I wasnt always a penguin. I wasnt always as slow
as I am now. I used to be much slower! It took 40 years to
become so overweight and out of shape that running a mile
and running a marathon were equally unthinkable.
For most of those 40 years, I looked at runners as if they
were some mutant sub-species of the human race. I looked not
with awe nor with envy as runners in my neighborhood trudged
through rain, heat, cold and wind. I looked at them with suspicion.
What motivated them? What was missing in their lives that
they had to punish themselves on a regular basis?
Ad then it happened. It wasnt the epiphany that some
folks describe. It was simply a matter of looking down at
a body that was becoming my enemy and deciding that enough
Those early days and weeks were a time of awakening. I bought
a pair of running shoes, tied them on much too tightly and
headed for the streets. Remembering the last time I had run,
in high school gym class, I bolted down the driveway and into
the future. That lasted about 20 steps.
It was at that instant that I realized I had the legs of
an old person. Those youthful appendages that had served me
well in Little League and at the Prom were now unwilling to
run longer than 30 seconds. So I walked.
My guess is that my first humble attempt at running/walking/shuffling/panting
lasted not even 600 yards and took nearly 5 minutes. I turned
back, convinced that I had covered so much ground I would
have a hard time finding my way homeonly to discover
that Id barely made it down the block. But I had started.
The next step toward penguinhood was one of blissful naivete.
I was amazed that my body was actually beginning to cooperate.
That first "run" turned into a half-mile, a mile,
then more. I was shocked at how quickly my body adapted to
the new stresses. I was ready, or so I thought, for any challenge.
Time to race!
Standing at the start of my first race, a local 5-K, I barely
noticed the other runners. Filled with the confidence that
only abject ignorance can produce, I wondered how many of
them had noticed me and if they were worried about my presence.
After all, I knew how slow I had been and how much
I had improved.
At the start command, everybody bolted as if they
had been blasted from a howitzer. I stood there like I was
tied to a tree. Oh, I was running; I was running as hard as
I had ever run. It was just that I was running very, very
I watched in stunned amazement as men and women, young and
old, short and tall, ran away from me as though I had some
medieval plague. The 70-year old man I had been chatting with
before the start dropped me like a bad habit. The woman behind
me nearly knocked me over. It was my moment of enlightenment.
I began laughing out loud at them and at myself. Off I ran,
shaking my head. By the first mile marker, I was running nearly
alone. I had run the fastest mile (a 10:30) of my life, and
I could barely see the person ahead of me! But the smile on
my face never faded.
I knew then that running was going to be something I did
mostly for the joy it brought me. Watching the other runners
move away, I realized that I could not undo the physical effects
of 40 years of indulgence in a matter of weeks or months.
It had taken all my life to get to where I was; it was going
to take the rest of my life to get to where I wanted to be.
I went on to finish
and to keep a promise to myself.
By finishing that first race, I began undoing four decades
of unkept promises and doomed diets and quitting in general.
Crossing the finish line, I knew that in my running, and in
my life, the difference between success and failure would
sometimes come down to a single step.
Waddle on, friends.