July 5th, 2007

Appa bonding

When Life Gives You AIDS, Make LemonAIDS

For the last five months, I have been training to run a marathon half-marathon. And, despite injury after injury after, yes, injury (now I caught patellofemoral syndrome, which hit my right knee and left me limping for a week and a half, but I'm hoping rest and stretching will allow me to recover), I've managed to run/walk longer than I ever imagined possible in January. Even though I develop a new injury each time I hit 12 miles, I can still make it 12 miles. That's just ridiculous. I didn't know I could do that.

This training program has really gotten me in touch with my body and what it can and can't do. It's never something I bothered to care about; I was not what you'd call a physically active person. I did a lot of walking since I didn't have a car, and sometimes I ran if I was trying to get somewhere faster than usual. But it's only when you start to move beyond your comfort zone that you become aware of your body as the machine it is, built of muscle and bone. When I was injured, I worked out on the elliptical, which was punishing but doable. My stupid legs could go around in circles for half an hour, straight. And by doing that, I was making them stronger. Plus, I was exercising that very important muscle, the heart. You only get the one body, and it's supposed to last you your whole damn life. It's stupid that it's taken me this long to realize I should be taking better care of it.

Another wake-up call was the fact that I inexplicably gained ten more pounds over the course of the program, resulting in an unsightly belly bulge I am now fighting to get rid of. I'm watching what I eat, and I'm adding upper body work to my weekly regimen. There's no way I would have jumped into this, but since I was already in the habit of exercising, it's easier to keep it up. And I never would have started exercising if I hadn't joined the training program and been forced into it by my shin splints. This is my body, and no one's going to take care of it but me. And, dammit, I have to look good shirtless again.

In addition to the physical aspect, there's a social aspect to the training that I've really enjoyed and appreciated. I've met people I never would have met otherwise. Week after week, we have no one to talk to but each other for the hours we're out running. You have to keep each other going, motivated, interested, and not focusing on how tired you are and how many miles you have left to go. You look forward to seeing your running buddies every week. I had one running buddy, Liu Kang, who at times was the only other person in my pace group, and he was always willing to slow down and accomodate my stupid feet. But he seems to have disappeared. Some of the adjacent pace groups merged each week, and I acquired new running buddies. One in particular, Mary Jane, I got along with pretty well. It's nice to click with random people and bond over forward motion. During that fateful 12-mile run, one of our other running mates became injured, so it was just the two of us at the end, and she was beginning to cramp up, whereas I, for once, was doing fine, and I refused to leave her behind.

The effect the training program has had on the community and the people in it hit me on Saturday, when I volunteered for a water stop on the 26/14-mile run since I couldn't actually run it but wanted to support my fellow runners on their big day. I was thrust into a group of people I'd never met before, as they were people who knew runners, not runners themselves. We cheered the runners on, and I saw many familiar faces. Some people I had run with months ago in San Francisco even recognized me and asked why I wasn't running. As we waited for them to return, some of us piled into an SUV. We were discussing the environment and Barack Obama and George Bush and Hillary Clinton and the Electoral College, and there came a point when one woman wanted us to take special note of the diversity in the vehicle. We were a black woman, a Mexican woman, a white man, and an Indian man, talking about politics without things getting heated. She pointed out the diversity later on, as she thought it very significant that such a ragtag group had been randomly assembled. None of us knew each other before, but there we were, united for a cause, supporting our friends and lovers who were in turn supporting countless strangers with HIV/AIDS.

After the run, Mary Jane invited me to lunch with her running compatriots. The six of us chatted about all sorts of things. I learned a great deal about buying a condo from one of the runners' girlfriends, which was fortuitous because I was looking into such a thing. I asked for her card afterward. Mary Jane's boyfriend, Pete, unexpectedly stopped by; it was neat to meet the person she had talked about during our runs. All of these people, all linked together.

As a collective, we few hundred have raised nearly $900,000 for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The goal is $1 million. I, personally, have raised $2,944. My goal is $3,000. If you have not already, please make that happen. It's amazing that I was able to get all this money just by, you know, asking.

Even thought it's cost me a lot of money and given me a lot of pain, this has been a fantastic experience overall, and I'm already considering doing it again next year. I highly recommend it. It really will change your life. Look at me now, bitches.