I yanked up my big-girl leggings and learned how to do not one, but two exciting new things this year — things I have said out loud, and multiple times, that I’d never do.
Backpacking was one of them, and that one’s my husband’s fault.
The other? At age 49, I’m a runner now too! Which means I am my father’s daughter after all.
And it wasn’t easy. When I started back in January of this year, I struggled to run for even 5 minutes at a time, then I’d have to walk for 10-15.
It was oh, probably my gazillionth attempt at running since my teen years. I’d rarely stick with it long enough to build endurance for any more than a 2-mile slog, because I’d…
- feel every single step
- dread the hills, and running into the wind, and running uphill into the wind
- occasionally reactivate an old hip injury
- panic when I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath
- stay in when the weather was bad, or when I felt icky
- find plenty of other forms of physical fitness that came way, way easier
So I’d wrap myself in my blanket of excuses, and then give up for another year or so before trying it again.
Paradoxically, my father’s been an avid runner for as long as I can remember. Boston Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, other full and half marathons, and all the K’s — dozens, if not hundreds of road races.
Quite honestly, I thought running ability was my birthright, so another piece in my Puzzle of Frustration was that it did not come naturally to me. At all. My brother can do it, and so can his kids. But clearly, I didn’t get the gene.
Yet I’d hear Dad’s voice in my head with every attempt, with advice he gave me when I was still a teenager: If you can just get to three miles, then you can run six. And if you can run six miles, you can run ten.*
So I tried again this year, and y’all? I got it to stick this time. Longer than ever! Nine months later, I’m running 3-6 miles, about 3 times/week.
What’s different this go-round?
Weight. I started 10-20 lbs lighter than any other time I’d tried to take up running, and that made it much less stressful on my joints. Less pain, more gain.
Goals. All I wanted was to be able to make running a regular and enjoyable part of my fitness regimen, at distances and durations that did not leave me feeling like I might die before noon. In other words, I really don’t need to act like I’m training for a marathon.
Motivation. Since my breast cancer diagnosis in December of 2013, I’ve been a bit more stubborn than usual about finishing what I’ve started — or at least giving an effort my all until I realize that stopping might be a better option.
Method: I chose not to follow a published training plan, but rather to follow my own body’s cues.
I had two rules:
- Improve in some way with each running session. (More than once it was, “Well, at least I swore less this time.”)
- Forgive myself and try again in two more days if I don’t achieve Item 1.
Progress was slow, but I stayed with it, and after using my unconventional method for about two months, I could run 3 miles without stopping to walk. That’s when I signed up for my first race!
About that time, Tim started running with me. He’s been a runner before, and has a couple of half marathons under his belt, but his 2013 3-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail did a number on his knees, and he’s been reluctant to run again. Luckily, my pace is slow enough that it rarely causes him any issues.
And here’s how I know I am really a runner this time. I have:
- experienced chafing, nausea, dehydration, cuboid bone stress, the usual leg aches & pains, and a lost toenail
- reactivated and successfully repressed my SI joint injury several times
- found a treasure or two
- swallowed a bug
- run into brutal winds that mysteriously disappeared or blew in my face yet again after I turned around to complete the second half of my run, expecting to have them push me back home
- encountered countless animals, domestic and wild, alive and dead
- logged miles in TX, OK, UT, WA, ID, ND, SD, and MT, and rarely the same route twice
- tried and rejected two pairs of shoes before finding the pair (Brooks Ghost 10)
- learned that I am a neutral pronator
- been caught in unexpected downpours
- noticed leg muscle definition I’ve never had before, not even during the 6 years I was a Jazzercise instructor
- participated in one fun run with Dad, two timed races with Tim, and a 10K with both of ’em
- decreased my pace from a 14:30 mile to about 11:20. If I’m only running a 5K, I can “sprint” at about 10:45
- had to dodge only one vehicle
But I have not run so far or so long that I’ve had to duck behind a tree, dumpster, or other structure for a potty break, and I consider that a plus.
*I’ve made it to 8. Once. Still working my way up to 10.