Friday, January 31, 2014

If I Can, You Can - How It All Started

During this time following the completion of 19 weeks of very specified training and the completion of a pretty big goal of mine (running 26.2 miles), it feels only natural to reflect back on how it all began.

I’m writing this mostly to tell you that if I can do it, anyone can do it.  I can’t tell you how many people, upon finding out I’m a “runner,” say things to me like, “Oh, I CAN’T run,”  “I can’t even run one mile. I could never run a marathon,” and “I’m just not a runner.”  Here’s the deal: I’ve said those exact same words a thousand times.  Then one day I stopped saying those words and I found out that I can run.  I can run one mile and I can run 26.2 of them.  Turns out, I am a runner.  And if I can and am, you can and are too.  I promise you this.
I didn’t take up running until I was into my mid-20’s.  I would say it didn’t stick until my late 20’s.  And even then, I would say I didn’t get comfortable with the idea of being a runner until my 30’s (even though I ran my first marathon at 29).  Writing that is still hard for me.  To be honest with you, I’m still working on believing and admitting that I am a runner. Maybe that’s because days of not being a runner are not so far behind me that I’ve forgotten what running first felt like….HORRIBLE!!
It all started when I decided to sign up for a new boot camp class being offered at my gym.  I had a friend who took the session before me, so she filled me in on the details, one of which being that on the first day of class the instructors would test you on several different skills, including a one mile run.  I was horrified.  The idea of being time tested on a one mile run in front of other people had me seriously questioning my decision to sign up for this boot camp.  I considered myself pretty fit, but running was out of the question.  Look, I could climb for hours on the gym Stairmaster, but run for even five minutes??  No way!  And that’s when I started training.  Yes, you read that right.  I started training for a one-mile run.  And training for that one-mile run was brutal.  I remember feeling like I was gasping for air after the first minute of running.  My lungs were on fire by minute three and I was delirious by minute ten (and this was with me taking walk breaks in between).  I trained for several weeks and was eventually able to take my one-mile test without stopping.  I’m sure my pace was terrible, but I remember being very proud of running one mile without stopping. 
During this boot camp, we began running at Memorial Park (this is Houston’s most popular running trail/park, frequented by all the real runners in Houston).  It started with intervals of walking and running around the 3-mile loop.  Let me assure you, mine was mostly walking.  It bothered me though that my partners in boot camp always had to slow down to accommodate my pace, so I started visiting Memorial Park on the weekends to practice getting around without stopping.  I will let you in on a little secret. At first this was very embarrassing.  Memorial Park on the weekend is full of gazelle legged, six-pack abs having runners and who wants to see that as you shuffle by red-faced and wheezing?!?  But, just like the one mile training, after weeks of practice I found myself easily getting around the loop without stopping.
I mostly stuck with circling the Memorial Park loop for the following couple of years.  Every now and then, I’d challenge myself to four or five mile runs, but in general, although I had started running pretty regularly I kept the mileage relatively low.  It probably would have stayed that way if it hadn’t been for the big break up.  That’s right folks, my amazing, wonderful, greatest-in-the-world husband lost his mind several years ago and we broke up.  Dealing with that break up was miserable.  I tried my best not to let him know it, but the break up consumed me.  It was all I could think about and it drove me crazy.  This is where long distance running entered my life.  To anyone going through a break up: START RUNNING!!  There is no better therapy (although drinking copious amounts of alcohol comes in a close second).  I would go for my regular runs and find that it was the only time I couldn’t and wouldn’t obsessively check my phone to see if he called (I can write all of this now because we are married and because he never reads this blog).  And because the alternative was to go home and start obsessively staring at my phone, I would just keep running.  It started with 45 minutes and quickly turned into hours on the trail.  I would run to occupy my reeling mind and my broken heart.  I would start the run angry or upset, but would always end feeling refreshed and proud.  The longer I would run, the better I would feel.  I could “work it out” while I worked out.  Before I knew it and definitely without thinking it through, I found myself signing up for my first half marathon during this break up period.  It gave me something to focus on and something to be proud of.  In a way, running the half marathon felt like proving to myself that I was strong enough to not only make it, but to excel without him.  And so I ran.  And I ran.  And by the time I’d completed that half marathon and Paul and I had successfully worked it out and gotten back together, I was hooked.  Long runs became a regular habit for me.  Long runs are still my form of therapy.  They give me time to get away and work through the tough stuff as I put in the tough miles. 


What I want you to take away from this is that I wasn’t a natural runner.   Long runs have never come easy for me.  Running is always hard.  But, it’s worth it and it can be done.  If I, the Stairmaster queen, could step off the gym equipment and train for that first one mile run, you can too.  Don’t limit yourself by your ideas of what you are capable of, realize that you are capable of more than you can imagine.  You can run!

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