Me at Yoga

After working a 12-hour on-my-feet wedding crew shift yesterday, I went home and sunk into my bathtub with a glass of wine. Several minutes of soaking later (enough so the bubbles died down) I brought myself to read my text messages, one of which was from my running buddy Alexis.

Think I’d rather skip a trail run tomorrow and do yoga instead. Any interest in going to Kimber’s class with me? 

I’ve been verifiably curious about Kimber since her book, Full, managed to revamp my entire way of thinking. Plus, a friend of mine had once told me she sang during class (which he assumed I wouldn’t like. And granted, nine months ago, that may have been true). But I love singing, especially group singing (it’s a family thing. You should have seen my mom’s birthday party this year. Over an hour of appetizers and belting out standards with a ukelele player).

So I agreed to go.

The first thing that happened was I wondered what to wear. The only yoga-like pants I own are known for being see-through in the  back. Which is fine. I’d wear black underwear and suck it up. However, while standing in my apartment I looked in the mirror and noticed that the tight pants hugged every crevice of my body. Every single one. Even the contours between my legs. 

You have to be kidding me. Not only was I going to half-moon it to the world, I was also going to camel toe it too? What, was I going to somehow become the world’s next humiliating meme?

Alexis assured me this was normal as I tugged my T-shirt down.

Upon entering the yoga room, I was struck by one feature I’m not sure I’ve seen in any exercise room: there were no mirrors. No mirrors means that it’d be hard for me to see if I was doing positions correctly – if my hips were flat, if my hands didn’t look ridiculous, if a hair was out of place….hmmm. Maybe this whole no mirror thing was going to actually be helpful.

I flattened my yoga-sitting-device as Kimber played something that was a mixture of a keytar and an instrument you’d expect a yogic elephant to be proficient at. She crooned consonants and syllables I didn’t understand, pausing to say “let’s all sing a chorus of Amazing Grace.”

The room filled with notes. Bass. Tenor. Alto. Soprano. As it came to an end, I felt scared shitless – I was about to do something I am verifiably bad at, without a mirror, in front of strangers, and in the presence of someone I have great respect for.

However, with the idea of Amazing Grace in my mind: that we are sometimes lost and other times found, that we fear and are relieved, I had the hope that this was going to go well.

The class began with talking. I like listening – the idea of lectures gets me giddy – and joy resonated from her speech. Mindfulness. Compassion. Kindness for yourself. All the idea of her book, the ideas that have been floating around in my head, came forth like a Sunday sermon of sorts – a very different Sunday sermon than I grew up with.

Yoga itself is not easy for me. Despite actually having okay balance and being sort of flexible, my body has never enjoyed contorting itself into any yoga-infused pose. However, never were we told we were doing something wrong. Encouraged to move our bodies one way or another, sure. Yet never “not that way…this way.”

All the while, Kimber gently directing and gently cheering, more forcefully suggesting we exist right in the moment we were in and bask in, as Mary Oliver calls it, our “wild and precious life.”

Having a consistent reminder to let go of my self criticism, to not judge myself, to notice my thoughts without getting entangled with them, was powerful. Sure, I was not good at yoga. But I was me at yoga.

As a class, we each took a partner to practice “wheel pose” with. My partner, Kit, had me hold her ankles and attempt to push myself into the pose. Scared, I wasn’t able to fully straighten my arms.

“You’re so close,” she told me. “I think you can do it if you let go of your fear.”

I watched her from above, seeing her practiced body lift into an arch that reminded me of childhood and strength, and wanted that feeling not just from without but within.

We practiced wheel pose separately for a spell, and I felt myself go from bent arms to straight ones, a smile on my face and arched through my back. I used to just lean back with my hands and catch myself in this exact pose, when I fancied becoming a gymnast. Funny how the challenge of being able to do it now made me so much more grateful to have the power to bend. I didn’t take it for granted.

Back down on the ground, in the resting pose, Kimber picked up her elephant’s keytar, singing us into the present.




Well worth a read, my running and non running friends. (Originally published in The Atlantic)

The People Who Can’t Not Run
– Katherine Dempsey

When Gaby Cohen found out she needed a C-section, she headed to the private bathroom in her labor room and jogged in place for 12 minutes. The 44-year-old didn’t want childbirth to end her 14-year record of running every single day.

“I know it sounds ridiculous and insane, but I think I would’ve been really, really upset, and I think I would’ve been really worried about it,” she says.

Cohen, a summer camp administrative director, now 51, will hit 22 years in November 2014, and she hardly holds the record. Some people have run daily for more than 40 years.

