I know I should have a Leslie-Knope-style celebration for all of my anniversaries, but sometimes I forget that my first 5k-iversary is around Halloween each year. This year’s snuck up on me. I guess that’s to be expected with a newly-toddling baby, a recent bout of colds for us all, and the everyday chaos that is being a working mom and writer and bag lady.
If you haven’t heard the story before about how I got into running, just imagine that I’m me, only I’m four years less cool, I am still an off-and-on smoker even though I’ve gone long periods as a non-smoker and still can’t totally kick the habit, I sometimes eat food from the gas station, and I don’t know the conversion for kilometers to miles let alone what a fartlek is. Who is Hal Higdon? Sounds like a creeper.
So anyway, after relocating to Buffalo, NY from Muskegon, MI, I made friends with people who do worldly things like run and eat wings and not smoke. Those all sound reasonable, except for running. How can anyone run? I don’t understand. They mention couch to 5k, and I was curious enough to ask what the hell is that. How long is a 5k? How far is a marathon? Twenty-six miles? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, why would anyone run that far?
But they hooked me. I was trying to quit smoking for the millionth time and I knew that I was only getting older and more and more out of shape each year. I had slowly slid from that thin but extremely unhealthy 119 pounds of my early twenties and had officially busted out of the ‘healthy’ BMI and into ‘overweight.’ I knew BMI is kind of crap, but still, it doesn’t feel good to know that you’re messing up your body with a crap diet and really awful habits like smoking. You only get one body. Until we can get robot bodies. But alas, we are lame mere mortals for the time being.
So I grabbed some old running shoes I had bought years before apparently as some sort of joke about how I was going to start running (but not quit smoking) and those shoes had been used maybe four times over several years. I think two of those times were just to go out to get the mail. I bought them because they looked cool. At the time, I didn’t know that they were racing flats. Yep. Not right at all for my foot type or the distance that I was running. But hey—they were orange!
I put on my cheap Target watch with a stopwatch function, tried to cover up as much as possible while still attempting to ameliorate my inevitable sweat situation, and hit the streets before work in the morning. I figured there was no way that running for sixty seconds off and on would be hard. It’s sixty seconds. I can do anything for sixty seconds.
Cut to two blocks later when the only thing keeping me from shaking my fist at my own hubris is the fact that I don’t have the lung capacity to utter a word out loud, let alone raise my arm in protest.
But really, that was one of those defining moments for me. When I got done with that run, I felt bad. Doing something not that hard had left me exhausted, out of breath, and even sore the next day. It was only a few minutes of running with walking in between—out about ten minutes and then back. And yet, I almost couldn’t do it because of how out of shape I had become. I had two thoughts:
Shit. I am in bad shape.
I made up my mind to do something, and I did it.
Instead of wallowing in shame from crapping all over my health for several years before that, I thought about the physics and science of exercise. If I keep doing it, it will get easier. How do I keep doing it when it’s hard and I don’t want to? I don’t know, force myself?
And that’s what I did. I just planned out a couple days a week to get up and run in the morning. I followed the Couch to 5k plan for a few weeks and repeated a week if I felt like I wasn’t ready to move on. It was easy because I had a plan. It was hard because I would out of shape, I had terrible shoes, ran in cotton gear, and pretty much did all the things I would later learn not to do. But I did it. And I kept doing it. And it got easier.
Then I signed up for a 5k. Why? Because fortune favors the bold, that’s why. It was something to do to show that I had set a goal, work toward it, and could accomplish it. I didn’t know if I would keep running, or even if I could finish a 5k. I did the full C25k plan, but you don’t run 3 miles before the race. I doubted myself, but ultimately decided that finishing the race without being wheeled over the finish line on a gurney was my goal.
The first time I ran a mile, I felt incredible. The first time I ran a 5k, I was hooked. And the first time I ran a longer race, I knew I was getting addicted.
So this time of year is special to me for that reason. I remember enjoying fall as I learned how to run and make my body better through training and work. Today, I can run for lots of miles, have conversations while doing it, AND I can shake my fist! It comes in handy when I want to run while telling children to get off my lawn, or run while enjoying a Misfits song.
Happy 4 Year Runniversary!