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.
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.
I am a runner.
What have you done that you at first thought you couldn’t?