So I'm at this block party chatting with a couple neighbor moms my age, that I've seen around before but not met. Turns out they all work full-time and since I am a stay-at-home mom, our paths never cross. They seem friendly enough, and we all like wine, so at least we have that in common.
Conversation, as can happen after a little too much alcohol, turns ugly: one of them asks what I do for exercise. Knowing that she probably won't demand proof right now (a gym membership card or something like that), I choose this opportunity to do what I do best: lie. "Of course I work-out," I nod-nod-nod, like a pigeon pecking at random specks on the ground, "I run."
This catches their attention; three heads swivel in unison. "You run?" one of them smiles broadly; it was as if I had something so out-of-the-ordinary, that I grew up in Bangladesh maybe? and miraculously we had this in common.
"Do you want to run with us?" another (previously welcoming and considerate, but now just plain mean) one asks. "We run every morning, sort of a jogging club."
"Gosh, that is very sweet of you to offer, I really appreciate the gesture, but my husband goes to work early and I have to get the kids off to school, so, I mean, really, who would watch them?" I shrug. Off the hook.
"That's perfect, because we go at 5 AM," one of them coos.
"He can't go to work that early," another chimes in.
"You'll definitely be back before your husband needs to leave," confirms the tall blonde one.
"Come on, would you like to join us?" the first almost begs. My brain is chirping "misery loves company".
Right then, The Husband walks over and asks if he can have a sip of my wine. "YES!" I say emphatically, temporarily distracted from the conversation at hand.
The three neighbor women say, "Great!" in unison, and raise their wine glasses to me, "Tomorrow morning then," says the one with short dark hair.
And that is how I got roped into the "Jogging Club".
For seven hours I tossed and turned, alternately kicking off the covers and pulling them back up, fearful of over-sleeping and missing our appointed time. ("How dare she? She just stood us up," I could hear them say to each other, as my social status on the block plummeted.) I needn't have worried about sleeping too long: my panicked body merely never bothered to fall asleep at all.
We started bright and early the next morning. The 5 AM thing was just meant to scare me; we didn't actually meet at 5. Oh, no. We started our run at 5. We met up at 4:50 to do warm-up stretches.
I don't want to brag here, but I am in pretty good shape. I used to run cross-country in high school, and our team went to regional championships once. Even though I sometimes refer to my twice per week walks as "runs", I can still keep up with the best of them.
"We'll start with a little hill-work," said Nicole, the one I had previously liked the most. Nicole was tiny, like a miniature ballet dancer. I remember smirking to myself thinking that Nicole would not last.
Brianna, the one with the stop-watch, shouted, "GO!" out of nowhere. I soon realized that this was not a "Jogging Club" as these women had innocently insinuated, or even perhaps a "Running Club". No. This was clearly a "Sprinting Club".
"Focus, MOV! You can do it!" said Jill, as she turned around to find me already panting.
"Sure, sure, yeah, I'm good," I smiled weakly.
After a mile or so, while they were chatting about foreign concepts like "interval training" and the benefits of walking up steps backwards (I kid you not), I got up the courage to ask how far we were going to go.
"Oh, don't worry," said pretty cheer-leader Jill, "today is a short day: just 6 miles. Brianna did tell you we're currently training for a marathon, right?"
I tried to go to that place in my brain, the place where you can turn off the thought process that says, "Boy, are you stupid, and now you're in pain too" and instead access the part that just sees the outline of the trees flash by as my feet propelled me in the cool darkness alongside the newly named "Racing Team". I could hear the rhythm of our shoes as they tapped on the ground, pat-pat-pat-pat-squish-pat-pat-pat-pat. (The squish was me, stepping in mud, at least I hope it was mud.)
I felt like I was going to pass out, or at the bare minimum, throw up. I heard myself trying to make conversation, "How long has your group been running together?" I panted.
"Uh, maybe 2 years now, huh, Nic?" said Brianna, as she ran her fingers through her short dark hair.
"And you all," (pant-pant) "just met" (pant-pant) "living in this neighborhood?" I continued.
Jill coughed. "No, I mean yes, well, Nicole and I work together, too."
"Oh, that's nice," I said, "what do you do?" I realized for the first time how little I knew about them.
Pretty Jill with the blond braid said casually, "I'm a Neurosurgeon."
Ballet-tiny Nicole said, "I'm a Pulmonologist."
I guffawed. "Ha ha! You guys! Such a sense of humor, even at 5 AM! No, really, what do you do?"
Brianna tapped me on the back. "That is what they do," she said slowly, like she was talking to someone who does not have a firm grasp of the English language.
"Oh," I squeaked.
Brianna said, "I'm an ER nurse, but I don't work at the same hospital as Nicole and Jill."
"What do you do, MOV?" asked Pulmonologist.
"I work part-time at a high-end kitchen store," I began, inwardly criticizing myself for not going to med school, nor applying to med school, nor even getting B's in chemistry class, "I sell pans."
No one talked now. We all just ran, hearing our breathing and our shoes. Occasionally a car would zoom past us, its headlights bright in the pre-dawn mist.
I can do this, I kept telling myself. It's okay, I can run.
When I recognized our starting point coming back into focus, I grinned. I realized an essential truth about running with a group: if I pass out right here, right now, there is a team of three medical professionals who can surely save me.
("Might Only Vomit")