Cohen and hundreds of others live by a simple principle: Run every day. Period. Some of these “streak runners” call themselves “streakers,” and to avoid the forbidden skipped day, they’ve persevered through flu, whooping cough, and even the eye of a hurricane. The United States Running Streak Association defines a streak as “at least one continuous mile (1.61 kilometers) within each calendar day under one’s own body power (without the utilization of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices).” Treadmills are OK, but crutches and canes are not. You can’t run your mile in the pool, either.

“I think about Forrest Gump. He just wanted to run.”
Super-dedicated people who go at least a year can get on USRSA’s official list. It’s not clear how many U.S. streakers are out there, but the association’s numbers are increasing. USRSA’s newsletter listed 86 active people in the spring of 2002, but the website listed more than 430 in March 2014. The association’s Facebook group started with 40 members in April 2011 and now, with its counterpart Streak Runners International, it has more than 1,000. Some experts call daily running risky, and researchers haven’t formally studied the practice, but streak runners point to its benefits in their lives.

Just like a signature Tom Hanks character, some of these people aren’t shooting for a particular tangible goal, says Michele Kerulis, director of sport and health psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago and a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “I think about Forrest Gump,” Kerulis says. “He just wanted to run.”

* * *

They all start for different reasons, but for everyone, streaking becomes a fixture of their existence. Former everyday runner Kevin Germino of Orland Park, Illinois, churned out two miles at about 12 minutes per mile the day after his vasectomy. That’s pretty good, considering he “felt like someone was pulling on my balls.”

Now, imagine streaking for 45 years over a distance about six times the earth’s circumference. Mark Covert, a teacher and track and cross-country coach at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California, ran through arthroscopic knee surgery, rotator cuff surgery, and a broken left foot, logging close to 150,000 miles during his 45-year streak. He’s a legend among streakers and has gotten the attention of Runner’s World, CNN, and ESPN. Covert decided to end his streak in 2013 when midfoot collapse in his right foot—which he says resulted from flat feet—persuaded him it wasn’t worth it to keep going. “Many people would say that the streak controlled my life,” says Covert, 63. “I always thought that I controlled the streak.”

Juggling the daily commitment with work demands takes adaptability. When flight attendant Deb Brassfield-Zoltie has a 4:45 a.m. check-in time, she wakes up at 1:15 a.m. to run. She’ll get to the airport by 4 a.m. The 54-year-old’s outfit distinguishes her, too—people around Los Gatos, California, call her “Pinkie” because she works out every day in a pink shirt, short, sunglasses, and hat. Brassfield-Zoltie’s license plate reads RUNRNUT, and she lives up to the title. She set a goal to run every day for 20 years, and she’s made it to year 16 already.

When the eye of Hurricane Frances passed over his neighborhood in 2004, David Walberg seized the serene moment to do a 1.2-miler.
During any long streak, storms of life hit—literally, for David Walberg, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and has been going for more than 31 years. When the eye of Hurricane Frances passed over his neighborhood in 2004, he seized the serene moment to do a 1.2-miler. Cold weather didn’t stop him, either. The independent editorial photographer and former Schaumburg, Illinois, resident says he headed out in a Chicago-area windchill of -75 degrees. “It’s just part of my lifestyle to go out and run everyday,” he says.

Sometimes, the anti-streak hurdles originate from within. When shingles struck, Denise Eberhardt kept running. The 47-year-old, who works for a marketing research firm, hit year seven May 4. “I’m tougher than shingles,” says Eberhardt, who lives in Yorkville, Illinois. “I can run, therefore I will.”

* * *

When it comes to sports, streaks are nothing new. Cal Ripken played 2,632 games without missing a single one, and NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas logged 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. As for running, the first known streakers started in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ted Corbitt, who competed in the 1952 Olympic marathon, has the earliest start year on USRSA’s “retired” list—1953. He went for more than 14 years. Former Olympic marathoner Ron Hill from England has been running daily since 1964. Bob Ray of Nottingham, Maryland streaked from 1967 to 2005, and of course, Mark Covert started in 1968 and finished 45 years later.

These guys were streaking back before the first running boom, which started in 1972 and lasted until the mid-1980s, according to Ryan Lamppa, media director for Running USA. The national nonprofit maintains running industry data and aims to advance distance running in the U.S.

