How I Accidentally Became a Runner
It wasn't long ago that I thought running was rather ridiculous. Just observe the face of any road-side jogger as you maneuver around him with your car. Does he ever look like he's actually enjoying himself?! Probably not.
Yet behind the anguished expression and sweaty mop, that guy is likely out there for the same reason as every other runner you pass. The runner's high is an orgasmic, addictive feeling that, though fleeting and often elusive, is well worth the exhausting effort. A post-run beer tastes about ten times as good as one you didn't work to earn. And, pain and pleasure are one and the same when it comes to the sore, tired muscles you drag around the next day. It's the ache of accomplishment.
The smiley girl in the bottom right-hand corner of picture to the left is me, the non-runner, finishing my first Half Marathon. And, here's the story of how I became the girl with a numbered bib and Brooks-brand trainers (that's Brit slang for running shoes, Yankees) who actually likes running 13.1 miles at a time.
My firstborn was about ready to give up nursing, which meant I had to fulfill a promise I'd made to myself. I had to start exercising. While I had shed all the baby weight I'd gained during pregnancy (and then some), I felt that the moment I ceased to breastfeed was the moment I ceased to have an excuse not to be active. See, nursing burns 500 calories a day, and with that burns all of your energy. It's pretty cool to sit on the couch with your suckeling bundle of sweetness doing all the work for you, but along with the perk of being skinny, came the drawback of feeling weak. I wanted to toughen, and strengthen, and I felt an exercise plan was the way to go as soon as baby was through with the boob.
It just so happens that around the time my milk production days were over, I was also quite overwhelmed at work. There was a lot going on, and without getting into juicy corporate details, we'll just say I needed an outlet. So, one weekday evening, lactationless me rooted through the front closet, unearthed some beat up old TJMaxx-deal-of-the-day sneaks, and hit the pavement.
It felt SO great to just hammer out all my stress on that road. I live on a circle of a street, and it measures out as a near-perfect half mile loop. I ran two laps, dying, but thrilled. Next night, I did it again, adding a lap. Before I knew it, I went from a deathly half-mile to a strong, confident 5K. While I'd dabbled in running as a teenager, it never really spoke to me. Now, it was exactly what I needed, and I was hooked. I was a runner!
The rest of the month was full of little, personal, after-dark 5K's. After eight or so of them, it became quite clear that my bargain-basement shoes were going to kill me, however. I spent a few weeks hardly able to walk, with advice from my marathoning neighbors (who'd seen me racing our neighborhood track) that I just might want to slow down a bit. I couldn't tell you how fast I'd been running then, as I wasn't about to be bothered with timing myself. Yet if these folks thought of me as a speed demon, I'm sure it was too fast for my own good. The knives that suddenly took up residence in the backs of my ankles were also a pretty reliant source; I wasn't being a "smart" runner. Too far, too fast, too quickly. Well, darn it.
I partially have my runner hubby to blame. He'd encouraged me to stick with running for a month or so before investing in fancy footwear. I can't point my finger too harshly, as yes, I'm notorious for starting new hobbies and ventures, only to lose interest a few weeks later. But we'll just say he felt TERRIBLE to see me limping along as a result of his own, damaging advice. I felt equally terrible, completely forced to give up my new favorite stress-reliever, not to mention now having difficulty with the necessary act of walking. I feared I'd never run again. But, that didn't stop me from buying a real pair of running shoes, from a real, running shoe store.
A few weeks and a hundred dollars later, I was back in business. My first re-do run was during our summer beach vacation, and it rocked my world in the good way. The seascape awed me, the ocean breeze delighted me, and the fresh, salty air all but gave me wings. Upon coming home, the new challenge was now in settling for my boring street without losing interest.
The Shoes that Saved Me: - Worth every penny.
Recognized as the “best update” by Runner’s World, you know the Adrenaline GTS 11 by Brooks brings the best in both cutting-edge technology and performance-enhancing design to your training. In fact, you feel it in every step with this shoe’s dynamic arch saddle plus the unique and innovative DNA cushioning system that adapts precisely to your own physiology and running style. The result is a running shoe that feels like it was custom made just for you.
- Amazon.com Review
Enter Trisha. We've been friends for over a decade, and we have the world of social media to thank for reuniting us after losing touch in the post-college years. Because we live so close to each other (7.6 miles, to be precise), it was a great excuse to meet up and run. Our first jaunt together bore the slogan "4 miles or bust!" as I don't believe either of us had ever braved more than 3.5 in one shot. We were quite perfectly matched.
Trisha, however, was far more into the running world than me. She had her Vibram 5-fingers before they had reached phenomenon status. She had a chunky, techy watch with lots of buttons. She had clothes that were made for running, hydration belts, GUs, and all the other schwag that runners use to enhance performance. Meanwhile, I carried a bottle from my husband's fuel belt, MacGyver'ed to my waist with a hair elastic and a big rubber band (a system, I must admit, I still use to this day). Each run, she'd ask me how far I wanted to go. My reply was always the same: "It's up to you. It's not like I'm training for anything."
