Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Beginning Of It All

I  started running for the very first time in high school while I was playing field hockey and lacrosse. I went to a boarding school in Westchester County where most everyone played sports. (The few who didn't had mandatory PE!!) I was excited to join a team since I had never had an opportunity to be on one in public school in Brooklyn. My friend KC and I chose to go out for field hockey, since we had looked over at the soccer tryouts in horror while their crazy coach was having them do 10 laps of the field, just to warm up!

We both looked at each other and made an instant but silent decision to try out for field hockey, since 1. we were closer to the field, and 2. they didn't appear to be running much at all. It looked a little like golf. We could definitely do this. Neither of us knew anything about the sport or what would actually be required of us. So naively, we shuffled over to the Field Hockey field, which looked to be shorter than the soccer field (score!). Plus, there was a woman coach--those were all good signs, right?

WRONG. After doing a couple of laps around the field 9 (I nearly died after every loop), we did a timed mile. I had NO IDEA what running a mile felt like since I had never had to run, for anything. (Childhood tag on city streets doesn't count and I'll talk about fence races another time.) That first mile ever was probably the most difficult physical thing I had ever done in my life. It consisted of 2 loops of the very hilly campus. The start of each loop was a short downhill followed by a rolling course around campus. The finish of each loop was a steady uphill until you turned into one of the school's main driveway, where even the stupid speed-bumps made me tired and angry.

My mile time was around 15 minutes--much of which I was walking and huffing and puffing and dying. When you have no idea of what a running a mile is like, or how long it is, or that a mile is like running from your block in Brooklyn to a block in another faraway neighborhood (like running from northern Bushwick to Bed-Stuy, for example), you believe you are going to be running/walking forever. I was disappointed to be the penultimate person, but ecstatic not to be the last that very humid, late summer day in the Hudson Valley.

After the mile-run debacle, practice started. We sprinted lengths of the field with and without our sticks, we practiced dribbling and driving field-hockey style, ran some more lengths of the field, practiced flicking the ball, and other field-hockeyish things.   KC and I were also introduced to the concept of the suicide, which on a basketball court might not be so bad, but on a FIELD HOCKEY FIELD was like someone pulling you from the sweet confines of restful death into purgatory over and over and over again. Two hours later I both couldn't feel my legs, my back, my neck AND then an hour later felt them very, very much.

What had we gotten ourselves into? How had we made this huge and STUPID mistake? Why was everyone better than us? How were these girls running up and down the field like it was second nature? They weren't even tired. KC and I were both kids from the city; she grew up in the Bronx and I had the honor of being born and raised in the borough of all boroughs, Brooklyn.

After the first week of practice, we still weren't accustomed to the demands of playing a sport everyday, let alone for two and a half hours a day. We endeavored to do better and decided that we would practice running so that we wouldn't suck so much at the sport.

This desire to be better took the form of early morning runs on the field of just a mile because that, we decided, was what was holding us back. So we practiced doing the 6 loops of the field hockey field, with its freshly cut grass and wild onion aroma. We stopped and started. Started and stopped. Bent over, breathless and chest heaving. We then would have to walk back up a humungous hill back to the dorms so we could limp into the showers before a much welcome breakfast.

At some point during the fall season KC and I started being able to run the warm-up loops continuously without stopping. We were able to dribble around the field without gasping for air. We could withstand the 2.5 hours of practice without keeling over face down. We could even make it through the rest of our typical boarding school evening--dinner, study hall, and socializing without being narcoleptic. That, my friends, is progress.

KC and I at our senior tea, after having survived years of field hockey
The other thing that kept us going was simply being a part of a team and knowing that if we got better, if we worked on stuff, the team would also get better. During breaks, our coaches asked us to keep working out, and to try to run everyday. This was my first foray into running for the sake of running. I would don my best "workout" clothes, cotton and all. I mean, who knew? Into the front pocket of my heavy sweatshirt would go my SONY Walkman stocked with a cassette tape with a combination of Whitney Houston, Sade, and Simon and Garfunkel. (Later on in my high school career, it would be Puccini, Special Ed, and Indigo Girls.
Go figure.)

I would start timidly at first, because NO ONE in my neighborhood ran unless they were playing tag or stickball or racing up and down the block. People would stare a little and then go back to what they were doing. I would run up my street until it ended at a public school track CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. Then I would circle the perimeter of the track, and continue on my street until it ended at a cemetery, and then I would be brazen and run through that. It wasn't until last year that I figured out the mileage of those runs back in the day. At the most, I ran 2, maybe 3 miles. Still, it felt epic back then. Just EPIC.

How freeing. How absolutely liberating! Especially in the confines of the grids of the real North Brooklyn, not today's hipster North Brooklyn. No hard feelings, guys......

This was when I discovered what running really was. To be able to move my body JUST BECAUSE was a pretty awesome feeling. That feeling continues today.


  1. This resonated with me. I couldn't run a mile as a kid to save my life. Of course, at the time, it never even occurred to me that I could IMPROVE by PRACTICING. What a concept! I lived in a land where the refrain was that I was a fat, un-athletic kid, and it was inevitable that I would be a schoolyard farce every time some coach decided to make our PE class run for whatever undisclosed reason.

  2. I started running as well due to a sport, but I found the sport first. I've played basketball since before I can remember. I started running to stay in shape during off season. Now, 5 years after graduating from college ball, I don't get to play very often. I still run 4-5 times a week though and I love that I can still move my body and use it in amazing ways. Kudos to you :)

    1. The human body IS amazing, isn't it? The ability to do the things we do is incredible. I am so grateful!

  3. Thank you for your inspiration. I just started my jog and run quest at age 46. It's never too late. I did 4 organized 5K's in the last 12 months! I am frm Brooklyn and can identify. #rgnsmom #BKforlife