In 1993, George Messenger of Clarksdale, Mississippi penned a letter to Running Times magazine asking who had the U.S. record for running every day. In response, George A. Hancock of Windber, Pennsylvania, made the first known list of U.S. streakers, published in the running newspaper Runner’s Gazette in December 1994. It included about 50 people, leaving out individuals who didn’t want their names in print, says Hancock, a streaker and staff member at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

Later, an insurance agent and streaker named John Strumsky presented Hancock with an idea to start an official group for everyday runners. Hancock says he backed the idea but left the job to Strumsky because he thought managing the entity could create more work than he bargained for, with streak runners coming into the light. USRSA was incorporated in August 2000, and Strumsky and his wife ran the organization until 2011, when current president Mark Washburne took over. Unlike in Ted Corbitt’s days, a streaker community now spans the country. Brassfield-Zoltie says the group helps her see she’s not the only person with this kind of lifestyle, and it offers motivation from like-minded people. “We all think the same,” Brassfield-Zoltie says. “And there’s obstacles you have to overcome so when you see someone overcome that obstacle you’re like, ‘Oh hey, I can do that, too.’”

On Facebook, people write personal updates and inspiring posts on the USRSA page. Search “#runstreak” on Twitter to see runners keeping track of their stats. And yes, there’s an app, too: StreakTrackr, designed to keep tabs on any kind of activity, whether it’s running, exercising, or studying. Streaking isn’t a walk (or even a run) in the park, but people find their own ways to make it work.

“People run through airports all the time, so it wasn’t really that weird.”
Perfect example: South Bend, Indiana resident Dan Myers, who’s been streaking for more than two years. When a car hit him in 2012, he finished his run despite a bleeding elbow and a knee he says was hyperextended. Then, like all streakers do, he went out the next day. Once, on the way home from Boston, a storm stranded him in Logan International Airport. So, he crossed his two bags over his chest in an X-shape and ran up and down a tunnel for more than 30 minutes. Myers, now 48, even measured out the distance with a phone pedometer to ensure he completed his personal daily minimum of 3.1 miles. “People run through airports all the time, so it wasn’t really that weird,” says Myers, a professor and vice president at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s not like somebody actually watches you running for half an hour.”

Myers says he doesn’t like running itself very much, but he’s reaped benefits from streaking. He lost about 25 pounds within the first four months, his blood pressure has gone down, and he’s got more energy, he says. To him, the streak is a positive influence. “It makes me do things that are good for me,” he says.

With daily running, the miles add up, and keeping track is the trick. Liam Flynn, 55, of Palos Heights, Illinois, has 20 journals for recording how far he’s run each day since he began his streak in 1995. After his 18th year in 2013, he had gone more than 35,000 miles. Some runners make recording more high-tech: Diana Davis, 28, a postdoctoral faculty member at Northwestern University, uses a computer program to map the various places she’s run, including Oxford, England. When she lived in Providence, Rhode Island, she ran on every street on the city’s East Side, and now she’s working on streets in Evanston and nearby Wilmette. Although Davis has been streaking for more than five years, she can’t become USRSA-certified because she’s jogged in the pool.

For people who do get onto the USRSA list, their names are printed in “The Streak Registry”—the quarterly publication for members of USRSA and Streak Runners International. Besides the official USRSA active and retired lists, the newsletter includes runner updates and “streaking anniversaries.” USRSA divides people into groups based on how long they’ve run. “Legends” have gone 40 years or more. Streakers with less than five years are “Neophytes.”

Streak runner Yeraj Rust, now 14, started at age 11. He says he wants to snag that number one spot and enjoys reading The Streak Registry and looking at his name. Sometimes his peers don’t believe him when they find out that he runs every day, he says. “It’s in the book if they want to go check,” says the middle-school student from California.

In fact, Yeraj and both of his parents streak. “[Other people] get a little freaked out and I tell them, ‘Oh, we do it with clothes on,’ ” says Gary Rust, Yeraj’s dad. He has run for 30 years, and he says he has 20 pairs of running shoes that he switches up to ward off injury.

* * *

Although researchers haven’t examined streak running’s effects on the body, some experts say it’s not healthy. The body needs a day off to recover, says Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, chairman of the International Marathon Medical Directors Association. “When God created the heaven and earth, he gave a day of rest,” Maharam says. “Anybody that runs every day without any rest is not smart.”

Mixing up different kinds of physical activity via cross training is key, says Stephen Gryzlo, head orthopedic surgeon for the Chicago Cubs and an associate professor in orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Otherwise, the repeated stress on the body could lead to overuse injuries like tendonitis or stress fracture.

