Six and a half years ago, I took my first steps running.
That’s a small exaggeration. I’d certainly achieved a running gait a few times before then. Probably on school playgrounds or during the occasional football or soccer game in gym class. And for those fitness tests we had to do–which I most certainly failed with flawless consistency. I didn’t run.
You see, it’s hard to start running if you don’t run. And the result of that is, you don’t run. So you become terribly unfit. And some of us also become very overweight. Which, in turn, makes it harder still to run. Since the physical and mental are tied together, soon it’s possible to feel very, very low, physically and emotionally. So, when my daughter was six months old and my son turned three and I could hardly walk the three blocks from our home to the city pool, something had to change.
It’s every former fat person’s story. I was tired of being tired and sick of being sick. I spent that summer walking three or four miles daily, pushing my son in a stroller and carrying my daughter in a sling. By the following spring, I was ready to start running. I’d lost enough weight that it wouldn’t be dangerous, and I’d gained enough fitness that I needed the added challenge.
The metamorphosis is still hard to fully comprehend in single-point perspective. I started running with a dear friend. We trained for, and finished, a marathon. That led to more marathons, and eventually it also led to being a person of a more or less normal weight–which I’d never been before my thirties. As a healthy person, I began seeing personal dreams as aspirations. Goals with a degree of real possibility. Like writing for a living. Like raising our own livestock and growing vegetable gardens. And now, like taking our family to live in Dubai and get something positive out of the experience.
I hadn’t been out for a run since at least mid-May, when we relocated. Oh, I’d tried a few times on the hotel treadmills in June, and I’d gone to the track around Safa Park at night, but I’m not an evening runner. During Ramadan, I was getting out almost regularly for walks/jogs, but they weren’t very effective. I’m a morning runner.
This week, I started running again. And right now, I can only say it’s really hard. Even when I get out at 6:00 A.M., the temperature starts out in the mid-80s (30C), and the dewpoint is often mid- to upper 70s. Hot, yes. But man, it really is the humidity that makes it hard. Breathing is hard. Temperature regulation is hard. The whole thing is a huffy-puffy, sweaty mess. I wear a running dress and compression capris, which is basically the same thing I wear to the beach, quite respectful and conservative. I carry an insulated water bottle. And of course, my phone. I wear a little kerchief on my head, which helps keep sweat out of my eyes for at least half of the run, until it becomes saturated and the sweat just runs from everywhere to everywhere.
At this point, I can only run about 5 minutes at a time between walk breaks. Which feels pretty terrible compared with what I used to be able to do. But then again, I’ve never before had to run in weather like this, and I’ve basically been off my running routine since spring. Plenty of time for atrophy. I’ve also gained weight, making the running harder. Point is, there are plenty of things contributing to the difficulty.
But I’m still doing it. Not because I like the feeling of stepping out of the air-conditioned villa into the dripping heat of a Dubai morning. Or because I like being the one and only jogger on Jumeira Road at 6:30 in the morning. Or because I’ve always wanted to sample the water from every drinking fountain up and down the road (though I do). I do feel stared-at and self-conscious. But I don’t feel unsafe; the greatest risks are probably dehydration and overheating, or I suppose I could trip on the paving blocks and turn an ankle or tweak a knee. Even so, by the third mile, I find my face fixing itself in an old, familiar expression: I’m smiling. As bad as it feels, it still feels good.
I’ve run four times this week, for a total of 13 miles. There was a time, not terribly long ago, when 13 miles was a moderate Sunday run in a 35-mile week. Not terribly long ago, but terribly far away. My goal is to get back into that kind of shape again by mid-winter. Note, it’s a goal. Not a dream or a wish, but something with a degree of possibility.
To all my running friends, and all of my friends who run, thank you. And keep running.