Barbara slipped beneath the inflatable purple “FINISH” arch like she was on rails – like the camera crew had snuck in while no one was looking and laid tracks. When Barbara runs, there’s no up-and-down bobbing; she’s straight ahead, like her spine is a firm metal rod and there’s a massive, Wile E. Coyote type magnet just ahead, pulling her forward.

She’s efficient. There’s not a wasted movement – nothing but grace and ease and an economy of motion that is utterly deceptive…

…as Barbara was the third woman to cross the 10K finish line. “Yeah,” she said mildly when she found me after the run. “That was pretty fast. I sort of surprised myself.” She wasn’t even ultra-sweaty. She didn’t need to stand just on the other side of the finish arch with her hands on her knees, sucking in air – far from it. Barbara was FINE.

I was there to observe the race. (Barbara, my trainer at Body Dynamics, is very smart; she knew I needed to see and experience at least the start and finish of a race so I could prepare mentally for the 5K I’m planning to enter in June.) And I did have many observations. Including…

I observed that I want to be like Barbara. I want it the same way I want to be able to play the trumpet or run for political office or hold the arch of my foot while I stick my leg up around my ear, like a ballet dancer; that is – this is a desire I hold very loosely, aware that it’s not going to happen.

But I wonder: What does Barbara want? There’s not a one of us who looks in the mirror and smiles; we ALL want something different. Does she want to be a voluptuous Jessica Rabbit type? Does she wish she was taller, shorter, darker, paler? Does she look at her lean, balanced body and think “If only…?”

I observed that there are many types of people who enter 5Ks; there are runners like Barbara, of course – but there are also men and women who look like they’re facing a really grueling task and they’ll be damned if they’re going to stop before the entire wood pile is chopped. Some people are there for joy and oxygenated corpuscles; some people are there despite the many, MANY reasons to stay home.

I observed that these races are held in the early morning. Not to overshare (yeah, like that’s ever stopped me!), but my digestion is established for activity by around 9, 9:30. As the racers took the starting line at 9:20 (the 5Ks; the 10Ks left at 9), I thought – “Glad I’m not standing there. Port-a-potties to the left, you say?”

I observed that a race in mid-April is probably the ideal time to run, as the weather was cool (and got colder as the morning wore on). If I’m going to run, I’m going to need cool air – so why am I deliberately ignoring the swamp-like qualities of northern Virginia in early June?

I observed that I need to do a little shopping; I’m going to need 5K-worthy running clothes. Guh.

I observed that Barbara is a team player, while I never played on any team. She and I stood near the finish line to cheer on the other Body Dynamics participants – Regina, the biofeedback counselor and Kathryn, who joins Gwynn in the masseusery. (Just made that word up; like it? Where do therapeutic masseuses work? A masseusery, of course.) As we waited for them to round the corner, Barbara offered her cheers and praise especially to anyone running past with a yellow tag.

(White tags were 5K runners; yellow tags were 10K runners.)

Far from looking down on the 10K runners who were arriving so late, Barbara’s cheers and encouragement got louder as the race got longer. It was clear she didn’t care about the time it took to complete the run – just that the run was being completed. The longer it took to get to the finish line, the greater the triumph and the louder her cheers. Barbara is a wonderful, kind person.

I observed that Barbara not only called out “Great job!” to the runners – she also shouted “Finish strong!” That comment terrifies me. It means that as you draw closer to the purple arch, you’re supposed to SPEED UP. I’m pretty sure by that point I’m going to want to find a bench for a little rest. Am I supposed to keep enough energy in reserve to FINISH STRONG when all I want to do is find my car and drive away as quickly as I can?!

I observed that both Kathryn and Regina crossed the finish line (strong, as it happens) wreathed in smiles. “Is this fun?” I asked Kathryn. She looked at me to see if I was joking, and realized I wasn’t. “Yeah – this is fun.”


“It was a nice run, and it’s fun that everyone is cheering.”


Regina said she’d do the run again next year; that she was looking forward to it. All three runners looked very happy and contented. I realized I had a vague headache and wondered how soon before I could go home and hide.

I’ll do a little research, but I posit the theory that Regina and Kathryn both played on sports teams at some point. (I know Barbara was on a basketball team.) I think that people who succeed on sports teams get a buzz from the energy of a group action – of people cheering you on, of others running beside and around you.

I played on the International Read A Book Team. I keep thinking that if I run twice around the lake, that would be 5K, and then I’d have done it and wouldn’t have to do it in a crowd. “You don’t find this inspiring?” Barbara asked, astonished. “Look at all these people – all different shapes and sizes, all working for the same goal. That’s motivating!”

I observed that she spoke the truth, as she saw it. I observed that I’m going to give it a try, but I have my doubts that I’ll be much changed by the experience.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 12.22.25 PM

Why didn’t I take a picture of Barb, Regina, and Kathryn? They were RIGHT THERE in front of me. I’m a fool! This isn’t a photo from the “Prison Break” race at the Workhouse. I stole this one off Google. You don’t care, do you?

4 thoughts on “Observer

  1. but don’t you see–you are on a team with all of those who read your blog. You are the leader who puts words to our struggles and triumphs, Pru. Buy some fantastic 5K in public clothes and run for the sheer joy of accomplishing a goal!


    1. Juli, if you’ve ever wondered if a comment on a post is worth the effort, then please know now: Your words gave me a lift last night when I REALLY needed it! Thank you!


  2. Yes — what Julie said. Also when you sing in a choir / Octet / with friends— isn’t that a team effort? Harmony only happens when everyone sings their part (even if in the wrong key, like me…. though for some reason i did it anyway, and you were all nice)


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