Eighteen years ago, my husband and I decided we should try to exercise so we went to a nearby park and ran, confident that this was just the first of many healthy decisions. We were going to have a plan and a schedule and we were going to be awesome because it was the 90’s and everything in the 90’s was awesome. The next day, I had serious knee problems which lasted for weeks. Obviously, this meant that I’m just one of those people who can’t run. Some people are built to run, others aren’t. Nothing to feel sad about, just a fact of life.
Three years ago, my husband started running regularly, which I thought was great for him. I was very supportive – I never joined him, but I was happy to make time for him to do it. At some point, I realized that my earlier negative experience with running probably had a lot to do with the fact that for my whole life up until that one time I ran, I had been a total couch potato, that I hadn’t eased into it, and that I hadn’t stretched before or after that first run. No wonder I had been in pain. I decided to try again, this time approaching the exercise with a little more wisdom than I had previously.
So I ran a few times with my husband in the evening. He was nice enough to run more slowly than he’d like for fewer miles than he’d like just so I’d have a running partner. It went okay for a while, but then one day we went running in the morning instead of the evening and I got really sick to my stomach and had to walk the last two miles. And since running in the morning made me sick, obviously this meant that I’m just one of those people who can’t run in an actual, organized 5K race. This simply reinforced my earlier decision to avoid 5Ks because everbody does 5Ks. I’m always afraid of becoming the Me Too Iguana, doing all the things that everyone does because everyone does them.
My husband stuck with the running and progressed quickly from his first 5K race to a 10K, then a half marathon straight to a full marathon, all within a year and a half. I stuck with my Jillian Michaels dvds in the privacy of my own home.
The thing about doing this blog is that it’s forced me to revisit and reexamine many of my preconceived ideas. It can be embarrassing to look at some opinion I’ve held tenaciously as fact only to realize I was so very wrong. And since I’m very vocal about my opinions, that makes retracting them even more conspicuous. That’s why this whole experience has been simultaneously eye-opening and uncomfortable.
So a few months ago I registered for a 5K. I planned out a training schedule, mapped it out on the calendar, then totally ignored the plan because I hate to run. I think I ran maybe five times this summer, and the last run was a full week before the race. I don’t mind exercising, but forty minutes of running feels like three hours to me because running is stupid and boring.
I was not feeling prepared and I was starting to relive all of the guilt I used to feel before a big piano competition I hadn’t adequately practiced for. My husband had been feeling sick and was starting to wonder if he was up for it (he was running the 10K) so I had plenty of chances to just back out of the whole thing, but we both decided to go through with it.
I was really grouchy the night before and kept saying, “Running is SO STUPID!” Fritz asked if I was going to win. When I said that I probably wouldn’t, but I would finish, he said, “Why would you run a race if you’re not going to win?” Why, indeed? On the way to the race, I was second-guessing my decision to humiliate myself in my own town instead of somewhere far away among strangers. And I had more piano competition flashbacks as I kept trying to keep my fingers warm without realizing that’s what I was doing.
My one goal for the race was to keep running without stopping to walk. Well, I take that back – my BIG goal for the race was to not vomit, and since I learned from my two other early morning runs that I only experienced nausea when I stopped to walk, that’s when I made that other goal. For the last four months, every time I’ve thought of this race, I’ve had this song running through my head, substituting the word “puke” for “cry”. I would consider myself a success if I could “just keep it inside.”
After my husband and I separated to our respective races, I felt all alone standing at the starting line. But soon I noticed some friends and neighbors and piano students in the crowd and I started to feel more relaxed. Maybe a small town race wasn’t such a bad idea for a first timer like me.
And then we were off! I found a few people around me whose pace seemed compatible with mine and I let them be my personal pacers. It felt a little bit stalker-y, but keeping my eye on that one lady with the green shirt really kept me going. She’ll never know what staring at her back for thirty-six minutes straight meant to me.
And I ran the whole time! And I didn’t puke! (I almost did, though – right after I crossed the finish line, the poor water boy almost got it right in the face.) And it was pretty fun, considering how stupid running is and how much I hate it. And my time wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And my parents brought my kids over so I had someone waiting for me at the finish line.
And after it was all over, I was like, “Hey! Yay!” and then I had this song running through my head instead.
Bring on the next challenge! (I only feel safe saying that because I already know what next week’s challenge will be.)