M Dawn’s Back… Four Weeks Into Training

I graduated today. I left the safety of the flat, oval hardtop, and joined the “next step” group for a two mile walk/run from the Park at the Law School to University Hall.  Four weeks ago, I made a twenty dollar commitment and joined the Women’s Four Miler Training Program. The Women’s Four Miler is a race in town that raises money for breast cancer research.  I wanted to start an exercise program. It’s a good cause. I like having a goal. I’m crazy.

We meet each Saturday morning and push ourselves to go just a little farther each week. Between Saturdays, we are challenged to add at least two more days of exercise to our routine.  Today, after applauding the motivational speaker, I broke from my usual group and walked off the track, climbing hills and adding distance to my walking plan.

Women crowded each other four across and a block deep for the warm-up hike on the incline toward the law school. At the stop sign on Arlington Blvd, some ladies began jogging, some picked up their walking pace, and others, like me, continued at an even gait. I was unsure, not knowing exactly how much energy to conserve.  I was in uncharted territory and didn’t want to be the ambulance pick-up of the day, or be dragged back to the Park by the volunteers in pink shirts who are assigned to cheer us on and offer assistance as necessary. My stride was level, my heart rate was up, and I was sweating. That was enough.

The twenty-something girl in front of me began talking to her walking partner. “I got a new kayak,” she said.

“Oh really, what kind?” The other woman asked.

They discussed the type of kayak she purchased, one that’s lightweight, forty-eight pounds, easy for her to pick up and carry,  with a  safer open top because she hasn’t learned to “roll” yet.

“Joe thought this was the best kind. I’m just learning and he’s a little too protective.  We’re going out on the river this afternoon,” the kayak owner stated.

I want to get a kayak to use on Big Glade Creek which runs by our lot in Chincoteague.  I want to learn how to paddle one of these cool looking boats and maybe even learn to “roll” it one day. I could see myself on the river that afternoon in my new kayak.   I started to ask the young woman where I could find one, but she and her friend began jogging away.

The sun was up and hot now.  Sweat trickled down my back and chest. I felt my face turning red. My legs were strong though and I was determined. I forged ahead, crossing the street at Klockner Stadium. As I pushed myself up the incline there, the muscles in my front lower legs burned.  I have long legs and a good sized stride.  I passed a few slower ladies and found myself step for step with a group of middle aged women walking four across in front of me.

“You know how it is,” I heard the tall, thin woman say, “you go into the store for a meat fork and come out with a blender, sheet set and dog bed, all things you need but didn’t plan to buy.”

Everyone laughed and all agreed that the same thing had happened to them.

“Then Steve has a fit when I come in the door with all of it. ‘Budget, budget, budget,’ that’s all I hear.”

The shortest of the four looked over and smiled.  “You need to do what I do. Hide the stuff in the trunk until he’s snoring in front of the TV, then bring it in. He’ll never know the difference.”

They all laughed again.

“How’s the new car working for you?” The woman with curly gray hair asked the blond on the end closest to the road.

“Didn’t you hear?” she asked. “A teenager plowed into the back of me at a stoplight last week. Have to have the bumper replaced and spent two sessions with the Chiropractor. It’s a wonder I’m here walking today.”

They talked among themselves about the boy not paying attention, young people on cell phones, the cost of insurance, and car repairs.

These women weren’t sweating. They carried on a normal conversation, like a neighborhood group of friends discussing their lives over morning coffee. Not one of them was wheezing or huffing. ‘Why aren’t they running?’ I asked myself.

After cresting the hill, my stride carried me around the group and I headed for the traffic light at the intersection of Massie and Copeley Roads.  In my own calculations, I had projected we would turn around at this point and head back to the Park. I was wrong.  I saw the backs of women in front of me as far as my vision would allow. Small, bobbing pink t-shirts rounded the corner at University Hall and disappeared near the train tracks.  I thought about turning around, sweat was dripping off my chin now, but one of the volunteers with a pink pom-pom looked at me and said, “You’re doing great, almost half way.”

