Since 1994, I’ve run an annual 13.1 at Thanksgiving. Sometimes in a race. More often on my own. Weather permitting, I stretch, then go home. This year, it was frigid with a wind chill that warned of cold bones and frozen muscles. To compensate, I drove to the gym to stretch in the sauna. There’s a small window of opportunity after a long run before total body freeze up and mine was closing fast. I didn’t bother to change clothes, but kept on my insulated running pants and both shirts. I had just managed to convince my calves to release from their solid state when two young men came in.
It’s a tiny space so I eased myself down on the bench, pulled my right leg up, then my left and settled down yoga-style. Old hips tighten as fast as calves. I pulled my right leg across my body, closed my eyes against it’s complaint and held tight until the muscle relaxed. I considered how I would walk without moving my hips. The vision in my mind wasn’t appealing. I opened my eyes and exhaled. The young men were shirtless, in oversized shorts, and no shoes. Both sat leaning against the wall, heads down staring at their phones. I closed my eyes, pulled my left leg across and held steady despite it’s cursing. I quieted the muscles with promises of chocolate and settled into a tighter stretch. It occurred to me that I might walk again after all.
With most of the tension gone, I released the hip, sat cross-legged and eased my face toward my right knee. The joint felt puffy. I winced at the thought of hobbling around for the next two days. I considered my age and the wisdom of my choice to keep running after all these years. Everyone I know stopped running years ago and now practice yoga. After a few silent seconds, Buff said, “I’m going to try hot yoga. It’s supposed to be really good for you. It’s like 100 degrees in there.” I exhaled and pushed my spine toward my inner thigh. My back, neck, quad, thigh, and even my shoulders screamed for mercy.
Tuff said, “Not me. Too hot. My Mom has been at me for 4 years to do yoga. I hate yoga more than I hate running. I had to run 2 miles to get into Cooper. Couldn’t do it. They wanted 5 miles. No way. Only 2 guys made it. One got cut. Ran 2 and then got cut.”
Buff: “Yeah, but you get really strong with Yoga.”
I used my elbow to straighten up, then slowly stretched over my left knee, and rested my cheekbone on my leg. That knee was feeling spongy. I wondered if my legs were going to fully extend when I stood up and whether I would be walking like a chicken for the rest of my life. I put my faith in the heat to loosen the muscles. I exhaled slowly and waited for it to soak into my bones.
Buff: “You’re sweating. Why aren’t I sweating? How can you be sweating and I’m not?”
Tuff: “It’s hot in here.”
Buff: “I’m going to stand closer to the source.” I heard Buff stand up, which put him against the heating element. “There, the red light came on. Now it’ll get hot.”
Tuff: “It’s hot in here now.”
Buff: “O.K. yeah, I’m sweating.”
Again I leveraged myself up using my elbows. A bead of sweat crossed the bridge of my nose. I opened my eyes. Buff sat back down on the bench next to Tuff, who was looking at his phone. Buff picked his phone up off the bench and began thumbing across it. I closed my eyes, pulled my left arm across my chest and stretched it with my right hand. My shoulder told me I needed to do more upper body work. I told my shoulder to get a life.
Buff: “My friend is throwing down 21 this week. He wants to know if Friday works. He can’t Wednesday. I said yes. You can come.”
I pulled my right arm across and stretched my left shoulder, which informed me I had somehow broken it during the run. A picture of me in a shoulder sling flashed across my mind. I shook my head at my little pity party.
Tuff: “A girl friend of mine is throwing down 21 in December. You can go.”
Buff: “A girl I know from NOVA has this awesome house. Let me show you.”
I opened my eyes. Buff swiped his thumb across his phone. He pointed it at Tuff who frowned and nodded.
Buff: “She must have deleted the pictures. Anyway, when do we get out? She’s throwing down 21 the week of December 12th.”
I bent my head toward my chest and wondered how I managed to pull a neck muscle running. I closed my eyes and leaned forward over my feet to stretch my back and hips. I decided I was going to have to stay like that forever.
Tuff: “Not until the 15th.”
Buff: “No way, man! I thought this week.”
Tuff: “Classes yeah, but like in Math I have a final on the 15th so we’re still in.”
Buff: “Yeah, but her parents have a house on the Outer Banks. It will be all week. I can’t still be in.”
Tuff: “Maybe you could skip.”
Buff: “Yeah. Hey, you can come.”
My back muscles informed me they weren’t going to pull me up when I told them to. I frowned at their threats and used my elbows to ratchet upright. I exhaled slowly through my nose.
Buff: “O.K. You ready?”
I heard them leave. I opened my eyes, turned and extended my legs straight out on the bench. I pretended I could lean over and place my nose on my knees. Every joint and muscle from neck to ankle told me I had mistreated them and they weren’t happy about it. I told them to suck it up.
I placed my hands on either side of me on the bench and pushed my body upright. Gingerly, I pulled my right leg and extended over the side of the bench, then my left leg until I was in a sitting position. After a breath, I risked standing. There was no one to high five, but I felt celebratory when my legs held me up. I could now finish what I’d started so I placed my palms on the bench and stretched my knotted calves behind me. After a count of 20, they stopped raging. With my left hand, I pulled my right foot up to my butt and stretched my quad. It argued for a full minute, then unwound. I pulled up my left foot and the quad cried out. I told it to stop being such a baby, and set my foot down.
I stood solidly on both feet and smiled because I could. Then I gave thanks— I’m not running to belong, not whining about having to do 2, not too cold to sweat, not throwing down anything, not partying in my parents’ house however awesome, not wondering when I’m going to get out and not feeling the need to skip any test. I’ve set and passed my own. A full 13.1 without competition or recognition. At 59. Again. Like I have every year at this time for the last 21. I took a long, deep breath, exhaled slowly, pulled the door open and ordered my legs to move. They did. “Sweet.”