Two of the most important elements of my first attempt at running were fiber-based. One was the fabric of the outfit I was wearing. This was a thick "fleece" of the polar-tek variety, although not specifically Polar-Tek™. I think it had been purchased at Target, and was a generous gift from my in-laws. It had mildly sporty racing stripes on it, but it was hearty, and thick. Not like your basic fall hiking fleece, but more the type Joe Pesce would have worn in an early-90s film wherein he whacks people. It was a pullover, but with a half-zipper, presumably for temperature control and/or cubic-zirconium nameplate visibility. In any case, I chose it because it was the closest thing to a "sporty" garment I owned.
That hunter-green non-gym-standard garment would have been, of course, an Extra Large, if not the dreaded XXL. The date was roughly February 1, 2002. I had begun Weight Watchers two weeks earlier and knew that, in order to seriously lose weight, I'd have to begin exercising. Running seemed easiest.
The other important fibrous mass was my beard. Always of questionable quality and cut, it remained red after the rest of my hair had gone brownish, except that now, after a particularly harrowing year at work, it sported two vivid white patches, one on each side of my chin. But I kept it on like an old beloved pet or a stuffed animal—and nothing hides (and emphasizes) spare chins quite so well as a thick beard. I don't know whether you have a beard, but, well, beards are great on cold days, and they're terrible with sweat.
I trundled my ass out of bed early that twenty-degree morning, put on a truly humungous Carhartt coat over my Thick-n-Hearty Fleece™ and stalked down Austin Street to the New York Sports Club I had chosen for my triumphant debut. I believe I may have been "pumped" at the time, although I would only have recognized it then as a vague feeling of doom.
Is it really a memoir if you don't remember anything? I don't truly remember anything after entering the gym. I know I didn't use the locker room, because I lived up the street. I know I was in an upstairs room with open windows facing the street, staggering along on a treadmill with a gray dawn outside, feeling an icy slice of cold air on my throat, which was (by the second or third minute) emitting the sounds that Czech scientists recently reported hearing from the throats of Aral Sea sturgeon in their death throes. I know that I set the blasted machine for fifteen minutes, but it may have been twelve and I hope the truth is not in a database somewhere waiting to destroy my career. I leaned forward and pushed off, and ran for whatever time and at whatever slow pace I had entered.
Fleece is supposed to "wick" moisture. Wicking. Heh.
So I do remember not wanting to put my Carhartt back on, because I had sweated so profusely that the fleece clung to me like a paper-thin wifebeater, and the Carhartt was my "good" coat (that was the style in them days). I remember feeling the sweat freezing, slowly, in my beard as I shambled home up the street. I remember how hot my face was, after running for the first time, despite my frozen beard, the frigid air, and the freshening breeze that came up with the pale winter sun.
And this morning, almost six years later, I noticed again the heat in my clean-shaven face, finishing a short four-miler in my size-M shirt, feeling that same warmth, which I now know is the flush of victory.