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Run for your lives. The enthusiasts are coming.


Picture 2I certainly could be in better shape, I suppose.

If, say, the Head Gladiator were to hand me a scroll and tell me yon Ancient Roman Battle depended on how fast I could run 26 miles from Sparta to Marathon, I’d be looking up at him, skeptically, as I lighted my Marlboro, casually tossing the dead match onto the dirt.

“Yes, really,” he’d say, imperiously to my stunned question. “Our fate lies in the swiftness of your journey.”

“Um,” I’d begin, dragging a toe of these AMAZING silver ballerina flats I just got on sale two weeks ago – comfy AND cute. Not TOO silver, either; they work GREAT with jeans. Which is what I’m usually wearing, making the prospect of a 26-mile run even less appealing, and the idea of a successful 26-mile “Beat the Clock” touchdown? Less and less realistic by the second.

“Um, you want me to RUN?”

 

The Amazing Silver Ballerina Flats

The Amazing Silver Ballerina Flats

“Run, as fleet-footed as the gods permit,” Head Gladiator would intone. (Somehow, I picture him “intoning,” whatever that actually means Like when writers say “he SPAT the words” How does someone “spit” words?)

 

“And you’re not setting, say, DOGS, or dingos, or big cats to CHASE me, right?”

Head Gladiator shakes his head. No,of course not, you’re our last hope.

Me: Big, fat, internal sigh of despair for these metal-plated folk. No chariots? Poor sods. 

“Give it my best shot,” I’d say, but I can imagine the by-standing, iron-masked Roman battalions peeking awkwardly at their leader: Are you kidding? Really, I mean, are you kidding? We’re SO doomed. Get my papyrus, I’m writing my will.

Off I’d saunter, giving them a jog or two, just to show I had the old Roman spirit, but once over the nearest hill, I’d go for that good old New York City fast-paced stride.

That’s about all I’m good for.

That, and stopping to light cigarettes, if the wind from walking makes it too hard to light one on the go. Don’t you HATE it when the lighter keeps going out? Or just lights a tantalizing tip of the cigarette, and you end up hotboxing the filter to try to get the end lit all the way? (It’s always the LITTLE things, like your cigarette won’t light, or you’ll NEVER make it to Marathon in time…)

Today is National Running Day, where all the wonderful winged-heel specimens of superior cardio-vascular good health celebrate their hobby of running without anyone chasing them.

It’s a hobby I do not understand, but fully respect.

Myself? I keep in shape the same way I train my dog. It’s a lifestyle thing.

Instead of carving out precious hours – and spending precious pennies on space-age “wick-away-moisture” fabric that makes people look remarkably like superheroes, except with corporate sponsors – I get exercise every day just as a matter of daily living, to wit:

  • I scrub floors. I learned from my grandmother that this is a stellar exercise for your abs. It’s true. Ever see a 1950s housewife with a tummy? Nope.
  • I live in a four-story house. Stair-stepping? All day, every day. “Mooom?” Three flights, at least, at any given time.
  • I made a deal with myself to stop asking people: “Would you get me that?” I get up and get it myself. In the same way the Twinkies add up, so does the calorie burning. Once you make that one small decision, you’d be amazed at how many times you get up the minute your butt hits a chair.
  • Folding laundry. This builds arm strength, especially if, like me, you have a lot of people in the house, and you let it build up a day or two.
  • Gardening. Pull weeds and tell me YOU haven’t hit your target heart rate when you’re done.
  • Mow the lawn. No, not with the motor kind. The PUSH mower. That’s what I have. Why? My mother always had a gardener, and she insisted on a push mower. “Cuts the grass nicer,” she said. I use one because (a) I’m more familiar with how one works, (b) I could use it unafraid w/ a baby strapped to my front, and (c) it’s greener. No gas. Plus: exercise.
  • Build a patio. I just did. It’s not hard; the people at the local home store will tell you what you need to do. All that lifting builds muscle, and muscle burns fat faster.
  • Get a dog. The best way to instill obedience in a dog is to walk him or her every day; the more you walk him, the better he is. Ever see homeless people with dogs? They’ll sit, patiently waiting for their master outside a convenient store shootout, all because they follow their homeless master, walking with him, all day long. You, in the meantime, get the same benefits as running without all the potential impact injuries.One caveat about the dog: If you have a nice, big black one like mine, it’s kind of nice to feel safe walking him at night. I always know when someone’s up to no good when they ask: “Does he bite?”My stock answer is: “Only when I tell him to.” They usually cross to the other side of the street.
     
  • Park the car far away and walk. The kids hate it, but it’s usually faster, and every little bit helps.

Hey: I’m a size four, but it’s not like I’m naturally skinny. It’s not like I’m even light, as the annoying people who try to pick me up (who picks up an adult, anyway?) find out when they attempt to lift me and discover that I am very muscled, and muscle weighs more than fat.

(One reason those stupidly general BMI index calculators online can be very misleading – they go by weight alone, not by what you look like, or what jeans you fit into.) I’m practically an anvil. Dense as kryptonite, but I personally don’t give a fig anymore what the numbers say.

I could be 300 pounds, and if I can still comfortably zipper myself into my Tahari little black dress, I’m guessing there is NOT going to be a weigh-in at the gala I’m headed for.

I used to be obsessed over the numbers, and carefully watched every morsel that went into mouth – or rather, didn’t. I watched the numbers come creeping down, until my 6 and 9-year-old together weighed more than I did, and could get me into the air on the seesaw.

