Wild City // Step by step

One of the charming things about my husband is his attitude toward Lake Harriet. Though he has lived in Minneapolis for some 30 years, and near Harriet for 15, every time we walk or drive along the lake, he says, “It is so beautiful. We are lucky to live in a city with a lake like this.”

I think to myself, “And I am lucky to be married to a man whose appreciation for what he loves never dims.”

On a recent September morning we walked around the lake in preparation for a race called the Monster Dash, which will be held here this year on Oct. 30. It was one of those cool, sunny fall mornings that promise everything, and, sure enough, as we set out, we saw a kingfisher, our favorite bird. Just before we finished up, we heard a loon calling.

My husband ran marathons when he was younger, but preparing together for walking events was new for us last fall when we trained for a half-marathon to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research. My husband has non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

I’m 55, and have had various mid-life complaints: issues with my knees, my lower back, my right shoulder, my wrists and my eyes. I have bunions, off-center kneecaps, and a tendency to round my shoulders. Those 15 pounds I gained in my 40s settled in to stay. You do not look at me and think, “athlete.”

But I’m now stronger than I have ever been. It happened in stages. A few years back our daughter rowed crew on the Mississippi River for the summer. I dropped her off and picked her up, and it began to register on me how fit she and the other rowers were becoming. I thought, “You know, I’d like to be more fit myself.”

I joined the Y, and got a free session with a Pilates instructor. I couldn’t do much that first time, as my muscles and I hadn’t been on speaking terms, but I liked the instructor right off. She was straightforward and encouraging. Clearly, she knew her stuff.

I began to work with her, and to take longer bike rides. I commuted downtown to teach, which is about an 18-mile round trip. I had more power on my bike, more stamina, from the Pilates. A light went on: what I gained from Pilates would carry over into things I did, or wanted to do, for fun. This was a real motivator.

When my husband and I decided last fall to walk the half-marathon (13.1 miles), we worked with Team in Training, of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to learn the ropes. Over the four-month training period, he and I did many of our walks around Lake Harriet, adding in Calhoun, and then finally Isles on a memorable late afternoon and early evening.

After the sun set on that December day (the trails around the lakes are plowed and sanded in the winter) the wind chill dropped to -5 degrees (we learned afterward), but we trucked on, bundled to the hilt, and determined to get our walk in.

Since I turned 50, I’ve been trying not to freak out about aging. I told a physical therapist, who was helping me with an injured shoulder, that I had quietly developed a goal. I wanted to see how fit I could be when I reached 60. Hilariously, she, a woman in her 40s, in a career that might have shaped her thinking otherwise, looked at me and said, “I’ll be happy if I’m alive when I’m 60.” OK then.

My husband and I walked the 10-mile version of the Monster Dash last year as a training walk for our half-marathon. The Monster Dash is a Halloween event, and some participants dress up in costumes. One person actually did the race in a gorilla suit. My husband and I each got a pair of gossamer wings, and pipe-cleaner antennae, and went as mosquitoes. We had flexible straws hanging out of our mouths for sucking blood.

The wings were so beautiful that everyone thought we were butterflies. To see my husband, a big guy, 6 foot 3, with these wings on was a major hoot. Someone in the crowd would yell, “Oh, butterflies,” and my husband would go over, and say, “No, we are mosquitoes,” and we’d all laugh.

The Monster Dash begins on Lake Harriet, and then goes along Minnehaha Creek. One of the highlights for me last year was seeing a sign held up by a spectator that read, “Light Feet.” We were training, in part, to get out from under heavy feelings that had come over us when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Light feet, and lighter hearts, that’s what walking around the lakes gives us.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.