Two years ago, I was in a dismal state. Somehow, I’d come in contact with poison ivy or something that caused an extensive rash all over my body. My doctor suggested steroids to help combat the itchiness, but I hated the way I felt on them and resisted using them until I couldn’t take it any longer. Add to that several pounds that shouldn’t have been there, and there you go: a recipe for a vicious cycle of gloom, doom, and feeling pretty damn miserable about yourself. After seeing a few photos that my sister had taken when we were all together in Ohio, I realized that things had gotten out of control and knew I needed to do something for myself. When we got back home, I had several bushels of zucchini, courtesy of my in-laws’ awesome garden, and started cooking better food. But a few days after my return, a friend posted a link on Facebook for a women’s walking and running group, something that could get me ready for a 5K. And I joined.
Not going to lie: the first few weeks were killer. But I did my homework every week, worked my butt off, and completed my first 5K in a decent time. Funny thing happened . . . I lost weight and realized that walking was a great way to clear my mind, too. When the program started up again in March, we had just adopted Lucy about two months earlier, and I was fine with walking her while I did my homework, but this little pup had a ton of energy, so running seemed like the natural progression. Running couldn’t be that hard, right? When I pushed it, my walking time for a mile was right around 15 minutes per mile. But running? I could do that. The first week was delayed due to weather, but I took Lucy out anyway and ran a little. The one minute that I ran before I took the walk break nearly killed me. One. Bloody. Minute. Sixty whole seconds and I was gasping for air. But slowly over time, and with the encouragement of the mentors in my program, the running became easier. It was still a struggle to run for extended periods of time, but I was doing it.
Over the next few months, I started adding more running gear: a new pair of shoes, a fancy GPS enabled watch, some compression tights, cool weather pullovers, headbands that stay put. And when winter rolled around, I needed a whole new wardrobe because I was determined that I wasn’t going to let a little bit of cold prevent me from running. Little did I know that we’d have sustained wind chills of sub-zero weather or that you really do warm up after the first mile to an almost acceptable level or that it is possible to run when frost is forming on your cheeks. Along the way, I developed new friendships and decided to challenge myself with a few long distance races. Two years ago, I would have laughed my ass off at the mere mention of a half marathon . . . but now, I look at the finishers’ medals that are offered and the course to see if it interests me.
So why do I run? Because:
- it clears my mind. It’s kind of hard to focus on the trivial bullshit when you are focusing on cadence and breathing and looking at the road ahead.
- runners are a cheerful bunch. They offer a happy wave or say, “Good morning!” They laugh at your silly jokes and get it when you start bitching on that next hill.
- Lucy still needs the workout. Fine . . . my lovely little dog doesn’t really enjoy running in the warm weather, but come fall and winter time, she’s a huge reason I run.
- it’s cheaper than therapy. Running doesn’t cost much: just a good pair of running shoes (and go to a running store; trust me, your body will thank you when you do). And remember the mind clearing portion? Sometimes, I rehash what happened throughout the day and figure out why or how it all went down.
- it challenges me. The first mile kicks my butt every single time. I’ve only ever had one first mile that didn’t (and then it was a “runner’s high” on my first half marathon), and I’m ok with that. Because the rest of the miles get better and better each time.
- it helps you maintain or lose weight. I don’t really watch what I eat these days (fine, I try to make healthy choices) because a daily run for me will wear off about 300 calories. If I want to lose weight, then I need to journal what I’m eating . . . it works for me.
- it strengthens my muscles. I like the way my clothes fit now. Has it given me washboard abs? Hell, no. But my booty looks a lot better now than it did when I was 30. And my calves look really great in the summer.
- it motivates me. There are several groups of people who run. Many of them are much, much faster than I am, but I use that to motivate me to run faster. They are my rabbits, and as long as I can see them, I try to keep their pace.
- hills are everywhere. There is a hill down the street from me that I loathe with every fiber in my being. It’s not particularly long or steep, but I loathe this hill because it falls near the end of my daily runs. My body really would rather walk up it. Luckily for me, one of my mentors lives on that hill, and I refuse to walk up it for fear that she might think I’m slacking. It’s the mind games that get me through. And hills are everywhere even when they aren’t really hills.
- it is competitive in the best way possible. Your biggest competition? Unless you’re a vampire or have some weird phobia about mirrors, you’re looking at it every time you catch your reflection. Fun fact: I’m my biggest competition. Sure, there are people who are much, much faster than I am, but I’m not competing against them. I compete against my last record. I’ll do a happy dance when I break my 5K record (and I beat myself up a bit whenever I realize I missed it by a few seconds).
- I’m stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for. Running has taught me that I can do it. It’s a process of putting one foot in front of the other. Make a plan and stick with it.
The walk/run group that I joined two years ago is beginning its fall season in a few short weeks, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the new group of ladies who come out. I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces after they complete the first evening of interval training. How they set a goal for themselves. How they look at a hill in a new way. How they feel after a big jump in their intervals. And how they tackle the final portion of a race. Running has truly changed my life for the better. I run because I do. I run for me. Period.
“Running With the Devil” by Van Halen