I am not a runner but I have signed up for two marathons. It is my sister Caroline who is the runner of the family. We live in different cities so I monitor her progress on her Facebook page: a trophy wall, essentially. Her statuses boast times from her latest races and friends post congratulatory messages. Her pictures show her at the finish line, her thin brown hair sitting atop her head in a tousled, sweaty bun and her mouth set in a proud smile. Caroline tells me that I could be a runner too — I just need to commit.
In 2011, just before moving to Boston from Rhode Island, I read a statistic that said The Hub was the second fittest city, right after Washington D.C.: Caroline’s city. I called her to announce that in just a few months I would be fit like her, as if my change in address is all I need to be part of the statistic. I told her how I would run the length of the Charles River and join the run club that follows the Freedom Trail. At the other end of the phone there was only silence.
“Caroline, are you there?”
“You know, you can start exercising now.”
I rattled off reasons why I couldn’t.
“I’ve been working overtime at my job. My stomach has been uneasy. It’s July! I need new sneakers…”
She interrupted to tell me something – anything to stop me from continuing my list of excuses. She was right. I could have started that day. But I didn’t. Instead I bought new sneakers that sat in their box, untouched, until I took them to Boston with me two months later.
My sneakers went to the grocery story and CVS and the post office. They did laundry, went to class and occasionally saw a matinee. They never touched a treadmill, let alone run along the Charles. In fact, my first time at the river, I wore combat boots, sat on a bench and ate a red velvet cupcake.
Last April, I watched the Boston Marathon from the sidelines and as the first few runners crossed the finish line, I began to cry. At that moment completing a marathon felt feasible, desirable even. I turned to my friend and told her I was going to run. I tweeted that I was going to run. I texted Caroline and told her I was ready for my training schedule. My Facebook status read: Signed up for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon in August! And it’s true, I did.
I never even started my training.
My sister and I signed up for my second marathon together. Training was scheduled to begin in December and I was ready this time. Before we could begin, Caroline broke her leg at a boot-camp class. My first thought: this is why I don’t exercise. My second thought: that’s a terrible thought. My third thought: I’ll run this marathon in Caroline’s honor.
It is three miles from my front door in the North End, by Whole Foods, around the MGH T stop, down Charles Street, through the Public Gardens, past my classmates at Emerson College, up Tremont, across Government Center, and finally along Hanover before looping back onto Prince Street to my front door. After three miles, I look as though I have run 26.2 miles. In fact, I look worse than the victims of heat stroke at last April’s marathon. But I feel great; so I keep running three miles, each time the same loop. I find myself eating healthier. I notice that I have more energy. But I also realize that I have no interest in running a marathon for myself or in someone else’s honor.