(and 55th place haha. guess I won’t be giving Sarah Palin a run for her money any time soon)
Last year when I would come home from work during the winter and the world was dark, I would often see a tall older man in a track suit running around our neighborhood. I knew he was from our apartment complex and worked at the prefectural office, and that he looked pretty cool, running around at 50 something. I couldn’t run around like that. I would get winded after running halfway around the track in high school. I remember looking at the popular kids, because the popular kids were always good at sports, and seeing them gallop around the track with ease, their long legs barely touching the pavement. I just lumbered around until the bell rung.
People who could run always seemed cool to me. My dad ran track and field and cross country throughout his youth. I wanted to do something like that. I just didn’t think I could.
This year, after the quake, I was tired of a lot of things. I was stressed, and upset. I wanted to prove things to myself. I was bored. So I took up running, a little bit at a time, and learned how to sweat. I ran in the shadows of houses in the neighborhood, until I got brave enough to run on the street, in front of cars and people. I imagined Junya watching me, and saying I was cool, that he admired me. I was a runner. We had talked once, about how runners were so cool. Well, Junya, look at me now. I’m a runner…and it still doesn’t matter. I kept running, and I couldn’t get away from him.
But the running helped with other things, my moods, my emotions. So I kept doing it. And then one day I signed up for a 5k. And then soon after, as I was stretching outside my building on a bright Sunday morning, the man who I often saw running around walked by. “Oh, Amanda,” he said, because he knew my name because everyone knew my name. “Do you run too?” he asked.
“Yes. Just started a few months ago, so I can’t go very far, but I’m running a 5k in September. That’s my goal.”
Later, he sent me an email through work inviting me to be in the Prefecture Office Runner’s Association. I had never felt cooler in my life. I’m going to be part of a runner’s association! I can run! That chubby, lumbering girl on the high school track – she can run!
When I used to draw comics, way back when, the main character was a girl who went to Japan on study abroad and lived with a host family. I would often doodle her running, because it just seemed right to have her be a runner. She was cool. She could speak Japanese, she was living in Japan, she was a runner. I didn’t think these were things I could ever be.
The pistol signal sounded, and we all started running, a mass of people moving past the start line. A hundred runners or so, old men, old women, young women, a few young men. Our legs moved in time with each other, and all you could hear was the pitter patter of hundreds of feet slapping the pavement. I felt so full of emotion that I wanted to cry. I was running. Yeah! I was running! In a race!
But it was midday, and it was hot. My legs grew achy, and we were headed up a hill. I struggled to keep pace. The only thing that mattered to me was finishing the race. It wouldn’t be a failure if I had to slow down part way through and walk a tiny bit. It was just frustrating that I always had the urge to start walking somewhere in the middle. Even in my practice runs, I could run the distance but I always had to slow down to rest my legs. I could never go the whole distance effortlessly. This time, I slowed down around Koma Station, and gave my legs the tiny bit of rest I knew they needed before finishing the last half of the race.
“I just…I just don’t feel much most of the time. I don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t want to talk to anybody. Nothing interests me, and it’s the worst. And it’s like, I know why I get upset sometimes. I know why I feel this way. I know that it will pass. I know it’s because of him. And I’m trying to do what you said. I have to make the decision to get over him, at this point. And then, I’ve been okay, you know? I can get on with things, it’s fine. But then something reminds me of him and then I get so sad. And I hate it.
“But I have to keep trying.”
I started to run again, trying to keep a good pace, and all of a sudden I saw a sign saying “500 meters left” and I got a second wind. I picked up the pace, my heart pounding and my legs burning, and I started passing people. I just wanted to be done. I just wanted it to be over with. I wanted to eat my free rice ball and hard-boiled egg. I wanted a cup of water. I was sweating and aching. A couple more minutes and I’d be done.
And I bounded through the finish gate, feeling like I was about to throw up, gasping, and Running Man waved at me, taking my picture. My red, sweaty-faced, stringy-haired picture. “I did it!” I said. “I did it. I walked a little bit in the middle, but I did it.”
“You did,” he said.