I first saw her early last January, shuffling along the worse stretch of road in the area for running. The South Hiram Road has no shoulder, the cars travel much too fast on it, and there is always a cold wind coming off the river in the cooler months. It is boringly flat and straight. The day I first saw her was the worse drizzly icy day we had had so far that Winter. She wore baggy snow pants, like the ones you'd buy at Walmart for your kids to go out and build snowmen in. She had a loose fitting quilted jacket with the hood pulled up and yellow work gloves on. This woman was big, probably 5 foot 10 and well over 200 pounds. And she was running.
She was grimacing into the wind. I could see that she was experiencing something far removed from the fabled runner's high. Her gait was awkward and slow, with short, low to the ground strides. Her arms moved stiffly in too many layers of clothes. I couldn't see exactly what she was wearing on her feet, but it didn't look like running shoes. I thought to myself, "New Year's resolution," and continued my drive home from work.
I'd had no intention of going out to run on that cold, icy, wet afternoon, but something about seeing that women struggling along step by step motivated me to get out the door and put in a few miles.
Throughout the Winter I would see her often, always on that same miserable stretch of road and always with too much clothing on. Over time, her shuffle turned into something just short of a jog. It never started to look easier or more fun for her, but it became more efficient and a little faster. By Spring she had shed a few layers of clothing and started to run in a big cotton sweatshirt and baggy cotton sweat pants. I began to notice she was loosing weight. She was still carrying a lot of extra pounds, but they were slowly coming off.
Day after day, she plodded on. Her eyes never strayed from the patch of road directly in front of her. When I gave her a little honk and a wave one day, she never looked up and her pace never varied. She was a woman on a mission.
In the hot, humid days of June and July she stripped down to a loose long sleeved cotton T-shirt and some loose cotton pants. I began to think her "comfort zone" involved keeping her body covered and hidden under loose layers of clothing and sticking to a familiar route. I thought, with time she may gain more confidence.
By mid August I started noticing that the stretch of road she ran out and back on was getting longer. Sometimes I would see her way out at the Cornish end and other times 4 miles down the road at the Kezar Falls end. Sometimes I'd see her at both ends on the same afternoon, meaning she was covering eight miles those days! Her upper body had thinned down to a fit, healthy woman's build but she still carried a lot of extra weight in her hips, butt, and thighs. Running still looked like an unpleasant job for her. Still, she plodded on.
Yesterday I had a very long day visiting patients. It had rained on and off all day and I was cold and soggy. I was also tired and in a bad mood. All I wanted to do was get home, put my feet up, and sip on a glass of wine. As I neared home I saw her plodding along. It was pouring rain at this point. She wore a wind breaker, orange hunting cap, yellow work gloves, and gray baggy sweat pants. All these were soaked through and hanging from her body. She had that familiar grimace on her face. The car in front of me drove through a big puddle and splashed water on her. She stared straight ahead and plodded on.
Suddenly I realized that she was way outside her comfort zone. It had nothing to do with clothing or route. Truthfully, it has been years since I pushed myself as hard as this woman pushes herself daily! This realization made me smile. When I got home I changed my clothes and headed out into the rain. I ran a very hilly four mile loop that I had been avoiding for months. I ran it faster than I had run it in years. It hurt and I was probably grimacing a little, but at the same time it felt good! I wonder how many other people in the community have been inspired by the Plodder. I'll bet lots.
Her stride may never turn into a comfortable relaxed gait, even if she looses the rest of her excess body weight. She may never experience that endorphin induced "runner's high." She might not ever shed those loose baggy clothes or buy a pair of real running shoes. She might not ever venture from that crappy stretch of straight, flat road. She may never loose the remainder of those extra pounds. But she has certainly graduated from plodder to runner in my eyes.