This post was written as the first draft of a story I was preparing for the Grand Slam competition of my local story slam. When the video is released from that slam, I will add to this post and you can can be my secondary set of judges. Be kind as the nemesis has likely done his work for the day.
At the frozen dawn of 2015 I decided it was time for me to become a runner. Before this, I had only ever run in service of chasing a ball or a person who had a ball I wanted. Running was a way to not die on the basketball court in high school and a meet-cute opportunity with boys in college. But after starting an all-consuming career in my 20s, I just decided I didn’t have room in my life for running.
Until New Years of 2015 when I made a resolution, joined a Facebook group, and got a “coach” from one of those pyramid scheme companies that is always trying to get people to deputize their friends as “business partners” to make themselves rich. But I digress. That’s a different nemesis for a different story.
In this nemesis story, that pyramid-scheme company actually caused me to make a choice that I have lived with ever since. The choice to become “a runner.” More to the point, the choice to become “a bad runner who doesn’t give up on running.”
For me, one third of running is the right path, one third is having the right accountability and the remaining third is having very low expectations for myself. Because running is a my daily nemeses.
That first winter, I simultaneously listened to the podcast Serial while a couch to 5K app told me when to run and when I could, without guilt, walk. Because an app told me, I didn’t beat myself up for listening. And slowly by running in the sleet and snow-covered roads around my house, I was eventually able to run the full 3 miles. I ran my first race, a snowy March 5K in an industrial park. I crossed the finish line late in the pack and was hugged by an oversized leprechaun. See, this is not an inspirational running story. It’s about pushing back against the nemesis no matter how he teases me with small the wins along the way.
One of my favorite modern writers is Roxanne Gay of Bad Feminist fame. In an essay about her nemesis, she explains that Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of retribution who punished, among other things, hubris. That’s what my running does for me–punish me for my hubris and remind me of my ever present march out of youth and into middle age. While I usually only allow my time to be occupied with things I succeed at, running always reminds me there’s so many more areas where I could me mediocre or worse. Running is the nemesis that reminds me of how much I am not and likely should not aspire to be.
A few years ago, I decided to sign up for one of those color runs where the point isn’t to actually run, but more to frolic around until you get the perfect instagram shot of your multi-colored, powdered face and then go home and revel in your glory. This seemed like a perfect run for me, a bad runner. Two problems–first, the course was brutal. Hills abounded, temps and humidity were soaring. Second, my running partner is one of those people for whom running is cathartic, not chaotic. While I’m trying to breath correctly to not faint, she is chattering away cheerfully. In the pictures, she looks effervescent, surrounded by colors and bubbles. I look like I’m surviving boot camp. Nemesis strikes again. So clever and effective.
Last October, I decided to sign up for my longest run yet. An effort to prove to myself that running had been tamed into a frenemy and that I could wield the upper hand in our contentious relationships. I signed up for a *GASP* FIVE mile run.
I trained for two months, getting myself up to a full 4 miles. On race day, I milled about stretching and trying to give myself a pep talk. No one seemed as nervous as I was. I was running a race alone which always feels more difficult–like that paradox where you feel more lonely in a crowd.
As we launched, men and women at least 2 decades older than me passed me early on. One woman wearing a tutu and a smile had to be in her 70s. She passed me in mile 3. At mile 4, the longest I had ever run with one mile left, my friend did manage to show, popping out from behind a tree to encourage me. She scared me half to death, but the adrenaline surge and the solidarity was welcome.
In the last half mile, I remember looking at the gray sneakers in front of me and concentrating on every. single. step. I told myself that my shoes stopped when hers did. And I sure did cross that finish line with every ounce of hubris, energy, and millennial self-respect sacrificed on the alter of completing that run. I was one of the last people across that finish line.
So why keep running? I don’t know–why do you stalk your nemesis’ Instagram account? Why do you always tell that one mutual acquaintance that you’re “SO GREAT” when you’re not? Like you and like Roxanne Gay, I choose to keep this nemesis alive. So today, I’m announcing that I will be running TWENTY SIX miles. But never at once, and it might take me the next month to do it. Take that nemesis. Oh, and see you on Friday.