Looking up, I see the finish banner and clock. I pick up the pace,
releasing the energy I’ve been saving for the final kick.
I am gasping for air; my heart is pounding. I am going to have
a PR. I am going to break 30 minutes for 5-K. What?
John Lennon may have been the Walrus, but I am the Penguin. I
am the runner you’ve seen whose legs look as if they are
tied together at the knees. I am the runner whose stride is the
same as his shoe length. And I am not alone.
Why a penguin? Because metaphors usually used to describe runners-fleet-footed
gazelles, cheetahs and winged-footed Mercury-don’t
have much to do with my running style. I tend to resemble a penguin
waddling across the frozen tundra more than a thoroughbred in
If you’ve seen a penguin run or walk, you know what I mean.
Penguins walk as if their feet are killing them. Penguins, waddling
and scurrying, are the ultimate expression of will over form.
Their feet move as fast as possible, but their bodies are barely
propelled forward at all.
Those of you who are gifted runners have seen penguin runners
at races. Well, you’ve seen us at the races where the course
is out and back. You rarely see us finish, however. We’re
the ones who are finishing as you are getting in your cars to
Actually, penguins are easy to spot. We keep moving farther and
farther away from the starting line before the race begins. As
the really fast and pretty fast runners complete their prerace
warm-up and position themselves for the perfect starting spot,
we penguins keep getting pushed back. In small races we can still
see the staring line, but in bigger races we’re so far back
we almost need a water station before the starting line.
Once the gun goes off, as the cheetahs and gazelles speed away
from us in search of PRs and age-group awards, the penguins settle
into the middle of the back of the pack. It’s then, when
we finally have the course to ourselves, that the real race for
the penguins begins-the race with our fears and insecurities.
We are not racing anyone but ourselves. In many cases we are not
running to anything, but away from everything.
My running shoes have become giant erasers on my feet. Every footstrike
rubs away some memory of a previous indiscretion with food or
smoke or drink. Every successful mile releases me from the grip
of the demons of failure. Every starting line is another chance
to prove that my past will not determine my future.
When I am running, in training or in a race, I imagine myself
as strong and swift and elegant. When I am running, I imagine
myself striding gracefully through life with courage and pride.
When I am running, I forget my failures as a child or parent or
friend or lover. Through running, I create myself as I have always
wanted to be.
I have discovered that I am not alone. As I have admitted my own
fears and hopes, I’ve discovered that many in the running
community share those fears and hopes. We, the webbed-footed wonders,
are about to come into our own.
And we will run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and
spirit. We will run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.
Together, we will continue our odyssey of affirmation.
Waddle on, friends.