When did it become so difficult to find Superman underpants? No, seriously.
In preparation for an underwear-themed 5K this past Saturday, I went shopping. I scoured the underwear sections at Target (yes, sections plural because I looked at both men’s and women’s underwear), searching for the classic primary-colored “S shield” skivvies. I unearthed camouflage, lace, stripes, polka dots, smiley faces, plaid, and even one particularly stellar pair of rainbow zebra print briefs. But no Superman. Realizing the success of my mission was unlikely, I piled my arms high with some of the more interesting available styles (including the rainbow zebra print briefs) and zig-zagged my way through racks of unmentionables for one last look. (And speaking of looks, I got a lot of those. It seems people were questioning both my need for so many pairs of underwear and my apparent compulsion to buy the most obnoxious designs available.)
Alas, Superman was nowhere to be found, and the rainbow zebra print was a little loud for my derriere. I settled for a nice blue plaid. And that was the whole of my preparation for the 5K.
For those of you who were wondering (which I imagine is very few to none), I’m not a fan of 5Ks. Because they’re fast. Because they hurt. Because they hurt because they’re fast. The 5K scares me because it dolls itself up in music and balloons and t-shirts and donuts and bagels and age group awards. And right when you start to believe that “It’s just a 5K!” despite your better judgment… BOOM! It whacks you in the back of the head with severe oxygen depletion and the overwhelming urge to vomit. Yes, one minute you’re laughing and chatting and pointing at the guy in the man-riding-a-horse costume, and the next you’re praying that you’d be wiped off the face of the earth, preferably with a moisture-wicking sweat rag.
So duplicitous the 5K is.
I was running because a friend had asked me to participate in the race as part of her fundraising team. I never would have signed up on my own volition because, you see, I am still recovering from a disastrous marathon blowup four months ago. I ended up walking seven different times. I felt nauseated. My quads were dead. And because of an unfortunate encounter with a food allergen, I had spent a good portion of the night before getting to know the old porcelain throne at Holiday Inn. Needless to say, my body was utterly depleted, a fact confirmed by the medics who, upon seeing me cross the finish line, felt compelled to shower me with bananas and Gatorade and ardent entreaties to lie down on a stretcher.
And so I had taken a much-needed sabbatical from all things racing—speedwork, tempo runs, training runs, and, of course, races themselves. I hadn’t run with a watch since November. November. I had no idea how far I had been running or how fast I had been running. I had simply been running for fun.
And it had been awesome.
It’s strange, but I didn’t start running because it was fun. In fact, I’m pretty sure I hated running when I started running. I ran to stay in shape for other sports. Fun sports. Like ice hockey. And tennis. The concept of running for fun was as foreign to me as it was to the old guy at the saloon in Back to the Future III. You know… the scene in which Doc is depressed and starts talking about the time machine (a.k.a. DeLorean).
Doc: In the future, we don’t need horses. We have motorized carriages called automobiles.
Old Guy: If ever’body’s got one of these auto-whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore?
Doc: Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun.
Old Guy: Run for fun? What the h-ll kind of fun is that?
And that pretty much sums up how I felt about running. Or, I should say, how I thought I felt about running.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
No, I didn’t start running because it was fun. I kept running because it was fun. But then I started racing. And things started to change.
I have this strange disorder in which I have to race races. I can’t jog them. I can’t lollygag. I can’t execute the proverbial “race for fun.” I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic affliction. If I’m in a race, I have to race. Unfortunately, in a grievous coincidence of handicaps, I am also genetically indisposed to racing. Namely, I’m pretty sure I hate it.
As I pulled on my blue plaid underpants (over my tights, mind you), and headed to Forest Park, out of shape and not having any idea what pace I was capable of maintaining, I felt the pre-race anxiety of old creeping up (no pun intended).
You’re running a 5K in underpants, for cryin’ out loud! Just have fun! Sheesh. I hate to break it to you, kiddo, I continued lecturing myself, but you’re not gonna be draped in an American flag at the Olympics anytime soon. Why do you feel the need to meet some arbitrary performance standard? There will always be people faster than you. There will always be people slower than you. So get over yourself.
I’m an excellent self-lecturer.
I’m not sure of the exact moment when I finally decided just to have fun during the 5K, but I think it was when I saw a thousand other runners in a spectacular array of underpants. Don’t get me wrong: I was still going to run hard. I was still going to race. But for the first time in my life, I was going to try to have fun while I was racing a 5K.
The starter’s pistol sounded, and with underpants high and expectations low, I was off.
And wouldn’t you know, the race went really well? (That is, aside from a near-disaster beforehand, when I found myself in the Forest Park Visitor’s Center bathroom at 8:54am and still needing to navigate my way to the Upper Muny parking lot for a 9:00am race start.) Not only did I get to wear underpants over my clothes, but my finish time wasn’t that much slower than my “training” 5K time. It seems all that worrying was for naught. Go figure.
There is a scene in the fantastic movie A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in which a fake Amelia Earhart (played by Amy Adams) explains to Ben Stiller the motivation behind her career.
“Do you know why I became I pilot?” she asks.
“I have… no idea.”
“For the fun of it. Why else would anyone do anything?”
Excellent point, Fake Amelia.
I’ve run by my fair share of parks and playgrounds and front yards. They’re often filled with kids laughing and shrieking and running around in circles. They’re not worried about how fast they’re running. They’re not worried about every second that passes. They’re not worried about fatigue or muscle cramps or starting out too fast or having a gastrointestinal mishap. They simply run. For the fun of it (gastrointestinal mishaps and all).
As runners, we get to run in circles, just for the fun of it. Our circles are bigger—they may be five, ten, twenty miles around—but they’re still circles nonetheless. And if kids don’t worry when they run in circles, neither should we.
Whether we’re out for an afternoon jaunt or racing a PR, running is supposed to be fun. Because it is fun. I mean, fun is the whole reason we run (and race) in the first place, isn’t it? Of course it is.
Sometimes we just need to pull on some Superman underpants as a reminder.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.