Dr. William O. Roberts, a professor in the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota and the medical director for the Twin Cities Marathon, says he sees no problem with streaking as long as someone’s not getting injured and they’re feeling fine. “Cross training’s great, but if you don’t like to cross train, why bother? If running’s what you like to do and you like to run, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that,” Roberts says.

“If your life seems to revolve around making sure that your streak continues, I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing.”
But not everyone feels fine during the entire streak. Kevin Germino, who ran the day after his vasectomy, ended his streak in 2002 because he was suffering with chronic tendonitis. He started streaking in 1995 and trained hard for races throughout those seven years, averaging between six and seven miles per day. About six months before his last run, Germino’s knees started hurting. The pain got so severe that he couldn’t even kneel in church, and surgery in 2003 removed scar tissue from his right knee. Germino also ran throughout college and high school and suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease as an adolescent, which created a permanent bump under his kneecap. He thinks this put him at risk for future problems. Still, Germino says streak running hastened an operation that was inevitable. “I was like, if I want to be able to walk as an adult, I better stop,” Germino says. “I could not bend down and sit on the ground and play with my kids with my knees bent.” But he says the streak’s benefits—running faster—outweighed its costs.

Roberts says no data indicates streaking has real costs or benefits. Jeffrey Ross, a sports medicine podiatrist in Houston, doesn’t think streak running is a good idea, but he still says we can’t automatically say it’s bad or good for everyone and it depends on the individual. Research is needed to reach more definite conclusions, he says.

* * *

Life happens, and streaks end. Covert says that when he called it quits after 45 years, he felt fine. But Gary Rust, the patriarch of the daily runner family, says if he ever had to stop, he’d mourn. He says he loves running, and even speaking about it reminds him of good times. “I think it would be psychologically devastating,” he says. “It would take me time to get over the loss of my neighbor. It would take me time to get over the loss of my spouse. It would take me time to get over the loss of my streak. Because it’s been with me so long.” Rust says he’s addicted to running. But he says his everyday record is not the most important thing in his life. If his wife required a kidney transplant, he’d give up a kidney for her, even if he had to end the streak.

Dedication and addiction aren’t the same, says Duncan Simpson, an assistant professor in sport, exercise, and performance psychology at Barry University and a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. To Michael Sachs, a professor of kinesiology at Temple University, addiction comes down to control. “If your life seems to revolve around making sure that your streak continues, then I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing,” Sachs says. He says he thinks researchers should investigate addiction as it relates to streak running.

Indiana resident Charlie Hart, 42, says he thinks streaking has helped him become a better dad and husband. His daily romp gives him the “me time” he needs as an introvert, so he can then go back and focus on his wife and two children. Lynette Hart, 37, says she still doesn’t completely grasp her husband’s streaking, but as she’s realized “it’s a part of him,” she says.

Streaking, as well as intense physical competitions like ultramarathon races and Tough Mudders, to Sachs seem like a way for people to test themselves and see what they can really do.

Whether or not streakers “can” may not be the right question, though. They need to determine whether daily runs are enriching their lives, says Jim Afremow, a mental coach and licensed professional counselor who has worked with professional athletes and Olympians. “Is it about the journey or is it just about the destination?”

Your Feet on Running

Welcome to your feet on running. That batwing like flap coming off my ring toe is yes, callused/dead skin just hanging out in the breeze (if there is indeed a breeze beneath my desk).



photo (3)

Pass the Gas

Scrolling through a social media feed can inspire. A well placed article can sharpen my focus on an issue. A great photo can make me see the world differently. Sometimes what my friends are doing – working on their third book, winning a Nieman Fellowship, traveling through Korea – leaves me in awe.

And sometimes status updates are about just how heinous people who fart at the gym are.

Despite having an opinion on most things exercise related, I rarely chime in about cutting the cheese at your favorite fitness center. Because frankly…I’m one of those horrifically gassy people letting out stink bombs that make you think a dead raccoon has been decomposing in my stomach for a few weeks.*

Which I’m very sorry about.

I spent years learning to put the kibosh on my butt trumpets – which gifted me with an amazingly strong sphincter along with one shit-load of pain. Toward the beginning of grad school, after a doctor visit where the phrase “possible IBS” came up, I freaked. It was time to learn something new: letting ‘em go, stealthily.

And man, did I get good at that. I basically became the James Bond of gas-passery. Wooden chair? No problem. Not wearing any pants? Piece of cake.

Why am I pointing this all out? Because I never quite got what the big deal was about the whole gym-wind situation. Yeah, someone let a silent-and-maybe-deadly (never know til it’s out) rip. Big whoop. We’re human beings, it’s a natural phenomenon, yackity-smackity.

