My body houses two distinct people -- a lean, lycra-wrapped runner and the church lady, upholstered in pastels with a dinner roll-soft undulating exterior.  She’s a beast, the church lady. She doesn’t think much of running or runners, huffing around in their undershorts and their watches. Maybe if she cleaned the house properly, she wouldn’t have so much energy, the church lady thinks, and she sets her lips in a thin line and gets after a steaming pot of boiled potatoes. Thwump thwump thwump goes her doughy upper arm. If she had her druthers, this body would fill out a housedress with pillowy bulk and relax when it got the chance, instead of all this ignorant tearing around.

Through a regimen of long runs, plyos, intervals, planks and weights, the runner has suppressed the church lady, so observers see the defined calves and sinewy arms of an athlete.  It’s not easy -- the runner has to work for a middle-of-the-pack finish in a race. The kind of training she does would produce far greater results were she not sharing this earthly frame with the Queen of the Casserole. Down but not out, the church lady asserts herself during periods of injury or nasty winter weather, and within a week my body acquires a certain scalloped potato lumpiness.

The church lady is nothing if not patient. For thirty years, she has put up with this 800 repeat nonsense. Fifteen miles -- ridiculous!  But by jingo, her time has come -- it’s called middle age. Now, on the last step of a long run, the church lady heaves a sigh of relief and starts scrubbing the muscle memory clean so that next time the runner goes out for a long run, huh, it’s as if she’s never run a step. As the runner pushes through the last quarter on the track imagining it will be easier next time, that she’ll be able to do more, faster, the church lady says I don’t think so, with hands on chair-ready hips.

From appearances, the runner still manages the house. But sometimes when she struggles through what should be an easy six miles, she hears a thwump thwump thwump and looks down to see the church lady’s knees, soft and plump like dumplings. The church lady is gaining ground -- repeats are fewer, times are slower, shorts are longer.  She is pleased, and the tiniest bit self-righteous, and when no one is looking, she takes a victory lap around the kitchen, finger raised, eyes on fire, housedress flapping, and chest bumps the Frigidaire.

Sarah Barker, both of her, runs, writes and gets after potatoes in St. Paul, MN.