, Web sites to visit, accessories to purchase, and where to find the most reasonably priced Sergio Tacchini tracksuits (I am Italian American — I have a particular aesthetic to uphold). I’m told about the incredible endorphin highs I’m likely to experience that will keep me coming back for more. My network is a veritable dream team, offering encouragement, advice, insider secrets, and ways to combat things like crotch rot or bloody nipples, all in the name of getting me rock-hard glutes.
After some more research and few months of rehabbing from a non-running-related injury, I’m ready. I pick a 5K scheduled for this September, put it in my calendar, and start training. The first few weeks consist of lightweight training, stretching, checking out my ass in running pants, buying copious running accessories, and, of course, talking about how I’m going to the gym “like all the freaking time now” and everyone should be really impressed. This week, I felt I was finally ready to attempt running without any stopping or crying.
I headed to my gym and picked the treadmill closest to the mirror, so I could continually admire my form (and before the smart-ass comments start — yes, I know that the “only way to run” is outdoors, but you know what? It was really freaking hot this week and I wasn’t having it, so leave me alone). I start with a slow jog for the first minute, then amp it up to an intense eleven-minute-mile pace. A quarter mile in, and I’m not feeling tired or achy or like I want to stop at all. Dare I say it on record? I may have, for the first time ever, actually enjoyed it.
Then out of nowhere, I was hit by an uncontrollable urge to crap myself.
No. NO. Noooooooooooooooo.
I clench myself together and go over everything I had eaten that day — no, it couldn’t possibly be any of that. Look to the left, to the right — the gym is packed. I can’t get off this treadmill! Every person in here blatantly saw me get on this treadmill four minutes and thirty-eight seconds ago, and if I jump off now, they’ll all know I needed to crap myself. Fuck: I made small talk with the guy next to me about protein shakes for a solid minute; he’s totally going to know what’s going on.
Eye of the tiger. Eye of the tiger. Keep going, keep going, keep going.
I make it about a mile and a half before I decide I’ve done enough to ensure no one will wonder why I’m going to turn off this infernal machine and hightail it to the bathroom, but the second I hit Stop, the feeling stops with it.
I go back into a run, and within thirty seconds, the feeling returns. I stop again, and it disappears. I’m getting the feeling that there was something my supportive, encouraging network of runners didn’t tell me. I switch the music off on my iPhone and open the Facebook app.
“In all the discussing we have done about running this year on my profile, how did NOBODY inform me that when you start distance training you will be consumed with the constant fear that you are going to poop yourself?”
And the peanut gallery assembled.
“Oh, yeah, that happens sometimes!”
You guys had a two-day-long debate about pedometers, yet no one thought that the fact that this sport causes its participants to want to crap themselves in public might be something worth mentioning?
“OMG yes. Run where there’s bathrooms.”
I think the only thing that could top my horror of accidentally crapping myself would be bursting into a restaurant in a ratty old T-shirt and running shorts screaming “Make way! Gotta poop!”
“Runners’ trots! Forgot about those! Try pooping before you leave the house.”
Now I have to train to run, AND to force myself to poop on demand. Running is hard, guys.
“Something about running gives people horrific diarrhea and they just start going involuntarily while they run. It’s even got a name — ‘The Gingerbread Man’ — because they’ll look like they’re made of gingerbread from the waist down.”
I am suddenly extremely happy I never walked the half block from my house to watch the New York City Marathon.
Now that I know the sordid truth about running, I still have facts to face. There’s that 5K coming up in September that’s on my calendar. No way Matt’s going to let me forget about that. Plus, I’m going to have to tell him exactly why I can’t do this anymore.
“Hey, baby, you know I ran a whole mile tonight? That’s awesome, right?”
“Yeah, that’s great!”
“Funny thing, though. You know running makes you feel like you’re going to shit yourself? I sure didn’t! I’m sorta reconsidering this entire ‘becoming a runner’ thing based on this.”
“Uh-huh. You’re quitting. Told you that you couldn’t do it.”
“No — I still can do it! I ran a mile today! If I kept at it, I’d definitely be able to do a 5K. Just that I don’t really want to poop my pants at the gym. I didn’t read the fine print on my contract, but I’m pretty sure they’d make me clean it up myself or at least pay some sort of fine.”
“So run outside! You’re just making excuses to get out of this. Why do you think you always see guys wear loose jogging shorts? This way if you accidentally poop, you can just shake it out.”
Now I’m forced to weigh the indignity of potentially soiling myself in public versus that of being wrong and letting Matt hold this victory over my head for the rest of our natural lives. And probably in the afterlife, too, since we’re Catholic.
Runners of the Internet, I’ve decided that I’m going to stick with this. If it means totally overhauling my diet to include nothing but high-fat foods and refined carbohydrates so that I can form some sort of intestinal blockage, I am willing to take that risk to be able to jog my way to optimal health. But please, please promise me two things: One, you’ll be more forthcoming with this “sensitive” information with amateurs — no one should be lured into an activity only to be blindsided by the possibility of crapping her pants. And two, please give me pointers about how to stop this, because not only is it excruciating physically, but I am also visualizing every person I see running in public with shorts full of poo, and nobody is winning in that situation.
You either can leave comments here, or come cheer me on in my 5K debut at the Electric Run on September 28. Or look for me slowly jogging around the Dyker Beach Golf Course. I’m the one grabbing my stomach, muttering, “When I’m finally done with this, I’m going to poop in my husband’s shoes. That’ll teach him.”