“The biggest mistake newbies make is not stretching,” the lady in the hot pink jogging suit said. Her ponytail bobbed as she reached for her toes, did jumping jacks, and did countless other stances that Jackie was certain her body was not created to do.
As she looked across the crowd, she realized she was the only one with black sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Her no-name 5-year-old shoes made her feel even more out of place. Her effort to fit in had failed epically.
“We can do this,” her friend had said, “come on, it will be fun.” Jackie had agreed, not because she wanted to train for a 5K but because she knew it would be better than sitting in front of the TV with a carton of double chocolate brownie ice cream.
Then Michelle had won a series of ribbons in local horse shows and she was invited to an elite state competition. Jackie was happy to watch her friend succeed, but she hated being left in the class alone.
Running was not her idea of fun.
“If you have completed 5Ks before, please line up beside the sign with your pace so we don’t slow anyone down,” the instructor called.
Jackie watched as people jogged off to various time markers, and she kept trying to stretch in an effort to blend in as much as possible.
“First timer?” the instructor asked as her perky petite body fell into cadence with her ponytail.
“I thought this was a training class,” Jackie said. “Why am I the only new one?”
“Lots of people take these classes to better their time. Just fall in the back and do your best. No one will sweep you off the track. You would be surprised at how much momentum a little bit of competition can give you.”
Jackie convinced herself to give it a try. She had a cell phone in case she had to call 9-1-1, and she had nothing better to do.
Jackie turned to find the voice and realized that someone had fallen in beside her.
“Yep, first time.” She glanced over to find a handsome dirty blonde standing about two inches taller than herself. His mismatched gym shorts and a tank top made him stand out too. “Glad I’m not the only one that isn’t dressed for the occasion.”
They quickly fell in step with each other and they started chatting between Jackie’s gasps for breaths.
“What got you into this?” she asked.
“It was a weight loss thing for me,” he said.
“You don’t look like you need to lose weight,” she said.
“Not now, but believe it or not I have lost 170 pounds over the last couple of years.”
“Wow! That’s a lot. What motivated you?”
“Running actually. I always wanted to complete a 5K.”
“And here you are,” she said.
“Yep, here I am. And you? What’s your story?”
“A friend was supposed to join me. This is really her thing. I was just trying to support her, but she had something come up.”
“And here you are,” he said.
“Yep, here I am.”
“What do you do when you aren’t modeling the latest sweats?” he joked.
“Don’t think I don’t notice how different I look,” she said.
“Sorry, I’m not great at small talk.”
“No biggie,” she said. “Me either. People aren’t really my thing. I’m a dog person.”
His eyes made a quick sweep of her body. “You don’t look like a dog person,” he laughed. “You look like a human person.”
“I mean I raise dogs. I am a trainer.”
“Yea, I train show dogs at Jackie’s Blue Ribbon.”
“Wait a minute, wasn’t that place just on the news?”
“Yep, we trained the three Best in Class and the Best in Show at last week’s annual event.”
“So you are kind of a big deal.”
“In some circles,” she huffed. “But not in this circle I can assure you. This running thing is going to kill me. I’m used to teaching little dogs to prance. I’m not built for this.”
“I hear you. I have three big dogs myself. They’ll keep you on your toes for sure. I actually adopted Goldie to have a running partner.”
They spent the next two miles connecting over dog stories. Before she knew it, the run was over.
“You did it,” he said, with a congratulatory high five.
“You too! Good job,” she said. “You need to stick with this class to keep me motivated.”
“Hey Mike!” the instructor yelled. “When did you get here?”
She jogged her hot pink suit over to give him a peck on the cheek. Any smidgen of a connection that Jackie felt with her classmate suddenly vanished.
“You met our newbie?” the instructor asked.
“Yea, she did great!” Mike said.
“Way to hang in there. Keep it up and you’ll get faster in no time.”
As the instructor jogged off, Jackie looked at him for an explanation.
“Mike? So I take it this wasn’t your first run,” she said.
“No, it wasn’t,” he admitted. “But I never said it was. You just assumed.” He flashed a smile that somehow made the miscommunication ok. “I actually run a 5K every weekend. I attend a class every day just to hang out with the newbies.”
“Why? Easy targets?”
“Actually, it just wasn’t too long ago that I was a newbie too, and I have clocked two wins already this year.”
“Wow. Impressive,” she agreed. “Well I’m signed up for Tuesdays and Thursdays, so if you don’t mind being in the back of the pack, I’d love to have a training partner.”
“I would love to do that. And if you happen to want to, maybe we could meet on Friday as well. Take our dogs to the park? Get a little extra running in. Maybe grab a bite to eat,” he said with a nervous twitch in his wide smile.
She smiled back. “You’ll dress better, right?”