Looking up, I see the finish banner and clock. I pick up
the pace, releasing the energy Ive 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
John Lennon may have been the Walrus, but I am the Penguin.
I am the runner youve 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
runnersfleet-footed gazelles, cheetahs and winged-footed
Mercurydont have much to do with my running style.
I tend to resemble a penguin waddling across the frozen tundra
more than a thoroughbred in the homestretch.
If youve 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, youve seen us at the races where the
course is out and back. You rarely see us finish, however.
Were the ones who are finishing as you are getting in
your cars to go home.
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 were
so far back we almost need a water station before the
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. Its
then, when we finally have the course to ourselves, that the
real race for the penguins beginsthe race with our fears
and insecurities. We are not racing anyone but ourselves.
In many cases we are not running to anything, but away
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
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.
And I have discovered that I am not alone. As I have admitted
my own fears and hopes, Ive 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 weve 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.