RUNNING: If I can do it, anyone can do it
When I was in the fifth grade at Richards School in West Plains, we had a merciless PE teacher who believed in the benefits of vigorous outdoor exercise. He liked to make us run. Sprints, relay races, cross-country-lots and lots of running.
I hated it. I was chubby, awkward and extremely slow. I still have memories (and occasional nightmares) of those first days-wearing that ugly green-and-white gym uniform as I struggled to run, getting farther and farther behind the other girls, who seemed to be effortlessly flying around the track. I remember the pounding of my heart, the metallic taste of fatigue in my mouth, the nausea and the gasping sound of my breathing that was so loud it prompted the teacher to ask me if I suffered from asthma.
As the days went by during that school year, the running became easier. One warm winter day as I was running the cross-country track through the woods next to the school, I remember feeling light as air, my feet weightlessly skimming the soft dirt track through the carpet of leaves. The running was so easy, I was almost giddy. It was more than 35 years ago, but I still remember it felt glorious.
As I grew older, my weight went up and down like a roller coaster. Exercise programs were started and abandoned. A sedentary job, inactive lifestyle and bad eating habits added extra pounds on my already overweight frame by the time I reached my forties. I avoided the scales and didn't think too much about my health until the first year that the Brantinghams' Relay For Life team hosted a 5K run/walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I thought it sounded like fun. You got a T-shirt, joined some friends and took a little three-mile walk up Ball Park Road in Gainesville. Who couldn't walk three miles? I wasn't concerned about it at all.
My sister Tammie Mahan and I, along with my daughters Jessica and Jenny, donned our athletic shoes and joined the other runners and walkers at the starting line. We took off, and it didn't take long for me to get concerned. I hadn't gone a quarter-mile before my shins started to burn and I was breathing like a freight train. I made it the whole 3.1 miles, fell down only once (in front of lots of people) and felt like a truck ran over me afterward. I was among the last to cross the finish line, but the other participants and organizers clapped and whooped and hollered for me like I was an Olympic qualifier. The applause made the pain a little easier to bear.
I decided then and there to begin a walking program. The idea of running seemed impossible, out of the question. Besides, I don't have the right body type to run. Runners are thin, light-boned and narrow-hipped. I am exactly the opposite.
But I began noticing more and more Ozark County people were lacing up their shoes and running. Kelli Humphries and Penny and Gene Britt were running in the pre-dawn hours around Gainesville, training for a half-marathon race. David Murphy and former Ozark Countian Charley Hogue were running country roads and muddy trails, logging hundreds of miles training for ultra-marathons. April and Jon Wilson were running evenings after work training for trail races. My husband Tim was using his lunch hour to run on the treadmill at the gym. Times office manager Kimberly Hand and my daughter Jenny Yarger started training using the Couch-to-5K running program and were soon running 30 consecutive minutes and posting triumphant and joyful photos of their sweaty faces on Facebook.
I was still walking, and I felt a little left out. I wanted to be in the "running club." While I was out walking, when I knew no one could see, I'd give running a little try on the level pieces of my road. It felt impossible. What am I thinking? I'm not a runner. Some people can run, some can't. I can't.
I was wrong. And so are you, if you want to run and believe you can't. At a Fourth of July celebration at my sister's house several years ago, while visiting with Charley Hogue and his wife Tazna, the topic turned to running. All of us were marveling at Charley's running achievements, and I wistfully said, "I wish I could run."
Charley smiled and said. "Anyone can run. You can do it. All it takes is a little time and a lot of commitment."
The Couch-to-5K program is supposed to take nine weeks. It took me about four months to complete. Progress was slow but satisfying. Each time I tried to run, it seemed to take a little less effort; each time, I was able to go a little bit farther. Now I'm starting to say the words: I run. Not a marathoner by any means, but still, I'm running. Charley was right. I can do it.
Along the way I've lost a few pounds and met some really nice and encouraging people. But the best thing of all happened on a recent Saturday. Jenny and I went for a long run down to the lake. It was the first time we had run that far. For a little while, I felt light as air, my feet weightlessly skimming the road through a carpet of leaves. The running was so easy, I was almost giddy.
It felt glorious.
<p>Jenny Yarger, right, my training buddy and daughter, joined me
in a thumbs-up after the BRMC Lend-A-Hand 5k race on Oct. 25. This
was our first race outside Ozark County. Jenny was third in her age