Two years ago, if you had told me I’d be able to run four and a half miles at a ten minute pace and then do twenty minutes of weight-training afterward – and that I wouldn’t consider that a big deal – I would have punched you in the face for being an antagonistic asshole.
And yet, that’s what I did yesterday. (Went running, not punched someone in the face.)
I first started to think about exercising again about a year after the birth of my second kid. I’d had a c-section, which made me feel like things were kind of “over” for me in terms of being fit. I was looking at mom-jeans and thinking, “I could pull that off.”
I mean, I couldn’t even do a single crunch.
My first time back in the gym, I did the elliptical for about fifteen minutes (thought I was going to DIE) and then went and slid my chubby self into the inclined ab-bench for some crunches. But I could barely lift my head, much less my entire torso. It wasn’t even that it was painful; it’s just that there was absolutely no muscle to make anything happen. I lay there like a slug, making weird grunting noises. With my fellow gym members watching, I was forced to move to the floor. My first “crunches” were basically just head-raises.
But after a few months of working out fairly consistently, I could feel I was making some progress with my strength and endurance, and I had even lost a couple of pounds. I wanted to motivate myself to keep going, so I signed up for my first 5K.
I was really nervous about running 3.1 miles; at that time, it seemed like an impossibly long distance to run. So I didn’t give myself any time constraints. My only goal was to not walk during the race. My neighbor, an avid runner, trained with me and taught me about pacing, something I hadn’t ever tried to do before, even back in my high school track days.
In those early days of training, I HATED running. I only did it because I wanted to lose weight and be healthier. (And because I couldn’t leave my neighbor hanging at six in the morning.)
Every time I ran, I got to a point where I just wanted it to be OVER. Actually… there would be several points. The first one would be while I was getting dressed: “Oh who fucking cares anyway? My husband doesn’t mind if I’m a little chunky.” But I’d make myself get all the way dressed anyway, thinking I could quit later. During the run, I would get a cramp and think, “WHYYYYYYY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF???” But I would push through until the cramp would finally go away and then I’d be breathing so hard I simply couldn’t imagine running one more step.
I walked a lot.
The thing is… I always felt better after running.
Buying myself an MP3 player made running more fun. Running became a time that I could listen to my dirty rap music without teaching my children to be pimps and hoes.
I started mapping my routes so I could time myself. I competed with myself, trying to beat my previous times.
I ran my first 5K at a pace of 11:35 minutes per mile. I was proud of myself because I had reached my one goal: I didn’t walk.
For me, that first race was a life-changing experience. There was a palpable energy among the gathered runners. It made me cry, actually cry. (Plus that first 5K was on the beach, and hello, the freaking ocean, IS THERE ANYTHING BETTER THAN THE OCEAN.)
But even in races since then, I’ve felt that same energy. It’s as if each individual’s energy is not only contained within them; it radiates out, so that everyone gets to share their energy with everyone else, like an energy-pot-luck. I’m not sure this is something that could be measured scientifically, but ask other runners; they know what I’m talking about.
I ran a couple more 5Ks and kept training. My pace was slowly improving. I started to believe in myself… but I often still felt that feeling, about ten minutes into my run, where I wanted to be like “f*ck it,” and just walk home. Or lie down in the grass and wait for someone to bring a stretcher.
I was reaching goals, but I was forcing myself. Each run began with a psychological battle with myself just to make it past my driveway.
I’m not sure of the precise point at which everything changed for me, or if the change was so gradual it was undetectable.
I just know there are times when I feel like I want to claw my way out of my skin. When I feel so alone and yet surrounded by too many people who are constantly in need of something from me and I’m thinking crazy things like go away, people; can’t you see how terribly lonely I am? There are times when I feel like I’m doing everything wrong. When I don’t even know who I am, or more importantly, why I am.
And running fixes all that.
These days, I feel like I’m addicted to running, as if it were a drug. I get high (a real high, not an I’ve-never-been-high-but-I-think-this-is-what-it-probably-feels-like kind of high). I think about how big the world is and what exactly does forever mean and how is infinity even possible and shouldn’t we do something about the child soldiers in the Sudan? I think of how disgusted I am with the state of everything, how I want to cry for the atrocities in the world (and many times I do cry), but at the same time I’m overwhelmed by all the beauty and kindness and miracles that I’ve had the privilege to witness. I become mesmerized by the feeling of my own powerful lungs swelling and retreating, giving life to the impossibility of me. How is ANY of this even possible?
There is always a point during my runs where I smile uncontrollably. I pump my arms against my sides, keep my head up, and slap my feet against the ground, and though I know I don’t look like a graceful gazelle sprinting down the sidewalk, street, or trail (my favorite), … I feel like one. And I can’t stop myself from smiling. The beat of the music is in my ears and my heart is excited, as if it’s a separate entity apart from me, capable of its own emotions.
Sometimes I imagine someone is chasing me. I fantasize about kicking a dude’s ass if he jumped out at me. How I would say, “Oh, you thought you could attack me because I look like I’m out of breath? Well take that, mutherf*cker.” And then I would elbow him in the face as I sweep his legs out from under him and shove his ass in the canal. (This fantasy always happens by the canal.)
By the time I’m done with my run, I am a changed person. I know there are all sorts of scientific reasons for why I feel better after a good run, but I don’t care what they are.
Don’t get me wrong; I still have moments, usually before the run, when I think, “Why am I doing this? All I want to do is eat a box of macaroni and cheese and take a nap.”
But I know if I can just get my ass out the door and turn on my music, I will get that rush. The bass booms in my ears and I want to FLY. (Okay, so I’m not fast, but you know what I mean.)
I’m sharing this story for those of you who think you “can’t” be a runner (or that you “can’t” do anything for that matter) – remember how in the beginning I couldn’t run for more than a minute and couldn’t do a single crunch? How, at first, I hated running?
On my run yesterday, I got that familiar high, and I thought: Jeez, I am a running junkie.
I am a runner.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books, Red Water, an Amazon Best Seller, and Beyond the Break! To stay updated on new releases, sign up for my newsletter and join my book group on Facebook!