Back of the Pack

On average, it takes me around 8 minutes to run a kilometer. Depending on how many kilometers I am about to run, per kilometer can take me from 7 to 10 minutes. Maybe 6 minutes if a dog were after me or if I were after Daniel Craig. But the long and short of it, this chick? A definite back-of-the-packer. All my running life. 

Back at college, I was the butt of jokes of the macho org I was part of, the UPMountaineers–breeders of trailblazers in the field of mountaineering and other extreme sports. I looked like something the cat dragged home after each and every diagnostic run we had and I was, most often, last to cross the finish line, accompanied by tired and irked race organizers because I kept them waiting–yet again–when all the others had gone to Krus Na Ligas to drink themselves to oblivion. This scenario–last in line, with only irked race officials to meet me in the finish line—duplicated itself many times over in the course of my 4-decade running love affair. 

Do I care? As honestly and as truthfully and as honorably and as authentically as I can tell you, the short answer is no. I am ALWAYS a happy, unapologetic camper when I cross a finish line.

The long answer is ‘I used to.’

It bugged the hell out of me in college that hard as I tried, I could not run any faster than all the  UP Mountaineers . And I finally reached breaking point in my running life in my 40s. I said ‘This is it! Now or never.’ So I hired me a coach. I know that sounds fancy and pretentious. But midlife’s a bitch, believe me. In fact I had 3 coaches before I settled with a UPM friend/running coach. Jay upped my game by notches in that he pushed me to run distances I hadn’t ever ran in my entire life. And I started joining races where before and for decades all I did was run 3-4 times a week for the sheer joy of it. But as for improving my time, making me faster, even Jay had to concede I had reached my limit. 

Has this stopped me from running? Hell, no. 

In fact, in about 3 weeks, I will be running the NY Marathon. And I have run valleys and mountains and streams and concrete jungles and all surfaces known to humankind. And my one wish is to run many more valleys and mountains and streams and concrete jungles and to pound on many more surfaces known to humankind. 

A diagnosed autistic with ADHD to add to the interesting brew, running has kept my mind quiet and focused. If I didn’t have it, who knows where all that frenzied mind activity could’ve taken me. The phrase that comes to mind is ‘road to perdition’. Yes, I am a high functioning person with autism and yes, my autism is, in no way, severe. Autism is a spectrum disease which means you can be a little bit autistic or you can be very autistic. I am a little bit autistic. 

But I can tell you of days when the only light I could see at the end of the tunnel was pin prick sized. I look back and I can see a million days where I just felt so out of it, so different from everyone around me. And until I learned to quit the ‘fit in’ game, I was miserable. Running gave me the clarity I needed.  I got happy in my own skin early in life because I had running. I strapped on my running shoes and I had me, could see me –clearly, without confusion. 

Running focuses me, keeps me on an even keel. And because of my condition, I can keep at it for hours where it will just drive others bat shit crazy. And so really, if you get right down to it, autism has been good for my running too. I could run for hours–4 maybe?–and it would not drive me up the wall. It would, in fact, silence me and I would come out of that run refreshed and renewed –where it would make others come out like they’d been through the wringer. My body will feel like it had been trampled on by a horde of elephants but my mind, it would be the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. 

I’ve learned that, in order for you to get the most out of something, you need not be an elite anything. You only need to give it your all. You do not need to be a genius, a prodigy to get prodigious amounts of a good thing if this thing is what you love doing, whatever it is. 

So what if you can’t string a sentence the way T.S. Eliot did. Write anyway. There are stories in you and poems in you and fictional characters in you and truths and vast worlds and galaxies in you struggling to get out and you will know no peace until you’ve set them on paper. So write already. 

So what if you can’t create scenes on a canvass the way Frida Kahlo did? Take out your paint brushes and paint the different and multi-colored hues in you that’s begging to be let out. Be fearless with that canvass. Paint. With bold strokes. Go!

So what if you can’t dance like Fred Astaire or Martha Graham? What of it? You can’t have a life without kicking up a storm in the dance floor, right? You can’t not have danced like some crazed woman and call what you have a life, right? Dance already!

So what if you’re tone deaf and the only person on this side of the equator who can stand your singing is you? Please don’t tell me you won’t take that mic in the karaoke bar and belt out that song in your heart that’s dying to get sung! Sing it already! The universe needs your particular range to keep the melody playing in this vast space we call life. Sing your song, man. Sing it like you mean it. 

Life waits for no one. And in the meantime, tempus fugits. Memento mori, man! Memento mori! Always. 

Don’t die with that song or dance or painting or fictional character still trapped inside you. Close your eyes for all eternity knowing you got from life all that you could get out of it and close your eyes for all eternity knowing you gave to life all that you could possibly give to it. 

Dispel yourself of the fiction that you have something to lose. You came into existence naked. You leave with nothing as well. 

But in between, there is a wealth, an embarrassment of riches to be had–people to love with all your heart and soul, songs to sing and dance to, fights to pick and win and lose, so much laughter with friends and family,some mysteries to be a part of, so much sunsets and sunrises and moonrises and fireflies and so much love to make, so much your arms can embrace, so much  injustice and inequality and hatred to shake a fist at and try to mend, so many feasts to be a part of, so much quiet joy, so much deep sadness, so many quiet naps on a hammock to take, so many wonderful, glorious books to read, so much hair to kulot, boots to look hot in, so much chocolate to eat, places to travel to and make an acquaintance with.

So much of life calling to you.

You have nothing to lose. Nothing. You own nothing save yourself. And even that is fleeting. Live already.

So I have this fantasy in my head where I finally am face to face with Goddess and the first thing She does  when She sees me is dance a victory jig and embrace me completely and shake her head in incredulous amazement and grinning crazily say,“WOW. WOW!!’.

And when we get to that part where we talk about my running, She will know truthfully that She had given me such a small portion of it, talent-wise but I was going to hand her a handsome profit. And She will know I had made myself extremely rich because of it. There will be no medals nor any world records broken, yes.

But She and I will be talking about the other kind of wealthy–the steady, gentle rhythm and running under a canopy of hot air balloons and being surprised to the point of tears by a serene sunrise.

And She will, once again, say, incredulously to this consistent back-of-the-packer, “WOW!”.

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