The skin on my legs burned like it was on fire. I tried to scratch and keep going, clawing at my legs, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. The simultaneous feelings of confusion, pain, and hopelessness were burned in my memory — running wasn’t for me. I had chosen a stretch of road behind my apartment complex that wound into an undeveloped area, full of empty fields, so there would be no one to watch me struggle to make my legs work. I was 27, living in Carrolton after I’d gotten my first job in Dallas, but I still needed to be close to Denton to wrap up grad school.
My second attempt at running was five years later, at age 32. I was living in a duplex near the M Streets in Dallas. I cut a pair of sweatpants off at the knee to wear and used a band from the leg as a headband. I was in better shape because I’d done a lot of bicycling in the interim. I selected a grid of streets by my house and attempted to run the 5-house block. That was the goal, just to run to the end of the block, then walk to the next position, and run again. Lungs bursting, side-stitch, legs confused: I had all of the usual beginning problems, but I kept trying. I classified this as “attempting to run,” not actual running. I couldn’t go very far or last very long, but this is how I started.
By August of that year I had taken the job in Oklahoma and moved to the far western plains. I took my bike, but the 60-mile per hour wind kept it inside on a trainer. I found a small park with a gravel trail nearby where I would run in the evenings, counting the laps, then multiplying by the distance to add to my paper log. Sitting off a country road just at the edge of town, the park was an anomaly, perfectly manicured with trees, bushes, and flowers. The brown crushed gravel trail wound through the space like a maze bound by bushes that would then open up into wide open spaces to remind you the world was endlessly flat. The twilight sky hung like a dome over our flat world as the colors leaked out from the day. I saw a fox there once.
I convinced a friend that we were now “runners,” and that as such, we should do events. We signed up for the Oklahoma City Half Marathon in the spring. Since neither of us had ever run an event before, we did a practice 5k in Denton. I remember that it was harder than I had expected. I continued to log miles over the fall and winter, into the spring. My longest run before the April event was 9 miles — nine glorious miles winding through the small Oklahoma college town in my cut off sweatpants. But, I’d increased the miles quickly and my base fitness was completely dependent on my previous cycling history.
I’ve run two official half-marathons ever: the one in Oklahoma City and another in Dallas years later, neither went very well. Both ended in injury, sidelining future running, until eventually, I would convince myself to give it a go again and start from scratch.
That Spring, I remember how happy I was to see my friend and do this with her. We needed this. I didn’t get very many visitors and OKC was half-way between our two cities. We went out for dinner the night before, but turned in early, anxious about the next day. We separated pretty quickly on the course. We’d both trained alone and felt most comfortable running that way, though we tried to keep track of each other. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but something was wrong with my leg by the second or third mile and that was how it went. I ran almost the entire event in pain, hobbling along. I would never in a million years advise anyone to run injured! Pain is your body’s way of communicating with you, telling you, forcing you to listen, but I wasn’t having it. It meant too much to me to complete the course. The year had been too hard — personally, emotionally, physically — this was just one more thing in my way. I took my finisher’s medal and limped back to the car.
A month later I was still limping, calling in favors to help with my move back from exile, settling into a duplex in the Junius Heights area of Dallas. Eventually, I would try again, learning all of the streets by heart in the way that you do as a runner. I would run towards downtown past the historic houses in Munger Place or turn the other way and wind over to the trail that lead to White Rock Lake, but mostly I paced back and forth through the neighborhood finding my legs again.