On Becoming a Runner (pt. 1)
I can clearly and completely remember the first time I went running for exercise. I was in college, in the early 90’s. I had always been athletic, even pretty fast as a kid, but had, in my gloomy adolescence, shunned all athletic activities. The famous “freshman fifteen” were threatening my body and I was determined to fight them off. My then boyfriend was an athlete who introduced me to the weight room and I signed up for aerobics classes. I watched my diet and not only fought off the fifteen, but went home at semester break almost fifteen pounds lighter than when I started. I soon tired of the classes and was looking for something new. This was before fitness centers and open gyms were on small campuses, and I wouldn’t have even known where to find a treadmill. Just off school grounds, there was a reservoir with a concrete loop around it that was popular for walking and running. The same boyfriend took me out there, new sneakers and all, and gave me some tips. I thought I was in pretty good shape after bouncing around the gym but, upon my first lap, I was completely disheartened. Running hurt, it sucked, my ego was badly bruised and I stopped. I fought with the boyfriend, who lacked the patience for my meltdown, and vowed to never do it again.
But I did...by myself. Slowing it down, learning to breathe. It wasn’t far, it wasn’t fast, but I could do it. I started to sneak glances at Runner’s World magazine, while never feeling like I really joined the club. In my mind, my 3 miles here and there at my 9 minute-mile pace surely did not qualify me as a “runner.” But, over the next few years, I got a little faster, I ran a few 5Ks (I loved racing), a few 5-milers and a few 10Ks. I married the college boyfriend, who took up marathons and triathlons and soon my small races really seemed like nothing, and the sideline years began.
I was the supportive wife, driving around, dropping water bottles around town for him to grab on his long runs. I would cross a few boroughs during the NYC marathon (as support) and I would entertain our kids during the long breaks during his first half-Ironman. I was always at the starting line, the transition areas and the finish line, usually flanked by the kids, usually cheering and usually wishing I was doing the race.
Moving forward a few more years, through a divorce and all that comes with it, I became a certified Spinning instructor and love doing it. I started running again, logging just enough miles to complete 2 Turkey Trot 5-milers, and then I started to feel it. I was teaching a lot of classes and would have horrible heel pain after even running a mile and just figured it was too much for my body.
Because I was enjoying teaching classes, I really didn’t feel too bad about not running. I would often tell myself (and others), “I’m just not a natural runner,” or “My body is just not built for distance running,” or “I’m much more comfortable on the bike.” But deep down, I really missed the challenge. Running was a challenge for me. It didn’t come easy, but that’s what made it so great. I re-visited some "bucket-list" notes I had made years ago and saw the marathons and triathlons listed there. Even though I am great at encouraging others to move beyond plateaus and comfort zones, I couldn't imagine how I could add anything else in to my busy life...