If you are someone with a fitness habit, people notice and sometimes in creepy ways:
|At Black Rock Lake in early Spring, blending in|
"Four," thinking she was asking me how many I was planning to do. I was wrong.
"Well I counted THREE!" She yelled, somewhat indignantly.
"Uh, I'm doing four though. Have a good day, ma'am"
So you're counting my loops?
Some weeks after this exchange, I was at the local post office rushing to get my son's camp forms in the mail. It was already extremely hot out and happened to be a recovery day. A mail carrier whom I had never, ever seen walked into the small post office after bringing in some baby chicks that he hadn't been able to leave on the porch (I do live in rural Georgia). "Good afternoon!" I shouted. He then looked and me, cocking his head and remarked in a gently lilting North Georgia Mountains accent, "I didn't see you out there exercising today yet. Better git out there before it gets too hot!"
Hunh? Have we met?
OK, I get it. It's hard NOT to notice me in my small town in the Appalachian foothills. I'm big, I'm black, and sometimes I run with an intricately carved walking stick.
|Daily Pre-Dawn Campus Run|
And this at least once a week a student says "Ms. Valerio I saw you out there again this morning. It was like 5:30. Are you NUTS?!? Don't you like to sleep?"
Get back to bed so you don't fall asleep in my class later on.
|Another Gorgeous Early Morning Campus Run|
If you are someone with a running obsession and a blog, people notice in very awesome ways:
Wait, what? Hunh? WHAT? The WALL STREET EFFIN JOURNAL? (Actual language edited for public consumption) When I got an email from Rachel Bachman, a writer for WSJ asking if she could talk to me about my blog and my experiences with running for an article she was working on, my heart stopped beating for a few seconds and this time not from some imagined heart attack. I ran out of the room hyperventilating and hastily replied in a toned down, more professional version of YES! OMG! YES! NO WAY! HOLY CRAP! ME????
After a phone interview the very next day and the sharing of more information and photos, a short photo shoot was set up with the enormously talented Tammi Nowack, photographer, friend and neighbor. This was moving entirely too fast. Disbelief abounded.
The article "Weight Loss or Not, Exercise Yields Benefits" was published on February 9 of this year, to my absolute delight and astonishment. Things started to change. Hits on the blog increased and my Facebook BLEW UP. People wanted to read what I, a fat girl from Brooklyn, had to say about running and fitness.
I'm not gonna lie, it was very cool (and continues to be) and I was HYPE for days afterwards.
Things calmed down a bit and I was back into my routine, training for the Lenape Trail 34 (which I DNFed because several polar vortices had decided to mess with my plans), prepping my Spanish students for their AP exam, finishing up with the school musical production, and getting ready for Spring break.
Amenability and Anxiety
I had just gotten ready to go for a short afternoon run when my phone buzzed with an email notification whose subject line was "Runner's World Story"; I thought that it was odd for my weekly Runner's World email to be in my work email. Hmmm? Had I signed up for more emails? I took a second look at the email and gasped.
John Brant, the long time writer at Runner's World (who wrote that lengthy piece about the pit bulls who had attacked that family on a trail run a few years ago) had just asked me if I wouldn't mind being featured in an upcoming issue of the magazine. "Would you be amenable to this project?" he asked.
WOULD I BE AMENABLE TO THIS PROJECT??? HELLZ YEAH, I WOULD!
Again, toning down what could have been an incoherently incredulous and happy response, I replied with something to the effect of "Sure that would be great-thanks and I'm so honored-let's chat next week..." not having ANY idea of the awesomeness that was to come.
We spoke the following Tuesday, with my family in Brooklyn keeping a close ear on the barely audible conversation, something about the concrete and metal walls in the projects....
Could he come down to Georgia and hang out for a few days, interviewing me, observing me at work, running with me? You know, fly down from Oregon? Maybe he could come and hang out with me while I volunteered for the Georgia Death Race?
Was he for real? He was going to fly out from OREGON? To interview ME? My son wasn't impressed in his typical pre-teen way. "Runner's World? Never heard of it. And anyway mom, that's like, stalking."
We made arrangements for him to come to the North Georgia Mountains the week before Easter break when I would have a few long blocks of time to "hang out" and run before, during, and after my work day.
I looked forward to this meeting with both excitement and tremendous anxiety. Was he really coming? I wouldn't believe it until he actually showed up. Would he be disappointed in what he thought could be a story, but really wasn't a viable, marketable story? Would he ask me questions that could potentially make me very, very angry or insecure?
|John Brant and I after a run around Black Rock Lake|
I enjoyed the back and forth of our hours-long interview, the serious, funny, and even probing questions. The opportunity to talk about my running, musical, and teacher life with an award winning journalist and sports writer who was interested in me was thoroughly exhilarating.
I would still be in a state of disbelief. Would he really write the article? Maybe he had just wasted four days of his life hanging out with this teacher of adolescents?
Again, I returned to my routine. I DNFed at the Double Tap 50K, did long training runs on the weekends, got nominated for a musical director award, hung out with my boy, and prepared for the end of the school year. Two weeks before school ended, I got a call from the photo editor at RW. Would I be available for a shoot with the incredibly gifted documentary photographer Bryan Meltz the following week? Another editor sent me a 20 page single-spaced fact-checking document to look over and revise, and would I answer this question and could I verify that? Also, could I scan a million selfies and pics and label them all by yesterday?
And it's the end of the school year and I'm totally stressed out and hubby is sick and I have a toothache and a cold and OMGTHISISREALLYHAPPENING
|Bryan Meltz, Photographer|
The photoshoot was an experience like none other. My own personal paparazza! SHIT JUST GOT REAL (in your best Kevin Hart voice...) Bryan arrived at 5:45 in the morning and almost immediately started clicking away while I ran with colleagues and students, and then stayed for almost 11 hours artistically documenting every aspect of my day. What an absolutely heady experience!
Fast forward to a few days ago when someone on the NBMA (National Black Marathoners Association) Facebook happened to post a pic from the magazine and asked if the person in the article was part of the group. I responded with a a resounding YES! That's ME!
The response both in real life and on social media has been incredible and overwhelmingly positive. I am on cloud nine, and cannot sleep yet again because of the excitement. A few people on the trail at the Finger Lakes 50s this past weekend stopped and asked me if I was the one in Runner's World. One even asked to take a selfie with me! Wow.
John Brant's ability to tell my story in such an exceedingly honest and beautiful way tugged at my heartstrings. His writing is evocative and descriptive, giving the reader a real window into someone who loves running for the run of it but, non-traditionally so. I love that he did this for me and for all of us who need to see more people that look like us in both print and electronic media. I love that the Wall Street Journal AND Runner's World took huge risks in focusing positively on people who are not thin but are seriously active nonetheless.
I am truly grateful and humbled beyond words.
|Photo by Bryan Meltz|