It may have been a weak moment. I blame February. February is cold, dark, and confining, just the thing that would make me agree to something on a whim that I might regret later.
In February I sat down to lunch with some friends, and an hour later returned to my office having agreed to participate in a 5K run in which the sole purpose — other than charity — is to be repeatedly colour-bombed until you stumble away resembling a technicolor Smurf.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Just one problem, though. I am not a runner. I’m not even particularly fit. I’m the type of person who pokes around the edges of fitness the way small children play with their vegetables instead of eating them. Kickboxing was fun, but that wasn’t so much for the fitness as for the opportunity to hit things repeatedly and with substantial force. Then I tried an early morning mixed fitness class with a perky trainer named Brian* [*note: His name may have been changed to protect his identity.** (**Or maybe not.)], but he was a bit too happy for my sleepy, under-caffeinated self. He would stand there all smily and smug with his arms crossed as we alternated between weights, cardio, and standing on our heads. I was not amused. Then there was a spin class in which the instructor would try to motivate us with visualizations, like imagining we were passing a dump truck on the highway. Really? Chasing imaginary vehicles on a stationary bike gave me an inkling of what my cat must go through in pursuit of the pesky red dot. Finally I settled on swimming — a good, low-impact, full-body workout that also provides stress relief, provided you’re not stuck with a bunch of noobs who can’t read signs and swim in the wrong direction. If there was such a thing as aqua-kickboxing that involves pretending to drown perky trainer Brian and people who swim in the wrong direction, I’d be all set. But there’s not.
This brings us back to running. Clearly, not my first choice. Or even my second or third* [*or fourth depending on whether you count the time I tripped over an aerobics step before the class even started...]. Suffice it to say, it’s probably a good thing that I just said “yes” to the 5K without thinking, because if I had enough time to think, I surely would have found plenty of reasons not to do it. In the end, however, I chose to do it for pretty much only one reason:
Because I can’t.
General fitness woes aside, running has always been the thing I sucked the most at. I couldn’t even run a convincing three-legged race in grade school, never mind a race in which I wasn’t being dragged along by another person strapped to my leg.
I think that’s precisely why I feel compelled to do it now. It’s not (just) about fitness. It’s about resetting my own expectations. You see, the part of me that says “I don’t run” is the same part that once fled in a cold sweat at the very mention a black tie dinner and the necessity *gasp* of an evening gown, the same part of me that then confronted a Spanx-loving dress Nazi and lived to tell the tale. Somehow, that part of me emerged not only in an evening gown, but with a newfound sense of possibility and a love of bright and happy shoes. So, red shoe, blue shoe, green shoe, running shoe? Why the hell not?
But let’s not be fooled by optimism. Running is hard. Beginning running, especially when you’re about as nimble and fleet-footed as a pair of Clydesdales, is really hard. And not hating it? Sigh.
You hear people talk about getting a “runner’s high”, or about the Zen of running, but when I first stepped onto the treadmill, all that came to my mind was the theory of relativity: the faster you go, the slower time goes. Time doesn’t fly when you’re not having fun.
But here’s a confession: I’ve stopped hating running. I wouldn’t call it Zen and I certainly wouldn’t call it fun, but as time goes on, I find that my hostility toward running has lost its edge. Maybe it’s just a consequence of my body now being otherwise occupied with its continuous state of muscle repair, or maybe it’s actually getting easier, I don’t know. Here’s what I do know so far:
- Music is essential. Half of my motivation is an ever-changing playlist that provides a balance between music familiar enough to get lost in, and varied enough to keep things interesting when the run gets tough. How else would you imagine Eminem and Dr. Hook on the same playlist?
- Have a buddy. And by buddy, I don’t mean someone to run with. That’s what music is for. I mean a person who won’t let you quit, that you can still be friends with after they won’t let you quit. I am fortunate to have two — one is an avid runner; the other, like me, began running only begrudgingly. One appreciates the small victories (i.e. “Yay, I ran today!”). The other prods (i.e. “Are you strength training?”). Together, there’s no getting off the hook.
- Keep it simple. When you start off not being able to run for a minute, and you’re staring down a 5K on the calendar, beginning seems a daunting task in itself; there’s such a long way to go. As useful as it is to have a goal and a deadline, I’ve learned it’s best not to think about it too much. The frustrating thing about trying to do something you’re not very good at is that in order to get anywhere, you first have to give yourself permission to suck at it. And then, even with a training plan and the best intentions, there are still days when progress still feels slow. On those days, I have to keep it really simple: Did I run today? Was it more than I ran yesterday? Am I still breathing? If the answer is yes, it’s progress. Another day that running didn’t kill me.
Two months of it not killing me may still be a long way from Zen, but it’s not a bad start.