AT THE START, I'd like to make it clear that I don't expect to win next Sunday's Hometown Run, the 1.86 mile race for runners, walkers and people with casts on their legs. I could -- if I were younger, a few pounds lighter, a dedicated and disciplined trainer of my mind and body, and a competitor with a fire in my belly to win, win, win. I am none of these things. I run about a mile a day, and I won't win. So why run? After all, it is a race, so should it not be run?
But let me explain my attitude. Although, like other short- and long-distance runners, my arms oscillate, my body waggles and my head genuflects as I spat-splat along, jogging is still not a public activity for me. Despite my pitifully poor distance -- an utter embarrassment when compared with my friends, who easily log 5, 6 or even 10 miles at a trot, not to mention those exhibitionist marathon runners -- my rationale for running is to get off by myself for a little bit. No heavy philosophy, thank you. It weighs too much.
So unrunner-like am I that I've never been chased by a car or barely missed being smacked by a truck. My feelings about fitness have never reached the stage of passion. My biggest obstacle to date has been an errant Afghan hound bounding across the uneven concrete, nearly prompting a collision.
So I won't win next Sunday's Hometown Run.
First you must understand that this is a benefit for the Washington Urban League, and the real action is a 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) run that will wind through downtown, Adams-Morgan and the Howard University area. The rest of us go along with the briefer and are saved for laughs. It is also called raising money.
But although I can say unequivocally that I'm abandoning my preference for isolation in favor of fun, not competition, I hasten to add that I don't want to straggle in behind the people with casts on their legs. So a certain of preparation is called for.
Now it's important to realize that my preparation must be accomplished in an antijogging atmosphere. Most of the inhabitants of our household think Jim Fixx is an obscene, middle-aged man for showing his tight muscles on the cover of his book, "The Complete Book of Running." They feel Jimmy Carter had it coming when he stumbled as he tried to run beyond his fitness. Driving to the tennis courts, they feel, is an adult and dignified way to keep fit.
So it's as much native contrariness as an interest in keeping well that pushes me out to trot past the postage stamp-sized lawns in my neighborhood several times a week.
Getting ready for me means pushing my distance a bit farther, adding a few huffs and puffs each day so I can avoid becoming a statistic before my time. There're been enough mysterious dead joggers who were perfect specimens to make this person take note. I don't overdo it.
But I confess that I may also use the Hometown Run as an excuse to pitch away my cheap and battered running shoes and buy one pair of those 120 different kinds of running shoes that Running Times magazine tells us are now made.
So, early every morning, I've been playing this little game of foot racing with myself, hitting the concrete and losing.
Last week, I proposed each day to add another few blocks to my miniregimen, but all I could think, as I pounded more slowly and breathed faster, was how nice it would be to be back home drinking coffee.
Now, I'm as strong an advocate of self-actualization as the next person, so what is producing this hitch in my Getting Ready Regimen?
I think about the answer as I puff along under an early spring sky. It strikes me that the answer is ambivalence -- about running and about this race and Getting In Shape. Oh, to be as staunchly sedentary as the folks who brought us "The NonRunners Book." Oh, to flat out tell the marathoners (male and female) that macho competition is unbecoming to humans. Oh, to be able to resist the additive-soaked foods we stuff into our faces that prompt the knowledge that we're running literally to stay in the same place.
But the ambivalence gives way to action and breathing is improved when I recall that the role of fitness is to keep me in condition to do serious work, to help provide the mental acuity to write about subjects other than the Hometown Run.
And the ambivalence about this race leaves me as I recall that we'll be raising money for the Urban League, a good cause, especially in a time we are governed by conservatives. I won't win next Sunday's Hometown Run, but I will enter it in the spitit of fun, in the spirit of friendly competition, to support a cause.
And even if I straggle in, sweat-soaked and winded, it will be okay. We will all be winners.