Starting Out

The lizards are out there doing push-ups every morning. They've reminded me that I can't let this lazy ass be a lazy ass.

I've got to start small, but I've got to start.

Oh, I work hard in the garden, digging and digging and digging so that I hurt every where. But I do that for a week, then I sit on my bottom for another few weeks before I do it again. I can't let the digging be my only regular exercise. It clearly isn't enough. I feel too gooey to be content with digging alone, so running it is.

I had never run much before my senior year of high school. During that year, probably against my own better judgement, I joined my school's cross country team. To join a team where the majority of the girls had been running long distances since pulling themselves out of the womb, had been running even when the temperature was below zero and it hurt to breathe, was to say the least a painful experience.

My coach put me on a strict plan my first week out: run one minute, walk one minute, for two miles. The next week: run five minutes, walk one, for three miles. Pretty soon, I was running five miles without thinking about stopping. While I was able to move my body for relatively long distances within the first few weeks of the season, I wasn't able to move it very quickly. I remember one friend of mine, after seeing me running along the road while he was driving home from school tell me, "Christina, to run, you have to pick up your feet and move them." I've never been a fan of sarcasm; that comment did not go over too well. I was taking small steps, but at least I was taking them, and taking lots of them at that.

As it does for everyone who runs regularly, it got easier and faster. I remember the moment when it felt possible to not just jog along, but really run. I was running a loop near my house, and had turned the corner where I was closest to Lake Minnetonka, just steps away. As I ran through that corner, away from the lake on the second leg of the run towards home, I could feel my knees lift higher with each step and my stride extend. My breathing was in perfect rhythm to my footsteps, and it felt like my heart was right in the physical concert too. Sweating, breathing hard, I didn't feel tired. I felt free and elated. I controlled every single part of my body, from the swinging left hand to the heel-toe step.

At the end-of-season award ceremony, my coach gave me the award for Most Improved. He stood in front of the team, called me forward, and congratulated me on "improving as much as the Grand Canyon is big."

I did it once.

A few years after moving to Pasadena, I took a long meandering walk that led me to the Rose Bowl. The circuit around the stadium was irregularly shaped, skirting the edges of the canyon, and was full of people: strong and weak, fat and slim, old and young. Mothers jogged behind strollers with twins inside, hipsters ran in their hot-colored shoes, middle-aged couples walked their dogs, a handsome young man held his very elderly grandmother's hand as they made their way around. Hundreds of people used this place to exercise and accepted all the other people there too. Seeing these people, I knew I could feel good about running here.

I began again, following my old coach's routine for me. I would run frequently at the same time, and eventually, I built a no-introduction, no-name, no-conversation running relationship with a middle-aged man who had a similar schedule to me. We would frequently encounter each other at the southwest corner of the circuit, fall in stride with each other, and after a few paces, begin to race. We'd race each other as fast as we reasonably could (considering that neither of us were track-star-material and both of us were working this race into the middle of a longer run) down the length of the circuit to the other end. Once there, we'd just stop racing. The winner would continue at his or her pace, and the loser at his or her own. The only thing he ever said to me was "good run."

I did it a second time, but then I stopped. Time to start again.

What running teaches: I've done it before. I can do it again.

Sweet Braised Whole Scallions

From Molly Steven's All About Braising
What to do with scallions? Cook them? Really? Yes.

Put them in the oven, go for a run, come back and finish these babies off, to end up with a succulent pan of mild onion-y goodness. To counteract all the positive benefits of that run, you could top these with a shower of fried bread crumbs, but they're wonderful the way they are. This is an extremely flexibly recipe that I modified a bit to make for a larger crowd, but I'll share it as originally published so that you can play with it as you like.

You will need:
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 pound scallions, roots and scraggly tips trimmed away
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon or parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice to taste

To make the dish:
Heat the oven to 350 and smear most of the butter all over the bottom and sides of a 9x13" baking dish. Lay half of the onions lengthwise along the bottom of the dish with the bulbs against a short end. Lay the other half of the onions the other direction so that the greens overlap in the middle of the pan.

Pour the water over the onions, cut up the remaining butter into tiny pieces (or smudges) and drop over the onions, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your herb of choice, cover with tinfoil, and place the whole thing in the oven to braise for 35-40 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish and raise the heat to 450. Roast the scallions for 20 minutes, then shake the pan back and forth to coat the scallions with the glaze that will have formed. Continue to roast the onions until all the liquid evaporates and they delicious brown caramelized edges. Squirt with a spray of lemon juice and serve.

This should serve six folks, whether they've gone running that day or not.


Lucy said…
What is that extraordinary fourth image??!!! Beautiful.

I took up running rather later than 33. I'd been living wih my partner (one of those from-the-womb runners) and began to feel lazy - he goes for a huge run most days. Though still slow and steady, I love those moments when your legs and arms and lungs work as you know they always should have done. I get stronger each run, but it's my brain that I wish I could conquer. It always wants to wander...

Scallions look great. I've got that book - must actually use it because these look exquisite.

Thanks, as always.
I always end up throwing out scallions. I get the one or two into the dish I am making and never know what to do with the rest. This is a brilliant recipe!
This runner is still one of the slowest around and has now got a terrible desire to eat scallions - which could be a problem as she's not even growing them!
ann said…
I am so in love with running right now. I think about it all the time, and want to do it all the time, but I have to be so careful with my body. My knees and my ligaments and my back just aren't as willing to cooperate as the rest of me. I need to find someone to race, obviously!
Anonymous said…
Love to run at night. It's easier to run than to garden consistently, I've found.
Christina said…
Lucy: That is a little chunk of bees' nest that I found laying around; the background is the texture of my leather work glove. Isn't it wonderful?

Meghan: I know, that has been my problem too! But now I'm trying to find all sorts of way to cook with them. If you come up with more ideas, send them my way.

The Allotment Blogger: This year is my first year growing scallions, and they're not even typical scallions, but the tops of Egyptian onions I toss in the ground to get good greens early in the year. Perhaps someone near you has a little patch of Egyptian (topsetting) onions? They're super-easy to grow.

Ann: I hope you're body becomes more willing to cooperate with you.

Altadenahiker: Where do you run at night? Rose Bowl? What other place can you suggest that is safe and lit? I'd love to broaden my horizons.
Anonymous said…
I run in my own hood. From Lake/Athens up to Walpello, down to Lincoln and back. Usually I run with my lab. Traffic is pretty minimal, but i carry something white to make sure I'm seen in headlights. (I run against traffic.)
Wendy said…
Really needed to read this post today. I've got out of the running habit this year and began again just last week. Became totally disheartened at how difficult it felt and have been avoiding going out again.
Thank you.
Sara Reddy said…
I've always been completely struck with the little lizards doing their quick push-ups in the sun... and until now I had wondered if anyone else noticed it. (Oh, and thank you for the braised onion idea, and for reminding me to get off my own lazy ass. I need a little reminding now and then.)
Christina said…
AH: Thanks for the suggestion.

Wendy: It's tough; I completely hear you there. Yesterday as I made my slow way to the very top of Lincoln Avenue, every part of me hurt. But the payoff felt so good. Man, I love endorphins.

Sara Reddy Coyne: Aren't the lizards funny? They crack me up with their calisthenics.

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