One fine evening back when I was in college (some 20+ years ago) my roommate said, "Let's go running!"
I thought that was a grand idea, so me and my extremely-not-designed-for-running white Reebok court shoes went along with the plan, and I managed to go about one city block before I practically keeled over. Something bit me that night, though, and I persevered; soon I was running about three to five miles every day.
After a while, I lost a bunch of weight, got into and then back out of a very horrible relationship, dropped out of school, and for reasons I still don’t understand, also stopped running. I didn't think about it much - in fact, hardly at all. I guess I just had other things to do.
Fast-forward about 12 years (insert husband, kids, mortgage and full-time job here.) Lots and lots of poor food choices and very little exercise and not-so-gradual but quite steady weight gain were the hallmarks of these years. I spent quite a lot of this time feeling vaguely comatose, yet it just never occurred to me in an urgent way to get back on the ball. I grew accustomed to feeling sluggish and not really being able to keep up with my kids.
But one day, I knew I’d had enough. So I started going to the gym and got real up-close and personal with lots of broiled chicken, vegetables and fresh cold water. I was determined, and after a while, seeing some tangible results, I thought, "Wow! Maybe I should try running again!"
So I did. Slow walking morphed into fast walking which turned into slow plodding which eventually became a comfortable 11-12 minute mile. It occurred to me not too long after that milestone that perhaps I could finish a 5K road race.
So I found one being held a few weeks later, and finished. Not in an amazing amount of time, but it was a winning situation in my book, and that little victory spurred me headlong into about three years filled with a whole bunch of 5Ks and then 10Ks and then - a half marathon. I finished the half-marathon, and wasn't last, and was quite pleased with myself.
After a few months, I thought, "Hell! I may as well go the whole way!" And so I started the training with my sights set on the Portland Marathon, which is purported to be one of the best marathons to do if it's your first one. I joined a great training program called Portland Fit, and fell into a nice groovy groove. At about Week 10 of the training, I wrenched my ankle – a really bad sprain - and had to give it up for that year because I just couldn't catch up with the training after I healed.
When the time came the following year, I started training for the marathon again with Portland Fit, and made it all the way to about Week 16. This time, roughly halfway through a 15 mile training run, I noticed that everything was starting to swell. Fingers. Hands. Arms. Legs. I felt like a balloon, and looked like one too - a not-so-amusing caricature of myself. It was somewhat grotesque and quite frightening because that had never happened to me before. Turns out I was pregnant. And that little development quashed my marathon plans once again.
But instead of pulling my Asics on and getting back on the road after recovering from the birth, I just…stopped. The desire was gone. Or maybe it was just that I was way too busy juggling an infant, his two older brothers, my husband, a full-time job, a house that needed keeping and all the other various and sundry things that come with domestic life.
That was back in 2002, and in retrospect, I realize those barriers were self-imposed to justify my Great Return to the Couch. It took me a long time to figure it out, but they were the exact reasons why I should have fit running into my schedule, somehow. Hindsight is indeed 20-20.
Seven years later on New Year's Day, I - like many across the land surely did - finally decided getting back into shape might not be such a bad idea. Stepping on the bathroom scale that morning, I expected to see a number within a certain range, but when the digital numbers flickered and stopped, I did a a double take. I stepped off, let the scale clear itself, and stepped back on. No change. I'd really let it go this time.
So I sweated buckets, counted calories, strained muscles, carefully measured cheese and weighed meat and groaned through full-body bootcamp workouts with a personal trainer; I drank enough water to sink an aircraft carrier. I was once again singular-minded and determined that this would be the last time I would have to lose this kind of weight. And if I was going to keep the momentum and be successful, I knew I had to return to the only exercise I’d ever really grown to love: running. So I did.
Like it always had, my “journey to being a runner” began with a crawl, and progressed through familiar phases: Trudge. Stroll. Jaunt. Trot. And finally - run! Just like that, more or less, I was a runner again. I was back – this time, in spades.
In June, I finished my very first 10K in roughly a decade, clocking in at 1:46. In September, I crossed my fingers, said a prayer and signed up for a half-marathon + 1.1 mile trail race and finished in 3:42. In October, I took on another 10K and finished in 1:21. Later that same month, I tackled a 10-miler with evil killer monster hills and finished in 2:22. Topping off the year, I did two 5Ks in December.
The cherry on top of all of this productive activity was when 2010 arrived, instead of having to make another resolution, I merely had to remind myself to continue on the path already started. I’m nearly 60 pounds lighter now and tantalized with the thought that this year I will probably get very close to my goal weight as long as I keep the sensible eating and the exercise a priority. It’s been a long time coming and as a permanent way of being is severely overdue.
In the final tally, I suppose it doesn’t matter why I stopped running (twice, even!) I will never win a race, unless it’s only with myself. To that end, neither will I ever be fast – my current pace is so slow I get passed by just about everyone who isn’t walking (and some who are.) I still have yet to do a race this time around without some amount of walking myself. But that doesn't matter either.
What does matter is that I'm out there on the treadmill, the road, or the woodsy trail. I am determined to be the 90-year old crazy lady on a 5K or a 10K or even a full marathon course, chugging away among the back-of-the-packers - or even dead last - but crossing the finish line in triumph no matter how long it takes me. It matters that the doctors will most likely say that because I started running before it became an impossibility, I saved my own life and God willing, I will probably die a happy woman many, many years hence with a strong heart, amazing legs and a peaceful mind.
I’m determined that this time, stopping is no longer an option.