Monday, December 2, 2013

The Journey to Getting High (The Improbable Tale of How I Became a Runner)

Two years ago, if you had told me I would go out and 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 totally 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 hard-core crunches. But I could barely lift my head, much less my entire torso. It wasn’t even that it was painful or anything; it’s just that there was absolutely no muscle to make anything happen. I was laying there like a slug, making weird grunting noises. So I had to move to the floor, right in front of my fellow gym members. My first “crunches” were basically just head-lifts.
But after a few months of working out with a fair amount of consistency, I could feel that I was making some progress with my strength and endurance, and I had even lost a couple of pounds. I decided 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 at all. My neighbor, an avid runner, trained with me and taught me about pacing, something I hadn’t ever tried to do before, even 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.)
I always got to a point where I just wanted it to be OVER. Actually… there would be several points. The first one would be as 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. And then 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 that I simply couldn’t imagine running one more step.
I walked a lot.
The thing is… I always felt better after running.
Always.
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 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’ll concur.  
So 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. Every time I ran I had to have a psychological battle with myself in order to make it past my driveway.
Somewhere along the way, I saw a friend’s post on Facebook about this event called Tough Mudder. I got this crazy idea that maybe, just maybe, a wanna-be runner and mom of two could do something that insane. My neighbor signed up with me and we began training in earnest. We ran on the beach to give ourselves an added level of difficulty. I kept doing 5Ks and gradually continued to improve my pace.
Fast forward a year and a half… I recently completed my second Tough Mudder.
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 that 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. At first, all the things that plague me are a frantic jumble in my mind, and I am literally running from them. But then it gets better, much better.
These days, I almost 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) and I start thinking 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 things, how I just want to cry for all 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 now-powerful lungs swelling and retreating, giving life to the impossibility of me. How is ANY of this even possible?
There is almost 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 even 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, mutherfucker.” And then I would elbow him in the face as I sweep his legs out from underneath 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 even 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 giant bowl of frosted shredded wheat and cuddle up in front of the TV with my three-year-old to watch My Little Pony.”
But I know if I can just get my ass out the door and turn on my music, (which is not an MP3 anymore, it’s an iPhone now), that I will get that rush. The bass booms in my ears and I just want to FLY. (Okay so I’m not fast, but you know what I mean.)
I'm sharing this story with all of you, but especially with those of you who think you “can’t” ever be a runner (or that you “can’t” do anything for that matter) – just remember how in the beginning I couldn’t run for more than a minute and couldn’t do a single crunch. How I hated running at first and now… I love it.
On my run yesterday, I got that familiar high, and I had the thought: Jeez, I am a running junkie.
No...
I am a runner.
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What have you done that you at first thought you couldn’t?

21 comments:

  1. I so wish i could motivate myself. I feel like i would really like it if i allowed myself to. I've dabbled in it...stated the c25k app a couple times. Even contemplated taking it outside but always find an excuse not to.

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    1. That first year was the hardest... it was my neighbor who kept me going at first with the running, then my other neighbor when we were training for Tough Mudder. It helps to have a "reason" to train.

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  2. I'm jealous. I wish I could love it again. I am happy to know that you have come back after the c-section. I've had two and (been a year since my last one) and I'm still waiting to 'come back'. If you ever get the urge to run Broad St (the best 10 miler EVER, I know because I did it and never felt so horrible and wonderful at the same time than when I finished), hit me up - Im right outside of Philly!

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    1. I will SO do that if I'm ever in Philly. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. You made me cry Kristin. I'm at a point in my life where I am disgusted with myself and just can't seem to DO anything about it. Also, I'm really tired...they may be a reason I'm crying too. You just really hit a chord.

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    1. Geeeez. You totally just made my day stop sucking.

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  4. I think it's pretty darn cool you're a running junkie. sounds awesome.

