I took a tour of my friends’ Bobbi Jo and Berlin’s house today in Watson. It is just about the cutest place I’ve ever seen. They’ve done a massive amount of work on the inside, and it looks really nice, but I LOVE the backyard. A little miniature cypress swamp sits amid a clump of trees with a miniature pier furnished with a couple of places to sit and feed the Koi. She threw some bread and we watched them swarm and swim all over each other as she told me about a sterile fish that eats the grass in the pond so they’ve named him Pothead. That $9 fish that had to be shipped in has to have a $50 license to eat their grass. I call that redneck fancy.
We sat down and talked about our running careers and how running has become a popular sport in Watson as the town has grown into a suburb of Baton Rouge rather than the little sleepy country town it was when I grew up there. Bobbi Jo and I started running at a young age. She kept running most of her life, but I took about a 25 year hiatus. I started running when the jogging craze hit in the 70s. I wore cotton men’s gym shorts. They didn’t even have girls’ running clothes back then. The men’s gym shorts were looser, and lycra either hadn’t been invented or it would have been x-rated to wear it. Whatever was the case, I bought my gym shorts in the men’s sporting goods department. I don’t think they had sports bras back then, but I can’t remember. They certainly didn’t have them in the men’s department. I ran in green Converse high tops at first and then graduated to some really poor quality running shoes. There wasn’t much available back then. My feet were always covered with big, gnarly blood blisters with puddles of blood forming under the sensitive skin on the bottom of my feet. I ran anyway. I loved it.
When I was home from college, I would run behind the old Live Oak High School. I had a couple of loops memorized that were 1 mile in distance and a couple that were shorter. I remember running past my old friend Mandy’s house who lived in the loop behind the Live Oak football field. I’d run those loops and then sometimes venture out on Springfield Road or occasionally down Highway 16. But, even back then, those roads were busy and had no shoulder. Highway 16 had gravel trucks racing down the two-lane road in a haphazard dangerous fashion. I ran rain or shine. One time I got caught up in a hail storm and had to duck under a neighbor’s front porch once the golfball-sized chunks of ice started pounding my head. I loved the feeling of running. I loved the runner’s high. It was the first sport I’d ever really loved... the kind of movement where I got lost in the sensation and the moment and the world disappeared underneath the pounding of my teenage feet.
Today, I ran my first 5K in Watson. I never would have dreamed that my little one-horse town would have a 5K. But, it’s not the same town anymore. A large 5-A high school building rises out of an old cow pasture down Hwy. 16. We were 1-A or 2-A when I was growing up. My high school graduating class had 69 people in it. I don’t know how big the class is today, but we played Denham Springs in football last night, and that would have been unheard of back in the day. They were the giant school in the area, and they looked down on this tiny little country school full of cousins out in the sticks. We were the rednecks.
Bobbi Jo moved back to Watson to be with the love of her life, and she’s brought her passion for running to the area. They have a running group there that meets 3 nights per week. Today’s 5K had 497 people registered, and I was one of them. I was one of a very few – if any – other runners as a young runner in Watson, but today’s race was FULL of young people. There were only 30 runners over 50 in the race, and Bobbi Jo said that was an increase. In the cities where I’ve run, I’d say half if not more of the runners are over 40. That’s just a guess, and I could be way off, but running is a sport that is heavily populated with older athletes. It’s encouraging to see the youth embracing the sport because they will carry it into their older years. Like me, they may give it up for awhile, but many will return to the sport as they age.
My friend Vicki ran her first 5K this morning. Her friend Richard ran with her, and Ray, one of my buddies from college, ran his first 5K in a long time. Both Ray and Richard are battling injuries right now. Just the fact that they showed up and toed the line made them winners. I saw a lot of my friends from high school there. I was so excited because most of the other times I’ve seen them they’ve been partying down. It was great to see they are into balance and taking care of themselves. They looked great, and they looked really happy. How can you not be happy when you’re out moving your body early in the morning to support your local high school?
Bobbi Jo and I have something in common. We love running. We talked about the fact that we don’t really do anything to talk people into running but when people see you doing it, they are attracted to it. Running is what makes happy and full of life. People see that. People that are looking for something to make them feel better will gravitate to what others are doing to make themselves feel better. It feels really good to inspire others just by doing something you love to do. Do that for a number of years, and, all of a sudden, you have a community of like-minded people around you. It’s effortless.
I’ve been trying to get faster over the last 2 years. My trainer Jessica has been designing my workouts to strengthen my muscles and make these stubby legs move faster. My main problem is my brain. I get tired, and I want to stop and walk. I did that today. As soon as I did it, I knew I shouldn’t have. Once I take a walk break, I want to take another and another. But …. whatever… I’m still out there. We passed the new Watson library, the new elementary school and ran through several subdivisions that didn’t exist when I was last running in my teenage years. The Watson library used to be one room behind the local grocery store. I read my heart out in there. Everything I do frequently makes me better – reading, writing, walking, running – and that’s what I was hoping for this morning. I ran negative splits because I wanted to practice my race strategy. I’ve never had a strategy before. I’m not very competitive. I just like to have fun. But I did get faster. My time today was only 1:15 slower than my fastest 5K ever. That race was 9 years ago. I’m feeling pretty good about myself and my training tonight. I got second place in my age group. I’ve never placed in a race before. I never even thought about it. I left before they even gave out the medals. I was at Robbie and Jo Ann’s house when Robbie brought it to me.
Bobbi Jo took me back to see the Man Cave on their property. They have an old barn that is covered in what I would call folk art created by Bobbi Joe and Berlin. Window panes with cartoon characters and old bike tires painted and made into peace signs hang on the walls and in the trees. The Man Cave has a sign that says Man Cave. It’s a little cute bar set up for parties. We walked in, and I saw a snake skin laying on the floor by the door. It led out the hole in the wall to the outside. I laughed and said, “Look, there’s a snake skin.” Bobbi Jo screamed, I jumped and screamed in response. I thought, “shit, I’d better get of here” based on her reaction. I thought it was decoration, but apparently it wasn’t. I scared her, she scared me, and the snake skin scared both of us. That’s sort of the way it works, isn’t it? We react to each other. We don’t live in a vacuum. No matter what you do, people are watching… listening … waiting to see what you do. And, one day, they may decide to follow…. and people will be watching them, too. I look forward to the day when the Live Oak 5K is 1000 runners and walkers … and half of them are over 50. I’ll keep you posted.