--2 Mother Tongue: Off and Running
Sept. 20, 2017
Lauren Whitehurst
Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue: Off and Running

October 11, 2013, 2:00 pm
By Lauren Whitehurst

I don’t think of myself as a runner. I like to run. Sometimes I love to run, and I especially love to run on trails this time of year. In the past couple of weeks, I have learned I should avoid group running. 

I think it best to run alone or with a good friend. It’s invigorating and peaceful. It’s effective multitasking—exercise plus meditation and/or solitude and/or working through a problem and/or verbal or nonverbal processing and/or revitalizing companionship. The few times a year my husband, Adam, and I run together might qualify as marriage therapy.

Running with people beyond this team of one or two, however, is fraught with missteps and mispeaking.

For me, this stems from a cardinal urge to be chatty with strangers. It makes no sense; other people, actual runners, do not seem to suffer from this. But I succumb every time, despite a distinct lack of positive feedback. In my effort to be friendly, I say stupid things to which there are no sensible replies.

At the recent Santa Fe Triathlon, the 5k runners stretched viscously from the start, all staggered pacing and high-tech fabrics. Our race ages were marked down our right calves to facilitate ageist competition strategies.

I ran awhile behind a woman whose calf was marked 400, which made me laugh out loud to no one in particular. With my 40th birthday mere months away, I appreciated the humor in extending 40 to 400.

If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is not to tell the 400-year-old how hilarious her leg number is. As soon as you say something, you may realize that it actually doesn’t say 400, but rather, 48—the number 8, written vertically, just looks like two zeros close together. I apologized and explained my mistake as I huffed along beside the 400-cum-48-year old woman who no longer was funny. “I do feel about 400 right now,” she conceded.

“Ha!” I said, because hers was a good response, because I needed to punctuate the end of our awkward conversation, and because the downhill portion of the run ended.

Last weekend, at the 5k/1-mile fundraiser for my son’s school, I called each of my children “boob.” I didn’t mean to. I occasionally call them “boo,” as in, “Hey, boo! How was your day?” I don’t know where it came from, but it rolls nicely off the tongue. In Australia, little kids are called “bubs,” and this trivia resides in my brain very near “boo."

The danger in these proximal tip-of-the-tongue-isms arose as I navigated my kids along a 1-mile run course. I maintained their pace, told them to watch out for others, encouraged them, and said,“Good job, boob!” And then, I did it again: “Watch out there, boob!” Twice! I did it twice!

Theo and Sylvia didn’t notice, or even know to care, but I think a couple of parents stepped it up to distance themselves from the weirdo who called her kids boobs.

I had little time to worry, though, because shortly after the last “Nice, boob!” we had an all-family crash. Adam was carrying three-year-old melting-down Sylvia, around whom he couldn’t see. When six-year-old Theo veered suddenly right, they collided. With a piercing scream, Theo ejected into a pathside chamisa while Adam stumbled to keep from crushing Sylvia, who launched a meltdown revival. Theo was upset and angry: He’d run nearly the whole mile only to end on this clumsy indignity.

A finish-line photographer would have captured me trying to placate Theo, who was  glaring and shaking his fist, while Adam regained his grip on Sylvia, whose face was a run of tears and snot. Instead, people said, “It’s so nice to see your whole family out!” Because people say nice, normal things when they’re not running en masse.

Earlier, on the 5k, I kept leap-frogging a 13-year-old who ran, stopped to walk, ran, stopped to walk, ran, and so on. Wisdom would dictate, “Say nothing.” Wisdom is underrepresented in compulsive chattiness.

“Hi! Come on, you’re doing great! Way to go! What grade are you in?” I said—and then, in what I intended as a light, joking tone when he said “seventh”: “Oh, you should totally beat me, then!”

As it turned out, Wisdom was running nearby in the form of a fourth-grade teacher. “No shoulds,” he said in a deep, no-nonsense voice. Up to this point, he had been simply a large and loud-breathing mass in black pants and a black sweatshirt keeping slightly ahead of me. He didn’t need to turn his head to for his admonishment to hit its mark.

“You’re right,” I said, cowed. “No shoulds. Good reminder.”

I was hot and red from running already, but I felt my embarrassment even so. Here I was, trying to be the supportive run-in-the-school’s-5k parent, and I ended up flinging weird mom-shame on an unsuspecting seventh grader. As if a 13-year-old doesn’t have enough awkwardness to navigate!

Running off at the mouth is always running afoul of my best intentions. It runs them aground, in fact. It runs them into a wall. This happens when I talk to other people and when I talk to myself—because, after I talk to other people, I often talk to myself about how that run didn’t work out so well.

It’s a bummer. It runs me dry. It runs me down, runs rings around me and threatens to run away with me completely. Running mouth is a bad run. In addition to spawning clumsy social run-ins, it’s complicit in my tendency to sign myself up for too many things and in self-defeating internal dialogues. In the end, it leaves me feeling a bit run over. Basically, it’s the runs.

In terms of stream flow, “run” has been around since roughly the 1200s. It encompassed fleeing from danger in the 14th Century and mechanical operations in the 16th. American English had a heyday with the word in the mid-1800s, when horse racing, baseball, railroads, and politics inspired all sorts of phrasal applications. Since the word “run” runs all over the place, its definitions reflect a long strain of social history. Etymologically speaking, it’s had a good run.

Interestingly, “to run late” dates from the 1950s. I’m not sure when “running errands” or “running ragged” entered American English—but all three confirm that I am a runner after all! So are my children, as they often run wild, but, of course, not nearly enough. I don’t either.

In Western culture, I suppose running as exercise dates back to ancient Greece and its practical link of mental and physical health. This is good point to return to. This link is why I run in the first place—to create mental space, breathe more deeply and think more plainly, at least once every couple of weeks.

Moving outside, even if I slow to a walk, I am better able to quiet run-on self-criticism and the other punks my brain runs around with. I release the pressure to constantly run inane comments by unknown others (although I still “hello” everyone I meet on the trail).

I extend. I run clearer.

Seeking this mind-body link is healthy for me to do and for my children to see. I’d like them to know they can create their own psychic running room when they need to—and that running high on that can be essential. It can inform the best next step.

This post, for example, has run its course. A friend just called, and I’m going to meet her for a trail run.



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