I started running on July 16, 2009.
A dozen times or more before this date, I had taken out on little 30 minute jogging/walking intervals as part of the “you have to wear a white dress soon” plan. I would head outside with a watch and skip around the streets of Schenectady, New York where I was living in a house with four boys. But I wasn’t running. I was exercising. I was burning calories. I was doing what I thought should be done.
Before moving to New York, I would do a bit of running in the hot Texas evenings at the local University track with my sweet friend Kelly. Running a quarter of a mile was a lofty goal at the time, and we often ran an eighth or so, before deciding that swapping back and forth between an almost-sprint and a walk was a much better option. Pacing was never my strong suit. There were times we would travel to the track four nights a week, then stop at the grocery and load up on freggies. But I wasn’t running. I was exercising. I was burning calories. I was doing what I thought should be done.
I started running on July 16, 2009.
Three sleeps after my fiancé called off the wedding, my Daddy came into town to rescue me. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, and while I was laying on my stomach on the bed, watching Entourage and avoiding facebook messages and ignoring phone calls from concerned friends around the country, I started texting with Laura.
Laura had recently began running herself, and it seemed like every time we started talking about it, she was glowing with excitement for the goals she was setting and meeting along the way. Her lifestyle was surely changing and I saw a passion in her that I was longing for myself. Lying on the bed, I texted her that I was wanting to start running myself. As silly as it sounds now, I remember saying “I don’t know where to begin.”
Laura told me to go down to the hotel gym and run for as long as I can. Do not worry about speed, she told me. Do not worry about distance, she told me. Just run for as long as you can. Just do it.
I changed into my work out gear, and laced up my “not at all appropriate for running or really any form of cardio” shoes, grabbed my room key and a bottle of water, and in a motion that can only be noted as irony in hindsight, took the elevator down two flights to the hotel gym.
I turned the television to the food network, because apparently I have some sick need to torture myself, and stepped onto the treadmill. “This should be interesting.” I thought to myself as I looked at all the buttons.
I pressed the start button, and moved very slowly. Every few seconds I would press the up arrow once with my right pointer finger, delicately, as if afraid to one misguided attempt at speed would send the machine into a tizzy and me flying off the back, retracting like a yo-yo on return.
Almost barely walking.
Almost actually walking.
Walking with fervor.
So much fervor I can’t help but jog.
Yeah. I can do this. Keep jogging. Keep jogging. Keep jogging…
Of course, once I started jogging at a comfortable pace, Ace of Cakes went to commercial and my distraction from running was now distracted by product and services.
Soon though, Duff and the crew were back on the screen just as I was realizing that there was no way in hell [where I actually thought I may be at the moment] I was going to be continuing this run. STOP.
Seven minutes. [ish]
.55 of a mile.
For the sake of not being feeling like a total slacker, I hopped on the elliptical and did 13 minutes at the slowest possible pace, as I reflected on the actions that had just taken place.
A few days later, I ran outside.
I started the Couch-to-5K plan.
I ran a bit. I walked a bit. I ran a bit more.
I started running three days a week, then four, and occasionally five.
Then I quit the plan and just started running to the beat of my own interval.
I ran on a quarter mile loop in the park near my apartment.
I ran in the early mornings, as the sun was rising.
I ran in the evenings, after getting home from working a double, 8 hours at my office and 5 hours at the mall, under park lights while the moon shone bright above.
I ran on the weekends, walking a mile to the local bike path and then using the quarter mile markers, labeled on the pavement by bright orange spray paint, as a guide for my distance.
I signed up for a 5K in a neighboring town, on Halloween. A race I would run in costume with an Operation Beautiful note on my back.
Then I signed up for my first race in another state, when Laura decided she was going to be visiting Boston later that fall.
And I signed up for a Turkey Trot in yet another state, traveling alone very early in the morning to find the kindness of strangers and the ridiculousness of hill country.
I ran slow, slower, and slowest, in that very order. But I was determined to continue to search until I found the place for running to fit into my life the most appropriately.
There have been days I ran in order to cross a cardio workout off the list. Days I chose to wake up early and hit the pavement to move me a step closer to a happy weight on the scale. Times I’ve talked myself into getting out the door because I wanted to slim down and feel like I had great legs.
There have also been days that I step outside to run with not an ounce of “want” in my body. I ran because I had to, in order to meet a future goal. [So, I suppose, in essence, I did want to run, as I did want to meet said future goal…] I have to run 5 miles, or I will never be prepared for this race, and then I will be angry at myself. I’ve never regretted a run, but I have regretted not taking the opportunity to run several times over.
Somewhere along the way, running became less about weight loss, or fitness, or preparing for goals and races in the future. Somewhere along the way, running became about freedom. Feeling the breeze hit my face as I sprint down a hill, pushing myself past a limit I didn’t think was attainable, letting the first-world-problem stresses of life roll off my shoulders and into the pavement, hearing the music blast in my ears, or allowing a podcast to distract me from whatever needs distracting as I watch the total distance conquered increase on my Garmin.
There are times when I go several days without a run, and I can literally FEEL the longing in my heart to hit the roads again. I’m not sure when it happened, this change of the why I run, or rather, why I don’t stop running. But I’m pretty sure this means I’m a runner.
Tomorrow is July 16, 2011. Two years after that first run. Because my life never stops with the romance, I am running a race tomorrow. A local 5K where I plan to set a new PR. A race that I have been looking forward to for weeks, declaring my excitement for it daily. A race where I plan to put it all out on the line, and cross the finish line victorious. [edited: BOOM! guess what happened?]
A lot has happened in the past two years. There has been growth, and struggle, and revelation, and found understanding. There have been miles upon miles of training runs, not enough core work, and plenty of excuses. I know as time goes on, healing will continue, and new revelations will appear. I also know that barriers in speed and in distance will melt away as I continue to set and meet new running goals.
I am a runner. And my running story will continue.