I ran a 5K race last Saturday morning!

I know, I know. Not such a huge thing….not such a long race, but let’s get real here: I’m a 40-something ex-smoker. I’ve been a serious walker for years, and I’ve been hiking seriously at altitude for a couple of years, but I only started running six months ago. A run in public was a big deal to me.

Not much of a race, sports fans, just a little more than three miles, and it wasn’t high pressure because there were walkers. I’m not competitive in this way, so I could go with my friend Holli (whom you’ve read about in these columns before (the artist’s date to Chimayo) who called to encourage me to run with her.

To my amazement, I absolutely adored it. The day was dark and spitting snow, very cold, but that’s not such a bad thing if you have to run. I borrowed a hoodie from my son Miles and wore my yoga pants and good running shoes.

And standing there at the line, I thought, this is weird. Me, in a race. But I liked it. Not the idea of winning, but the idea of just doing it. I hoped to be able run the whole way, no matter how slowly.

In the end, I had to walk several times, and although I was disappointed, I noticed I was in a group of other women just about the same speed. One kept running at a steady, steady, steady pace the whole time. One walked and ran alternately and we kept pace for a long time. Two others ran for long stretches, and walked for long stretches. We all finished within a short stretch of time, toward the end of most the runners and before the walkers.

That was okay with me. I learned that asphalt is much harder on my ankles than turf; that it’s much harder to pace myself at a steady running pace outside than it is on a treadmill; that I like feeling sweaty and pushing myself; that I love, love, love being outside, doing something that makes my muscles feel alive.

Most of all, what I lately love is this: all those gym teachers who made me feel like a pathetic failure of an athlete were wrong. While it’s true that I have terrible hand to eye coordination, and I can’t hit a tennis ball or a baseball or a golf ball to save my life, I am an athlete. I love the pleasure of engaging in physical activities, in sweating and meeting physical tests and setting new ones. It makes me feel very alive.

It’s wonderful to discover that–and I’m happy to see how my niece and her friends are encouraged to be physical in ways girls my age never were.

If you were a girl who didn’t think you were athletic and have discovered it later, have a similar story of discovery, I’d love to hear it. Or even if you always did like and know you were….

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