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Sex, Lies, and Videotape

OK, this column has very little to do with sex, but I got your attention. It's got to do with the small and large lies we tell ourselves, and how the truth was revealed to me on videotape.

To digress for just a moment. About six months into my running life I happen to glance over to catch an image of myself running. My times had dropped from nearly 16 minutes per mile to [on a good day] closer to 10-minute miles so I was convinced that the image would be that of a lithe, fluid runner. It wasn't. The image was of a short, fat man running very slowly.

From that day I swore that I would never again look at myself running. I was content to live the fantasy in my mind where I ran effortlessly and with grace. There was no need, I told myself, to confirm my suspicions that after all this time I was still stumbling forward as if my feet were tied together.

Jeff Galloway, a colleague and friend, offered to do a videotape analysis of my running form. To what end, I asked him. I wondered what there could possibly be in my running form [a word I had never previously heard applied to my waddling] that would be of any interest to him or me. For a year he pestered me until I finally conceded.

Before long, I was on a flat stretch of asphalt, with a group of runners, a cameraman, Jeff, and a busload of insecurities. As I watched the others go before me I felt the fear of a condemned person. When he yelled for me to start I felt as if my feet had become part of the pavement. I felt heavy, clumsy, and terribly exposed.

Somehow I managed to begin running. I tried to focus on everything all at once. Where were my hands? Was my head up? Were my feet staying near the ground? I tried to remember everything he had told the others, and tried to make none of their mistakes. I was barely able to remember to alternate feet.

When I at last reached the end, about 25 yards down the road, I felt as if I had suffered a thousand deaths. "Darn" I heard the cameraman yell. "I forgot to turn it on. You'll have to do it again". At that precise moment I understood the term "crime of passion". If looks could kill, I'd be in prison.

I walked back and tried it again. I was angry this time and I think that the anger distracted me from my fear. I ran with race-day fire. I ran strong and confident. I ran with conviction. I ran like myself.

The fear of running was nothing, as it turned out, compared to the fear of watching. As I viewed those that had come before me, as I listened to Jeff's kind, yet helpful, observations, I could hear my heart pounding and feel my palms sweating. I had to remind myself to breathe. And then, there I was. On the giant screen. Caught on videotape.

Much to my surprise, I actually looked like a runner. Not a very good runner, but a runner nonetheless. I had decent posture, my stride length wasn't bad, and my foot strike almost looked intentional. My hands and arms were placed about where they should be, and if you looked very closely, it actually appeared as though I was pushing off with my feet. Just like a real runner.

I was embarrassed by my own fascination with myself. I am not cursed with much of an ego, but this was different. There I was. Running. Running on videotape. And I looked like a runner. If we could have sped the tape up, oh, to about twice the speed, I might have even looked fast.

The greater embarrassment was that I had been lying to myself. I had been ignoring the progress that has come from the months and years of training and trying to be a better runner. Rather than deluding myself into thinking that I was a runner, I had been deluding myself that I was not.

It's easier to stay where we are, to see ourselves as we've been, rather than accept the inevitable changes that living brings. Sometimes, it turns out, the truth can be revealed right before our eyes.

Waddle on, friends.

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