I fainted, I felt crappy, and I STILL felt fat all the time, and while everyone I knew, and who loved me, kept telling me to eat a sandwich for Heaven’s sweet sake, I denied I had a problem until my doctor finally threatened to put me on Cyprexa – a medication that swells you like a balloon no matter what you eat or don’t eat.

So I started eating again – this time, paying attention to actual portions – not the leviathan proportions they give you in restaurants these days, where one serving would feed my whole family for a dinner and lunch the next day.

And I started MOVING.

So simple, really: eat less, exercise more.

But the hardest thing in the world.

Some people really DO have to make it special: make it a SUPER Special National Running Day. An event, a celebration, an hour or two of their day.

But fitness, like anything else that’s good for you – hey: I’m thinking it should be part of the fabric of your life. Every minute, every day.

Honestly, though – whatever works for YOU. Different strokes, as they say. If you need to run, run.

If you need me to chase you though, you’ll have to wait till I quit the smokes. That’s next on my list.

Speaking of which, any of you runners got a light? Didn’t think so.

Good luck, everybody.

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Secrets from the Closely-Guarded Girl Manual


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what's left of the rosebushSure. I could pay a tree service. Or whoever you hire to take down a massive rose bush with thorns the size of my thumb that one neighborhood kid has already gotten himself snagged on.

This rose bush – less than a foot tall when I naively planted it – has mushroomed to mammoth proportions, as if some evil fairy I neglected to invite to a party has cursed me and now is attempting to surround my house like Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

The leviathan is, now nine feet tall, extending numberless barbed branches like seven foot-tentacles, searching for victims as it waves in the wind like deadly chimes.

We’re all afraid of it.

It’s already injured a neighbor’s kid. Diving for a stray ball, this 11-year-old boy slid like a prince diving for rescue under the horrid brambles. Got snagged by these malignant, inch-long thorns. On his face, no less. Nice kid, too. Even nicer parents.

“Don’t worry about it,” they said, blithely attributing his carelessness for throwing himself into what is obviously a Hansel-and-Gretel child-catcher.

No roses on the diabolical thing, either.

Really. No roses. Well – it actually DOES blossom – tons of them, white, perfect, with a fragrance that would make you lift off the ground with pleasure. It would be a stunner, except for a beast more evil than the rosebush.

Deer – actual, living, tick-infested deer, in this actual city.

These skinny, spindly-legged monsters flock the very day the roses bloom, devouring every one right down to the petals, save for a few lonely, lingering blooms teetering at the top to taunt us.

Fearless, despite their flinchy reputations, nervy enough to high-step their pointy little hooves right up to my front porch and munch their wicked little hearts out.

(So that makes, what? Kittens and deer that I don’t love? Wait, who’s the monster? I really AM much nicer than I sound, I swear.)

So: here I am, facing this titanic mass of thorns, a menace to the neighborhood, which attract even more menacing deer, dropping ticks on my lawn for my children to contract Lyme disease.

At last I find the hedge clippers, which is a small miracle of hope in itself, since Peter won’t be back for another two weeks.

Despite my nine-year-old’s frantic warnings for me to stay the hell away from it – after all, if I am successful in chopping the damn thing down, think, woman, think! It will fall on you, stupid – I nevertheless am desperate enough to try, even though all I am wearing is a tank top and short shorts.

Ow. Ow. Yikes, ow. Now I am bleeding. “You’re right,” I agree. Not only am I stupid, this is not working. Hedge clippers are not the thing. I need a chainsaw.

And Peter.

But since Peter is not here, and neither is a chainsaw, I need to rely on the only tools I have.

The tank top and short shorts.

Hence, The Closely-Guarded Secret Girl Manual, given out in the nicotine hazed girls’ rooms in every middle school across the country, filled with secrets like: Never Call First; Don’t Tell Him Why You’re Mad; It Drives Him Crazy When You Won’t Talk To Him; The Less You Seem Interested, The More He Will Want You; etc.

There’s a whole chapter on how to get work done for you.

It goes sort of like this:

You have a rosebush you hate and want to get rid of, but the thorns are really sharp, and it’s going to be a real pain in the ass.

And Peter is away, or he would totally do it for you, because he has the energy of a small steam locomotive, and besides, he would probably simply pull out his Leatherman, take two swipes at the thing, and it would be gone, leaving you feeling both foolish and full of admiration at the same time. “Rosebushes?” Peter would say. “Easy! You just do this.”

If his arm was hanging off when he was done, he’d just snap it back into place and sit down for dinner without another word.

Instead, I see, far up the street, jogging along, at a nice little amble, my kids’ dad. My head flips through its mental rolodex and I rustle up said chapter in The Closely Guarded Secret Girl Manual, and I begin hacking away at the rosebush randomly, violently, and with some bloodshed on my part. Within minutes, my lawn is covered with thorny stalks.

He stops. Anyone would, really. I look like a madwoman, my shirt half up my belly by now. This is intentional. A pretty, blonde, madwoman.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“I can’t stand this rosebush any longer. I have to get rid of it.”

“Do you need some help?”

“I really, really do. I think I’m overheating,” I say.

I hand him the hedgeclippers, and head into the house, where he, at least, manages to get rid of most of the stalks I left on the lawn, and defenestrate the bulk of the bush.

He doesn’t complete the job, of course – I know him too well to expect miracles – but Peter will be home soon.

“What the hell happened to the rosebush?” he’ll ask.

“I tried to get rid of it,” I’ll say.

“Rosebushes? They’re easy,” he’ll say, and in a fit of testosterone, he’ll whip out his Leatherman, and take care of the rest of it for me.

And I’ll put away The Closely Guarded Secret Girl Manual until I need it again.

(photo © elizabeth williams bushey. it’s what’s left of the rosebush.)

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