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    1. It really is. My feet are killing me right now from yesterday's run but I don't even care. =)

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  5. I cried reading this entire blog! I think you are awesome! I just wish I could get myself motivated to do something, just anything. Being a single mom of two and having two jobs is so hard to find time to do anything that makes me feel good about myself! I am feeling similar to army's comment. I'm loosing control of my life and I have no outlet nor do I know how to get one! Keep up being you!

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    1. Okay this is not a running thing, and it's kind of lame, but I do this sometimes and it is so fun and theraputic: After your kids are asleep, put on your favorite pandora station on your phone (sorry for making an assumption that you have one, obviously you can use whatever) and plug in some headphones so you can BLAST your music until you're almost killing braincells. Then DANCE YOUR ASS OFF. Last time, it was Tupac's "Changes" that came on my Pandora acct and I just COULD NOT STOP MYSELF from shakin' my booty! You can do this, momma. (all of it, not just the dancing) PM me anytime you feel like you just ... CAN'T. You are not alone!

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  6. I totally get this. I started running about a year and a half ago, and I love it so much. I'd always see people out running and think how great it would be, but I just didn't ever think I could do it. Like you, I started slow. But this past September, I completed my first half marathon, and at the end I cried both tears of joy and pain. Bonus: it's great as a reliever of stress that comes with being a mom. Keep up the great work!

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    1. And don't you wanna just share it with everyone you meet? I so wish it were a gift that was giveable!

      I haven't run a 1/2 yet... I think I have a ways to go before I can handle that much pavement. Anything over 7 miles has mostly been on some kind of trail. But I'm going to keep working on strengthening my bones and muscles - I know I'll get there!

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    2. Yes, I do! You will get there. I hit a lot of walls before I did it (both physical and mental). You just take it one mile at a time. ;)

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  7. I just want to say thank you. I can relate to you in that I go thru similar issues with my son, and now this. I've been heavy all my life, but this year something in me changed. I changed my eating habits, started getting more active, etc. And then I did the Color Run. And even tho I walked most of it, I RAN some of it. And I'm going to be signing up for Muderella after the holidays! I never thought in a million years I'd have done a 5k race and actually LIKE it! In any case, I say that all to say thanks. And I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

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    1. THAT is awesome! Keep it up momma! xoxo

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  8. I really hate exercising - like I'll start it, and will argue with myself, time myself, whatever because it just is not something I enjoy. At all. My current excuse is that its December in New England. :) Your post gives me hope that you just have to get past that and at some point I will want to do it! I just have to rally myself to commit like you did. That's the tough part :(

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    1. You totally got the meaning of the post. There is this big ugly wall that you have to scrape and claw to get over, and when you finally get over it, you wonder why in the world you were ever on the other side of it to begin with! =)

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  9. I'm a straight shooter. What you can count on from me is the truth. Period.
    I very rarely read your stuff. I read a couple of things early on, and saw you more in the stage of life that my wife and I were with our four kids "a while ago". They are too long for me, and I the time in front of me is less than the time behind.
    I didn't read much of this one. I got to the part about 'I could only do one crunch' or something along those lines. Just enough to make me know I didn't want to spend time reading it. Why? Because I knew where it was headed. So instead of reading it...
    I got out and ran 5 miles again this morning after laying out for two days.
    And I wanted to say thanks.

    **cue music "That's a strange way to tell me you love me... " :-)
    you rock. keep it going.

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    1. Yeah, I really wasn't sure if you were complimenting me or not until I got to the very VERY end. Haha.

      And btw it was that I couldn't even do a *single* crunch. Nothing but a grunting slug, mkay?

      Congratulations on your 5-mile run. I consider anything over 4 miles to be in the "awesome" category. And thanks for reading (or scanning???), in spite of clearly not being my "target" audience! ;)

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  10. Dances with Dirt offers a 1/2 marathon trail run in the Green Swamp (Dade City). Check it out. http://dwd.runningfitsites.com/greenswamp-home

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    1. So weird. I didn't see this comment when you first posted it. I will definitely check into this. Thanks!

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