Though Trisha wasn't officially training either, the words "Half Mary" were on her lips every other step. For awhile, it was in the context of "I'm not sure I could ever run 13.2 miles..." but I could tell she already had her mind made up that she was doing one in the early spring. Eventually, she bit the bullet and signed up for the Great Bay Half in early April. I continued to come along for the ride, agreeing to 6 and 7 mile runs with the thought that I had nothing to lose should I accidentally over-do it again.
Another reason Trisha and I were well-matched is because we both love running in cold weather. Her training (and my non-training) spanned over the dead of winter, thus the majority of our runs were in below-freezing temps. I can remember the look of shock on my Mother-in-Law's face on Christmas Eve as I suited up for a run with snow flurries swirling outside the window. Our January Jaunts and February Frolics were some of my favorite runs together, as braving the icy streets and sub-zero windchills gave me an air of bad-assedness that I'd never experienced before.
After hitting 9.7 slushy miles with Trish on one grey afternoon in the last week of February, I decided it would almost be stupid NOT to sign up for the half marathon in question. While I'd never run a race, never timed myself on a solo run, and certainly never considered the notion of paying a fee to run, it would definitely be an accomplishment.
The day before my birthday, I told my husband I'd finally made up my mind: I was registering for the race. As a very motivated, driven, enthusiastic, think-big kind of guy, I figured he'd be ecstatic. So, I was rather blindsided by his adversity to the idea. "I think you should wait a little longer," he said. It kinda caused (okay, it did cause) a fight. He kept up his less-than-convincing side of the argument for a good ten minutes before I defiantly hit the "Register Me!" button on the Great Bay Half Marathon online registration form. Then, my husband spilled his beans:
"I signed us both up for the Wallis Sands Half Marathon in May as part of a birthday present to you."
We look back on this moment and laugh... but at the time, I'm pretty sure I went into panic mode. In mere seconds, I'd gone from never running a race in my 31 year long life, to being signed up for not one, but TWO half marathons, which were only a month apart from each other. While it was sweet that my husband had utter confidence in me (so much so that he decided to do what he thought I never would and commit me to a Bona fide distance race), it was also, um... ballsy to make the decision for me. "I didn't think you'd ever do it, but I knew you could, and I wanted to help give you the experience," he justified. It actually was a great idea- it's just that neither of us expected me to have the same idea.
Along with an experience, he also gave me a Garmin watch. Funny enough, it was the same exact watch Trisha had; ugly, yet topnotch. And thus, it got a lot of use in that next month. Those watches beeple-boppled in unison as we kicked it into high gear, obsessing over our pace, and completing each run down to the perfect tenth of the day's desired mile.
I'll take Things You Don't Want Printed on the Back of Your First Ever Complimentary Tech-wic Race Tee for $1000, Alex. I hadn't ever run more than ten miles in one sweep. And, most of my longer runs were on fairly flat terrain. So, when I picked up my race number and tee at the expo on the day before the race, I started to wonder what the heck I'd gotten myself into. Then, Trish and I drove the course, chiding ourselves, "It's not that bad, right?" as we lurched over hill after dirt-road hill. My stress-relieving activity had just become altogether stress-inducing. Ackkk!
I could go into great detail over the race itself, but this story isn't about running my first race. It's about how I became a runner: by accident. It wasn't my intention to run long distances, never mind do it timed, in a pack of people. But, I did. And, I lived up to my new tee shirt, too. I smiled every step of the way.
The old saying goes, "You can do anything if you put your mind to it." Well, I have a revision. How's about:
"You can do anything, if you don't put your mind to it."
In other words, sometimes our rationale is our own worst foe. If I'd set out on that first haphazard jog in my shitty shoes with the knowledge that by springtime, I'd be running a distance greater than my daily commute to work…? Gosh, I would have freaked out, and listed a million-and-one reasons why I'd never be able to go that far. Even if I'd believed I was physically capable, I'm sure I'd have disclaimed that there just weren't enough hours in a day for me to commit to a training schedule. Yet, by not committing, by simply doing something I liked to do, I achieved what I never knew I could.
Me & Trisha, and two well deserved pints at the Red Hook Brewery in costal Portsmouth, NH.
These days, I’m back to three mile stints around town. Just the other day was my coldest run to date – 9 degrees. I’m totally not kidding when I say I enjoyed it immensely! My original drive to run habitually was in order to strengthen myself. I can happily say that it worked, as running has made me a physically and mentally stronger person, as well as one that’s more tolerant of the cold.
It’s hard to say what my future in racing looks like. Quite truthfully, I’m most drawn to the simplicity of the sport: just walk the door and start moving. (With some intelligence, that is.)