The back of University Hall is a flat paved overflow parking area with a collection of stored sports equipment, tractor trailer trucks, orange traffic cones, and rolls of Astro Turf.  The training participants followed each other to the end of the expanse of asphalt and made a U-turn to double back and return to Copeley Road.  The sun beat down onto the hot black surface.  I could see the heat radiate in waves in front of me, making the landscape beyond look wavy and surreal. Shade trees were absent. I felt a sense of loneliness wash over me. I found no happy, talking groups here. The walkers, like me, single in their attempts to finish this leg of the training, did so in a sweat-stained, gritted-teeth kind of forward movement.  The woman in front of me with her knee brace, hobbled along as best as she could and when I made the turn back toward the street, the women behind me, most overweight and pushing themselves, stared straight ahead, leaning forward, breathing through their mouths. One wiped her brow with a washcloth.

Back under the shade of the Bradford pear trees on Copeley Road, I passed two women deep in conversation. They were on my heels for a good distance.

“I can’t believe the filth,” one said. “I told him he had to at least find the top of the kitchen table so we could eat our meals there.”

“You mean clutter, right?  Men seem to stack stuff in piles meaning to go through it later,” the other woman said.

“No. I mean filth.  I found a set of teeth under a newspaper.  He said, ‘Oh, you found Mom’s teeth. I’ve been looking for them since she went into the nursing home.’ Do you know when she went into the nursing home? November! This is July.”

“Oh my God, how do you stand to live there?”

“Well, I deep cleaned my room and the bathroom. It was disgusting.  I made him go get new pillows for the bed, which he did, along with some new sheets.  I pulled the refrigerator out into the kitchen floor to clean under and behind it.  Made me sick what was there, dead things.”


“I bet he hadn’t cleaned under it since he moved there.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“He pilots a plane around the world for some rich guy.  I gave him homework a few weeks ago, told him when he was home for a week with nothing to do, to clean his office.  He has his desk there, a couch, his television and computer.  Did he clean? No. He seems content to live in the mess.  What he really needs is someone to come in and tear the place apart, put it together again.  It’s the only way it’ll ever be clean, and I’m telling you, that person is not me.”

I was trying to figure out this woman’s relationship to the pilot. Was she renting a room from him? Teaching him the art of cleaning? Then I questioned my own cleaning abilities.  Had I looked under my refrigerator lately?  What was hiding under my newspapers on the kitchen table?

I must have gotten a second wind, because I could feel myself pulling away. The voices behind me started fading until I just heard a few words here and there about a man’s idea of cleanliness, vacuums, cobwebs, nicotine stains, and paint.

I climbed the hill again on Massie Road, feeling that same burn in my leg muscles, but not as fiery this time.  I pulled the water bottle out of my pocket and turned it up, letting some trickle out of the corner of my mouth and onto the neckline of my t-shirt.  I was three quarters there and my bottle was empty.

Thank goodness for gravity, because my stride picked up going downhill, so much so I nearly ran into a couple of girls just past college age ahead of me. As the sidewalk leveled, I found myself at a decent pace behind them. I was thirsty and my legs burned. My hands hung limp by my sides and it felt like all the blood in my body had moved to my fingers. They felt fat, the skin around them, tight.  These girls in front of me were still hoisting hand weights and were just at the glowing stage of perspiration, beautiful girls who still had lift in their steps, their behinds, and their whole lives ahead of them.

“Do you think he does it just to get under your skin?”

“I’m not sure what his f***ing reason is, but I’m getting f****ing tired of it.”

“Have you sat down and talked to him about it?”

“Always got his f***ing nose in the computer. He doesn’t want to talk, only wants to drive me f***ing crazy.”

Enough of that. I reevaluated my definition of beauty, made myself lunge forward and push past the burn.

At the intersection of Arlington and Massie, I could see down the hill to the Park even through the sweat in my eyes. I reminded myself to bring a bandana to tie around my head next week and two bottles of water.  My finish line was just ahead. I almost shouted my joy. I was wrung out.

There in front of me were two women at least twenty years my senior. They were walking at a quick clip and looked sweaty, though healthy, in their Bermuda shorts and sun visors. They weren’t tired. Their conversation was animated and they were even using their hands along with their voices to share their stories.  I realized I had a long way to go.  As I veered left toward the parking lot, thankful for the close proximity of my car, I heard one of the women say, “…nine holes at Birdwood this afternoon. He thinks the exercise will do us good.”


Four Weeks Into Training © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com


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