About six months ago, I told a friend how much I hated running. It was the worst form of exercise — more like torture, really. The only good time to run, I said, was when something was chasing you.

Of course, my daughter heard me.

She didn’t respond but she did look at me with surprise in her eyes. It was the first time Angie had ever heard me say that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do something. I had to change that.

The next day, I downloaded a running application onto my cellphone. It’s designed for people like me — people hard-pressed to run to the mailbox and back without doubling over in pain. Run a minute, walk a minute. Take it step by step. That was the program.

On a weekday morning, I dropped Angie off at kindergarten and set out for my first run through the neighborhood.

It was horrible. I could barely make it from one stop sign to another. My knees hurt so bad that it felt like I was running on stilts. I huffed and puffed so hard that my head felt like a red balloon about to pop. People driving by must have thought I was on the verge of a stroke.

I didn’t quit. I ran two times a week, then three. Each day, I went a few steps farther, past a few more stop signs. I made it down more neighborhood streets until finally I had to move to the park to give myself more room to run.

Two miles. Three miles. Four miles.

When the muscles in my torso ached, which they always did, I just kept running. I slowed down, but I didn’t stop. I told myself that if I just kept going, it would eventually stop hurting.

And it did.

Three weeks ago, I ran in my first 5k race. It was a fundraiser for the local hospital, with proceeds to benefit victims of stroke.

On that day, I woke up before sunrise, drank my coffee, ate my banana and tied on my running shoes. With more than a thousand other runners, I jogged down the cobblestone streets of my city. I passed strangers cheering me on. And when I made it to the halfway point, there was Angie, standing with the friend who had asked me about running six months earlier.

My daughter stood alongside the cobblestones with her left hand extended, waiting to give me a high-five as I ran past.

“You can do it, Mama!”

And I did.

I finished the race in just less than 30 minutes, my best time ever. But the timing wasn’t what mattered most.

Afterward, I met Angie and my friend at a restaurant for breakfast. Angie drew a picture of me on her placemat. In her picture, I’m taller than all the other runners and there’s a huge smile on my face.

I’m still running. Last week, I drove down to the beach and jogged four miles alongside the ocean. As I ran, I couldn’t help but think of those first few months after Angie’s father and I split, when life moved minute by minute.

After my marriage ended, I suddenly found myself alone, with no idea how to take care of myself. I couldn’t eat or sleep. It felt like something was chasing me, but I was too scared to run.

After awhile, I decided to change things. I found an apartment. I got a job and put Angie in preschool. We healed, one day at a time.

In the moments when life hurt the most, I told myself that if I could just keep going, if I could just keep moving, then eventually the hurting would stop.

It did.

Two years later, I got accepted to graduate school with a full scholarship. Angie and I packed up and moved to a new city, someplace that offered a little more room to run.

These days, she looks at me with something different in her eyes. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s acceptance. Or maybe it’s the realization that she and I can do anything we set our minds to.

I’m not sure what’s next for me. A 10K. A half marathon. Earning a doctorate or writing a book. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is not stopping.

Wendy Fontaine’s “Party of Two” column appears every other week. Her email address is: [email protected] or follow Party of Two on Facebook.


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