Until yesterday. While rocking the elliptical and gaining some really great knowledge about how to style my hair (seriously, after reading this article I whipped my hair up at home and got complimented all day long), it happened to me.

In my day, I’ve smelled some pretty scheisty toots. I’ve been Dutch ovened .  But this? This was something else.

I hadn’t even noticed someone get on the machine next to me. One second I was immersed in Jimmy Eat World’s “Chase This Light” and the May issue of Glamour, the next second I my eyes, nasal passages, and throat were immersed in something that would politely be called “gag-worthingly rank” and impolitely be called “a lot like dipping my head into a stale, pickled watermelon that had fecal matter spread inside of it.”

My eyes watered and instantly I thought of all the people who have sat behind me in spin class, shared a lane with me at the pool, played soccer against me, bought cough syrup with me, and stood next to me on an elliptical machine many other days at many other gyms. I kept my eyes forward and turned my head away from the woman who had cut a muffin, but those seven inches did me no good. Everywhere was permeated with her poot.

I held my breath, waited, and after far longer than you’d think possible for a fart to linger, the smell of the poop sitting in her colon dispersed.

Ten minutes later, it happened again. Repeat the last two paragraphs. Then skip this one and move on.

What that girl taught me was twofold:

First, I am sorry. I am very, very sorry.

Second, I’m going to try like heck to hold my trouser (or trouserless) coughs in at the gym. And around my friends.

Call it a mid-year resolution. This shit is serious.

*A friend once asked, “How can something so small and cute be so stinky?” The answer, friend, is practice.

While at work today, my friend sent me a workout question I honestly didn’t know the answer to. Gym-going friends, I ask for your assistance to enlighten not only her, but myself:

So I assumed that there was a rule at the gym that if there are open machines of the same type and it’s possible to not be next to a person, you should do that. But even with several machines open (with plenty of gap space to go ’round), people keep choosing the one next to me. What’s that about?

Yup, great question, one my only answer to was, well….if someone has a regular machine which they lovelovelove, it stands to reason they would take the machine if it was the one next to you. However, that seems like it would be rare.

Okay friends. 3-2-1: answers!

Yesterday began like a lot of Saturdays. I woke up after an evening of Pride and Prejudice watching, sipped some water, and slipped on my running shoes. The great outdoors awaited me, and with Al Letson’s passionate voice telling me tales of education from State of the Re:Union I wound my way up up up up up the longest hill route I know, about twenty minutes of almost only upness. Treating myself at the end of the run, I jogged through the Farmer’s Market and enjoyed the sounds and smells of the marketeers and shoppers just starting to come to life, noting one man who was in awe of the chicken-roaster’s “set-up” as he referred to it, the chicken roaster clearly bored with comments like these from dudes who just have a typical grill at home. An hour from when I left my door, I was back inside.

After a shower, I took a walk in hopes of hitting a friend’s garage sale — only, I had the wrong day. A mile and a half later, I was home again, attempting to do some writing.

Amara, my neighbor, and I had made plans to go hiking, and we hit the redwoods. She’d never been to the park, and seemed to be in awe of shady beauty. We talked almost non stop, not in a spitfire way, but in a lulling rhythm. Amara thinks before she speaks, and the redwoods seem to bring about a sense of mindfulness I don’t always find in urban walks. Everything seemed clearer. Easier. Zen-er (that’s a word, right?). I could feel the path sturdily beneath my feet, I could focus clearly on what Amara was saying. Typically, I enjoy hiking, but this hike was downright blissful. For two hours.

I attempted more writing, slowly making my way through just a few pages, not at all at the fever pitch finger dancing I’m accustomed to. Sooner than seemed possible, it was time to leave, again. My friend Jesse had offered me a ticket to a show. I had no idea who the band was or what sort of music they were going to play, and I didn’t bother to look it up. Walking to the train was another mile, and again I did so with that same overarching sense of peace I had in the redwoods.

Jesse and I were early. To entertain ourselves, we walked into a yellow-house-turned-bar for beer and a shared deep fried Twinkie (which came, to my delight, complete with sprinkles on top). We ambled into the show just as the opener was starting, and the music grooved but there wasn’t much remarkable about it other than it was “fine/good.”

