Six Miles A Day

By Trelaine Ito

I was always a terrible runner, for a runner. In track and cross-country, I rarely placed better than second to last. Maintaining a slow pace throughout, I would conserve energy and then kick at the end, sprinting only at the last leg, deathly afraid of exhaustion and failure. Always the penultimate runner, a sparse pity-clap would herald me to the finish line.

Those who can’t do …

I kept several running friends. And post-high school, they invited me to volunteer as a summer track assistant coach. My kids had potential that I didn’t, and skill that I couldn’t teach. My contributions, then, were comic relief and endless support. In this grove of sprouting trees, while others tended, I made silly comments and gave thumbs-ups.

I kept on running, though. One summer, I averaged six miles a day. That was my bar. Before, I was too ashamed to run by myself in public, preferring the 10 p.m. hour for its solitude, but that year, I felt emboldened enough to run at 4 in the afternoon, or 6 at night. I didn’t take my leisurely time, either. I burned through my workouts — modest as they were — and never missed a day. I ran farther each week as July rolled into August, completing my miles at a quicker pace. By the time came for my flight back to D.C., I was the skinniest I had ever been.

A strange pride exuded from my visible ribcage.

I didn’t want to be fit — I wanted to be thin, frail. But to say that that was my only motivation would crop out the broader context of running. I ran because it was empowering to exercise. (Well, that might be a stretch.) I ran because I wanted to be healthy. (But that’s only one small reason.) I ran because it seemed as if interconnected pieces of my life were in flux, untamed, and I could only rein in this particular aspect, fixating a compulsive need for control on my worst activity. In repetition, I could manage this one piece, and hopefully, in time, I’d get better.

And I ran because maybe I would pass him, an old friend.

He wouldn’t stop if he saw me. (I would, sweat drenched and all.) But maybe he, and everyone else in Mililani, would see my dedication to running. Slowly. Every day, around the same time each day. Small strides and awful form. Improving.

I did, once, run past him. On a day without my glasses, he recognized a face and waved. I was both taken aback and blind, and instead ran past him sans acknowledgement. I waited until he was a block away before I stopped. I could turn around, redo my workout, and force another encounter. No, that would be too blunt. I texted him 30 minutes later while sitting in my bathtub.

“Was that you?” “Yeah. I half-waved.”

Oh. I knew it was. He left for Europe the next day. And I returned to D.C.

Six years, same route.

For six miles a day, I am an awful runner. But for six miles, I feel as if I’m working toward an end.

And although he’ll never stop, and flux is reality, and I’ll never be fast (just modestly faster), the pity-clap brings me home.

Trelaine Ito is a staff assistant with the U.S. Senate. Originally from Mililani, he now resides in Washington, D.C.

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