I ran in my first race a couple days ago. My first ever. And even though it was only the Seattle Turkey Trot and there were dogs and ginormous strollers (ours included) and people wearing pilgrim costumes, banana outfits, 70s garb and random turkey plumage, it was kind of a big deal for me. I’m 32 and have never been able to complete a mile run before this past summer. Nobody believes me when I tell them that. But it’s true. I would always get a response along these lines…
“But you were a gymnast!”
“Oh, whatever, you’re totally athletic.”
“Oh, I’m sure you could if you wanted to.”
No, people, I really couldn’t. I actually have quite the sordid history with running, have always loathed it. Let’s review. I was a gymnast for about 13 years and even reached level 9 (there are 10). But gymnastics is all about anaerobic fitness. A floor routine is extremely hard work, let me tell you, and it certainly would have helped if I was in better cardiovascular shape, but I wasn’t. A floor routine is only a minute and a half, after all. Our team did a mile run every Saturday morning and you would not believe the excuses and trouble I went to in order to miss that run every week. I would conveniently forget my shoes, spend too long in the bathroom, convince my brother to drop me off half way. It was totally ridiculous. I think I actually ran (ok, walked) the mile about 5 times in my last five years of practice. I could think of almost nothing I hated more than running.
My sister took up running in high school and I considered doing it with her. She was going to ease into it slowly. A minute out and a minute back the first day. Two minutes out and two back the second day. How hard could it be? I was the athletic sister after all. Turns out it was kind of hard. I ended up riding my bike alongside her all summer (being supportive) while she, with her characteristic determination and stick-to-it-ness, actually learned how to run.
In college my first year, I cheated on the mile run. How bad is that? During my Fitness for Life course, Coach thought I had run 4 laps (he knew I was a gymnast! Score!) and so I stopped, unbearably winded, after 3 laps and a long break to “tie my shoe,” took the faster time and only felt mildly guilty. But not guilty enough to run that last lap.
A few years later, I thought I’d give it another go with some girlfriends. We decided to run on some of the hilly roads around our campus one Saturday morning and I thought I’d be able to do it. It’d be good for me. I needed to get in shape and it seemed like a short enough run. Wrong. Fast forward to me, completely humiliated, walking alone in the rain “because my knee was really hurting” (in my defense, it totally was) while my girlfriends reached campus at least 30 minutes before me.
And finally, let’s look at my last attempt at running back in 2004. Jason and I had been married a few years and had just gotten a golden retriever. I thought he would be the perfect running companion. I was just going to run a slow 2 miles. And Toby would run with me. How very Santa Barbara of me! Things were actually going ok. About a mile in and I hadn’t stopped. I was huffing pretty hard and worried about passing out but I was still on my feet. Still rockin’ it. But then we had to slow for a car to pull in to their driveway. The nice family in their minivan stopped to let me pass in front of them before they pulled in. After hesitating for just a moment, my weary legs betrayed me and the slight lurch of Toby on the leash ended in a face plant right in their driveway. All the embarrassing things ensued. The husband getting out to see if I was ok. Me assuring them that I was fine, just fine, with a hearty self-deprecating laugh while I tried to hold back tears. Me limping home with Toby to tend to my skinned knees and bruised pride, swearing I would never, ever, run again.
And so ended my running career, if you can call it that.
Seven years later I found myself standing in the crowded start area for the 2011 Seattle Turkey Trot. It did not look even remotely the way I imagined. I’ve been to Jason’s races and everyone looks pretty hardcore there. Very serious and official. They have numbers pinned on, little timer chips, water stations, checkpoints, and all sorts of family and friends with signs and horns and cheering. This was NOTHING like that. No numbers. Nobody lined up to cheer you on. Nobody even timing you. I seriously ran behind this woman and her dog with her (full) poop bag flinging back and forth as she jogged. There were people in all kinds of ridiculous costumes. A couple teenage guys in jeans. One guy running in his flip flops. All these people gabbing and having this jolly old time as they ran along in their costumes to Golden Gardens. They mocked me and all my “training” for a run which was so clearly an easy feat for most “runners.”
See me, all serious with my headphones and playlist prepping. See the dogs?
But it took me six months of training to get there and I was determined to run the whole way, even if I had to do it with poop lady running in front of me. After having two kids in two years I had found myself in pretty sorry shape. Debilitating back pain, unbelievably weak abs, and no more cardiovascularly fit than a decade earlier, I decided it was time to take action. I couldn’t bear the idea of waking up in so much pain every day for the rest of my life. Something had to give. So we joined the Y (ok, the free childcare while you work out was extremely appealing!) and I started down the agonizing road of getting in shape. I took it slow. Went to physical therapy, massage therapy and slowly, v e r y slowly, got myself in a position where I could give running the ol’ college try once more. I started last June with a “Couch to 5K” running plan, and finally, finally found myself able to run (without stopping!) for 30 minutes. This still kind of stuns me. And hey, I finished that silly Turkey Trot. Jason ran with me* and pushed the boys in the stroller. And he ran ahead at the end so he and Gryffin and Isaiah could cheer when I finished. I took Gryffin and we ran across the finish together. And then we all ran across again as a family (see here one of the benefits of a casual race – want to run across the finish line again? And again one more time? Go right ahead. Nobody is watching and nobody cares!).
I remember back in high school watching the movie “Chariots of Fire” about two runners in the 1924 Olympic Games. One of them, Eric Liddell, talking about running, said “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” I always remembered that line. So inspiring. I can’t claim that line as my own though. I am definitely not there. Not yet anyway. When I run, I don’t feel God’s pleasure. I feel pain. Lots of pain, still. But it’s getting better. And when I get the rare chance to run outdoors, instead of on the treadmill at the Y, I think I might actually be starting to like it.
Without training at all.