It's been a slow courtship between running and me. Lots of ups and downs, highs and lows, and false starts (the first running pun but certainly not the last!). Even now, I can't say that I love it. In fact, I actually still really dislike running much of the time. But after a summer of consistently sweating it out, I can finally say I have a new perspective. I managed to change my relationship with running from one of fear and loathing to respect and appreciation, and I think that's as close to a runner's high as I'm ever going to get.
This isn't a how-to on creating a running habit or morphing from couch potato to Ironman. It's about much more than that for me, and I suspect many other people as well. The biggest lesson I've learned from the last few months of training is to appreciate the practice of doing something hard. The reward is in proving wrong that mean voice in your head and reaching a goal you couldn't have gotten close to in the past. It's a road worth taking, my friends!
When it comes to exercise, my default setting has always been that I can't do something. Not one of the standouts on day one of basketball practice? Must not be my thing. Didn't memorize the entire dance routine after one walk-through? I'm just not 'a natural'. Struggled with the warm-up lap (a quarter mile) at track practice? Better hide out with the throwing team, even though I have the upper body strength of a T-Rex. What an absolutely ridiculous mindset. What was I thinking? I was too scared to even try out for the high school dance team. Looking back now, I'm bummed for that version of myself and what she missed out on because of fear.
But back to running-- I still wonder if long stretches on the road will ever come naturally for me. A few decades of inconsistent trying and eight weeks of diligent training and I’m still waiting. Where is that magical second wind, that runner’s high, that effortless experience people talk about but I can’t seem to find whether it’s the first or fifth mile? (Look at me acting all casual about five miles! I have run that distance exactly two times in my life. Saturday, March 16, 2013, and Sunday, July 30, 2017.) Of course there’s nothing better than the feeling right after you finish a run, all sweaty and full of satisfaction. The endorphins are flowing and you’re dreaming about the extra calories you’ll be able to eat. (Oh, just me? Disregard.) But now, it’s more than that. Each completed run is a goal accomplished. It’s taking all the stories I’ve been telling myself about my athletic ability or self-discipline or circumstance, and tossing them in the garbage where they belong.
One song that will always remain on my running playlist (which will also always remain out-of-date and lame by any cool kid standards) is Mean, by Taylor Swift. Tay sings about a bitter jerk who points out her flaws and is ruthlessly, well…mean, for no reason. Working in TV news, I’ve had plenty of run-ins with such characters, from bosses to viewers, and especially my own inner critic. And that rude roommate in my head—that is exactly who I’m singing to as I push through the third mile and I don’t.stop.running., even when walking would probably be faster than my painfully slow jog.
If you're considering getting back on the running wagon, I hope my experience can be the encouragement you need. I've only done one run since my 10K, but I fully intend to keep it going. I'll wrap this up with a few tips for my fellow reluctant runners. Let me know if any of them work for you!
1. Awkward Smiles: be that girl/guy who smiles at runners, walkers, dogs, tourists, etc. Am I the only one who does this?? I feel so goofy at times, but I can't resist the urge to say hello and mentally send the message, "HI, I AM RUNNING, DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THIS IS FOR ME?! WOOHOO!"
2. Tourists: These people are your saviors. I can only imagine the number of family photos featuring the Washington Monument that are on Facebook right now because of yours truly. As I was training and desperate for little breaks, I practically accosted people on the National Mall. Sure I'll take your picture!!
3. Great Views: What a gift it has been to train in Washington D.C. I highly recommend finding a beautiful neighborhood/backdrop/streetscape to explore. Now I get why runners say it's the best way to see a new city.
4. Running Buddy: Huge shout out to my sister-friend, Cody, for getting me to sign up for training and inspiring me all along the way. Juggling a husband, a toddler and grad school but 100% dedicated to Hal Higdon. Well done, my friend!! We really did it. I'm not crying, you're crying.
5. Training Schedule -- sign up for a race!! I'm a certified penny pincher, so spending on the money on a race really sealed the deal for me. Plus it's a date on the calendar. It's real. It's public. Just do it!!
Thanks for reading,