And then. Then, the headlining band came on. GOAT. Four musicians, each wearing some variation of a mask, stood before us, playing slowly with a strong bass line. From almost nowhere, two women dressed in elaborate masks were on stage, dancing with tambourines, occasionally singing, and almost never not moving for the next 90 minutes. The crowd, from the older, bald man dressed in a suit, to myself and Jesse, were swept away in the movement.

Any remnants of the past and future fell away, and I was only me, this being right then and there. No expectations. Nothing but music, dancing,  and the sense of being that comes from newness. Post show, drenched in sweat, I walked outside and the cool SF air layered itself onto my face like a piece of lace.

Back at home, I lay under just one blanket, exhausted. My body was alive, tingling and humming, but my head and heart were still just relaxed.

At about minute 3:09 you’ll understand how the show simply became one big freaking non-stop dance party.

In 2012  I ran the Oakland Half Marathon, and went on to call the run “my love letter to Oakland” when discussing it in normal conversation. Though infused with several emotions, and mostly fueled by confusion for what it means to be human, I felt even more entwined with my city after the race. And I wanted to run the course annually, if only to incur the nostalgia of that love.

In 2013, I’d been too recently diagnosed with UPJ to run (for any physical activity was still giving me what I enduringly called “fruit punch pee”), and like many things in 2013, I put off the run and reminded myself that it was only one year of my life.

This year, I signed up months in advance, brimming with Oakland pride as I hit “Pay” on the website. When I came across a coveted Run Oakland t-shirt at Oaklandish I scooped it up, nerdily excited to represent running and Oakland during the race. I went to the run early to cheer on my friends at the 5K, and proceeded to cheer on a ton of strangers, including some of my favorite lake-running regulars who I only recognize when their faces are sweaty and their running shoes are on.

I wasn’t nervous about my race at all. I’d run this before, and even after the year of sickness and surgery in 2013, I felt ready to rock this run.

Mile one started off slow, as it will do based on getting thousands of runners in a tiny corral. Miles two and three were fine — I opted to turn on my iPod instead of eavesdrop on the runners chattering around me, as they were shrouded in silence. And then there was mile four.

At mile four, I noticed I wasn’t actually enjoying myself, and began to try and analyze why. At mile five, I gave up the analytics and tried to evoke the wisdom of The Power of Now, attempting to focus on the present, focus on the breath, and let go of the past and the future. At mile five and a half, I considered simply stopping running and walking home. Because oh my, did I want to be at home.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t run, though I admit this half marathon was probably the worst feeling half I’ve ever done. It was that I simply didn’t want to. I was simultaneously a shell of a person and overcome with heavy emotions. I was, as I later said to a friend, feeling both depressed and enlightened. Miles six and seven and eight were also spent in contemplation about stopping, my legs churning less, my mind trying to decide if the weaker action was to keep going against my own wishes or to stop.

At mile nine, I began to cry. I pulled the earbuds from my listeners and sidled up to the nearest runner next to me, a sweaty man in a green t-shirt with wild hair.

“I don’t know you,” I said to him, “but I didn’t know we’d be running down this street. And I’m not ready for it. Emotionally.”

He looked down at me and said, “I always think that everyone is either running away from something, or running toward something. Looks like today you’re running away.”

“Can we just run this street together?” I asked.

“Of course.”

So we did. we ran the rest of mile nine together, him telling me this was his first half marathon and how he hoped this would open doors to triathlon, us discussing if it would be feasible to turn Oakland into a walking/running city, and the joy we’d feel if we could jog to work over the Bay Bridge. And then he was gone at mile 10, and I was alone again.

There was only the lake to go at that point, three miles I am intimately familiar with, and I told myself to just finish. Weak or not. This was the choice. I ran slowly. I almost walked. I simply had ceased to care. Even the bluegrass band at mile twelve didn’t help.

About one hundred yards from the finish line, there was a small incline. It’s significant in the sense that “we just ran 13 miles (or 26, for those marathon kids) and now this!” but not in the grand scheme of inclines. I began chugging up it — not typically how I would describe my running style, but this was pure chugging.

An older man in a long blue shirt came up beside me.

“Let’s do this together,” he said. “Help me up this hill.” I matched his pace, and we crested incline.

“Sprint!” he said.

“You go,” I replied. I’ve never liked sprinting at the end of the race — I’m most proud of myself when I paced so well that I am going the exact right speed.

He darted ahead, and turned around at the finish line to wait for me with a high five.

I felt horrendously relieved to be done. After running into a few friends and exchanging pleasantries, I made my way home. Was the run not fun because of where my head has been lately? Was it not fun because truly, I don’t like the competitive feeling of racing, even against myself? I still don’t know.