The time is 6:42 a.m.
The weather is hotter than it should ever be at 6:42 a.m.
The setting is mid-July, just outside of Memorial Stadium, with more energetic people than there should ever be at 6:42 a.m.
I am on a Sisyphean quest to reach the top of the campanile hill without walking–not that walking would be slower than the current pace I’m maintaining.
As my grass-stained sneakers dig into the dewy grass, I focus on my legs’ labored movements, avoiding eye contact with the 4-5 eighty-something-year-olds who are gradually overtaking me in their dirty white New Balance orthopedics.
As a particularly feeble-looking individual finally surpasses me, I try to console myself with my mother’s words: “Kyra, these people are life-long runners. They have a good fifty years of experience on you.” The thought is comforting until my eleven-year-old brother effortlessly sprints past me on his fourth trip up the hill.
I am not an athlete, but I pretended to be one for a long time. Since sixth grade, I have participated in Red Dog’s Dog Days, free community workouts that are held at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. If you go more than 25 times during the summer, you get a free t-shirt and a Popsicle. I always am up for free t-shirts and Popsicles, regardless of time, weather or qualifications.
Until recently, I rarely knew any of my fellow Dog Day runners except for my mom and brothers. That was ideal because the whole point of running at 6 a.m. is to avoid recognition.
By August, however, I was tired, so I made the fatal decision to run at 6 p.m. It was during one of my first evening runs that I made an alarming and painful discovery: my English teacher is in better shape than me.
When I first saw him, my teacher was just far enough in front of me that it would have been awkward for me to maintain my current position. I needed to either pass him or fall back. I foolishly did neither. I caught up to him, and he started talking to me.
“Don’t let me hold you back,” he said after a good five minutes of me trying to hold a casual conversation while pretending to be in no pain at all while actually probably dying.
“Oh, no, I don’t mind. I have you first hour next semester by the way,” I said, trying to keep the conversation going while internally calculating how many more milliseconds I had left on earth.
Eventually, we reached the turnaround point,and I made an excuse about how I should probably wait for my brother because he was only 11 and I didn’t want him to get lost (or something sweet and understandable like that).
After my first English teacher encounter, I vowed to go back to the 6 a.m. workouts, but then I stayed up all night binge-watching The Office, so the next day, I again ended up in my Nike shorts and running shoes at 6 p.m.
After that night, Dog Days became an elaborate operation. My English teacher attended the workouts religiously, and I avoided him like the plague. As long as he started the run before me, who could really calculate and compare our athleticism since he had been given such an obvious head-start advantage? All I wanted was to look a little less hideous in a bikini and have a way of doing so without losing all of my self-esteem.
I have not beaten my English teacher on a run yet, but I figure if I keep running (jogging) for the next 30-40 years, one day–some day–I will be faster than my Lit. teacher. I can wait.