Sunday, January 06, 2008

Girls are Always Running

8.5" x 11" collage painting

I created the above piece several years ago, and I feel drawn to it now because I have been thinking about the limits of my body lately. This morning, as I descended the stairs from the bedroom, my stiff quads and creaky knees reminded me just how limber and athletic I used to be.

The photographs in the collage above were taken in 1995 when I competed in the State Cross Country Championship in Pullman, WA. My father took pictures of the race, attempting to capture a shot of me in all my runnerly glory. These pictures remind me of my athlete days, when I used to compete (and frequently win) in cross-country races and track and field events such as long, triple, and high jump (high jump was my specialty). I remember being 14 years old and running three miles (on hilly trails) in 19 minutes. I ran 400 meters in 65 seconds. I high jumped 5'2". When I was fourteen, I hurled myself into my athletics, and honestly, I don't remember much discomfort or pain. I remember running to exhaustion and feeling exhilarated.

By age sixteen, however, I remember the distinct difference in how running and jumping felt on my body. My body changed at 16: breasts emerged full force, my hips and butt became more full, and my center of gravity shifted. I competed all through high school, working even harder, and still doing well, but I seemed to hit a ceiling. At the league and district track meets, I placed third and fourth place against the giraffe girls of Arlington and Lynden. I never felt so short at 5'6" in my life at those meets! Even then, though, I knew I had hit the limits of what my body could do for me. By the time I was 18, I had experienced three stress fractures in my right foot, an injured hamstring, and debilitating shin splints. My body did not appreciate all of my pounding and bounding. It makes me wonder if my creaky knees today come from all those years of jumping exercises.

What's also interesting about recalling my athletic days is how competitive I was. I was intensely competitive...with myself. Never very interested in team sports, I wanted to run my own race in my own internal universe. I acknowledged the presence of the others competing (and used this competition to my advantage), but mostly I wanted to see how far I could push myself. Even now, when taking a light run around Greenlake, my competitive edge sometimes emerges. I push myself to run a bit farther or faster. Sometimes this feels physically euphoric and psychologically invigorating, but other times I feel worn down and defeated by my aches and pains.

It's clear that the athlete-girl I used to be is still inside me. I wonder how I use her energy for non-athletic purposes. Might she surface when I'm about to quit something, encouraging me to keep on keepin' on? Does her quick-footed energy keep me focused on creating art? That's an interesting thought: an athletic artist or an "artlete." Interesting concept. Maybe that's what I am.


  1. I, too, used to love to run, just for the sake of running, really. Fast and as hard as possible.

    Then it became difficult. I never made the connection with body changes, but now I wonder if that doesn't fit.

  2. That's so interesting, Ned. I wish I could experience that love for the sake of running again. I know people who truly feel this way; they run hard and love it!

    I experience glimpses of this love when I am running in a sort of "flow" state -- forget the fact that I'm running. But usually this is short lived.


  3. I sometimes get a glimpse of it when cycling, when I've got a nice steady rhythm going and have to push a bit hard on the pedals. Not the same, though, with the machine involved.

    pseeni: accidental glimpse of two people getting intimate