Running a marathon when you’re a klutz

I’ve run into glass walls. I’ve tripped over imaginary tree roots. My stint as a waitress ended when I spilled a tray of filled wine glasses on a table of four.
I’m a klutz.
Being a klutz limits your athletic potential. My first athletic endeavor at the age of four was a dance troupe. When I was the only dwarf of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs who strangled herself on her suspenders while tumbling, my mother swiftly withdrew me from the dance group and enrolled me in the guppy swimming class. I could never coordinate holding my breath and swimming underwater. After three years as a guppy, I never became a minnow.
Then came volleyball. My father was positive that with my height, I would be a smashing spiker on my third-grade volleyball team. The only thing I smashed was my pink-framed glasses when I didn’t duck from an oncoming serve.
Basketball, softball, golf, tennis — the list continued. I determined that any sport involving a moving apparatus was not for me. The worst was kickball. I was the pigtailed girl who ran to the ball and somehow landed on her butt. I always sympathized with Charlie Brown. He could never kick the ball either.
Phy. ed. was an endless nightmare, except for track and field. That’s not to say that I excelled at running, but I survived. I remember my first race. I was in the “long-distance” event: the 300 meters. I was sprinting to the finish. The crowd was roaring. My heart was racing. I was in first place and … I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and visited the nurses station instead of the medal podium.
I know. I should have stamped myself a hopeless athlete and turned in my jersey.
Instead, I joined cross-country and track. I was no superstar but I never finished last. Running doesn’t involve extreme coordination, and I loved that aspect of it.
I’ve had anemia, athletic-induced asthma, tendonitis, a stress fracture and hypoglycemia. But I cling to the one athletic activity that I can do: running.
So this winter when a friend casually mentioned that he was training for a marathon, a little voice perked up: “Hey, Charlie Brown, you could do that!”
The little voice never died.
I decided that I would run the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 8, 2000. I began to run six days a week. I joined a marathon-training class. I stopped drinking pop. I started using words like “cross-training, VO2 max and pronation.” I never fully comprehended the last two terms, but I managed to sound knowledgeable.
I don’t know what I planned on gaining by running a marathon. Maybe I hoped to mock my elementary phy-ed. teacher who growled at my pathetic attempts at push-ups. Perhaps it was the desire to say, “So I was finishing my 22-mile training run …” Maybe I wanted a toned, skinny butt and a six-pack. I think my beginning inspirations were a combination of the above. Yep, I wanted a “physically-fit, kick-butt, Demi Moore, aka ‘GI Jane'” persona. I had no deeper motivation. I didn’t think I needed one.
Then the true training started. I remember the night of my first marathon class. The director of the class started by saying, “If you’re not doing this training for yourself, you won’t finish. No one will pick your foot up and put it back down for 26.2 miles.” I nodded along with the rest of the class, secretly terrified that my superficial reasons for running wouldn’t carry me through the training class to the finish line of the marathon.
The director continued, “If you have a social life now, be prepared to lose it. Friday nights you’ll be resting for your long run and Saturday nights you’re going to be too exhausted to move.” I nodded again, positive that he was speaking to the 40-year-olds in the room — not me. He concluded, “This marathon will change your life.”
“Yep, sure,” I thought. “A couple months of running and one 26.2 mile jaunt would be memorable but not life-changing.”
Oh, how blissful it is to be ignorant. If I had known the rigors of marathon-training and how much my life would change, I would have demanded my refund, eaten a Snickers bar and washed it down with a Diet Coke. Instead I enthusiastically tied on my Reeboks and headed out for a six-mile run.
The pattern was set.
Sleep, run, eat. Sleep, run, eat.
I know I’m not alone because they sell socks that say this mantra. I also know that only a truly obsessed runner would own these socks because they cost $10. Running clothes are expensive. Running is expensive: massage therapist, chiropractor, fresh food, vitamins, short shorts that don’t cover your butt, $40 sports bras, $10 socks (OK, so I do own those socks), and those darn budget-breaking running shoes.
So I had to find some deeper inspiration to complete the training. Striving for a fit body wasn’t enough. If that was all I wanted, liposuction would have been far cheaper, less time-consuming and way more effective. As the running bills piled ($10 socks add up) and my social life dwindled (long runs exhaust you), I began to get frustrated with the damn marathon thing.
But I continued to train. And last Sunday, I did it!
I, the klutziest person I’ve ever met, finished a marathon.
I didn’t trip over cracks in the sidewalk. I didn’t step on my shoelaces. I didn’t collapse or faint. I even got a medal.
Most importantly, I finally realized why I put myself through the pain of running. Running a marathon gave me this sense of power and completion. It was not easy. I wanted to quit. But I ran 26.2 miles.
I’m going to run another 26.2 miles so I can have this same feeling. It’s an odd mixture of grit and determination made from five months of dirt, tears and sweat. Running a marathon motivates me to do something bigger and better.
Perhaps an ironman triathlon — 2.4 miles of swimming, 100 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running? Umm, well, that would require me to replace my sixth-grade bike, the “Huffy Stalker.” I might have to learn how to hold my breath and swim underwater. I would definitely go bankrupt from doctor’s bills and running shoes.
Whoa, slow down. I still can’t walk down the stairs without pain, and I have a fever. Maybe once my fever breaks and my spasmodic butt cramps don’t wake me up in the middle of the night, I’ll stop whining and start focusing on the next five months of pain and pleasure, aka marathon training. Yippee.

Amanda Mark’s column appears every other Friday. She welcomes coments to [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]