Lessons In Running

10 years ago, I despised running.  No.  Let me clarify further.  When people would mention running, I would hiss and arch my back like a cat who’s spotted a rather large and menacing dog.  To me, running was what crazy people did who liked pain and normal people did when something was chasing them.  And quite frankly, I SUCKED at running.  I would go about 50 yards full blast and then lose steam.  Sprinter? Yes.  Runner?  Oh. hell. no.  So what happened that changed me from the “anti-christ” of running into a running enthusiast?

Well, the mind shift probably started around 2007.  I was watching this crazy weight loss show (I am NOT kidding when I say that I always watched this particular show on pizza night and while sipping away on wine, THAT’S how bad I used to be)  Anyways, they would take these people who had 50-150 pounds to lose and by the end of the show, they would run a marathon!  And I started thinking, “If these guys can run a marathon, why can’t I even run a mile?”  Not gonna lie. This thought really haunted me.  And I started to consider running. Why?  Because I didn’t want to admit that I was an aerobics instructor that couldn’t run. (I also didn’t want to admit that I ate pizza and drank wine while watching severely overweight people fret about eating an extra piece of string cheese, but hey, we all have our secrets. 😉

Fast forward a year.  I still have done nothing to start running.  But the thought is in my mind. But now, my tv watching, wine sipping, pizza eating ways have caught up with me and I’m on Citalopram.  Although I am in a perfectly “happy” life, I have started having anxiety attacks and my doctor has placed me on this medication to help me avoid embarrassing panic attacks at work.  The Citalopram works at first.  But then, piece by piece, it begins to shut me down.  I begin going emotionally numb.  As in, I feel no anxiety.  But I also feel pretty much nothing else.

When my friend “Becky” asks me to come running with her in the mornings, my emotional zombie self forgets to arch her back and hiss.  In fact, I am completely indifferent.  But I remember somewhere in the back of my mind the old me that wanted so badly to learn to run.  So I just tell her, “Sure.  But I have no idea how to run, you know.”  Becky is desperate for a partner.  And she’s a beginner.  So she says yes.  This is back in the summer of 2008.  We go to the trails near our house (we lived on the same block) and start a slow jog.  Now, I’m not going to lie.  I was probably out of breath after about 1 minute.  But I still have SOME pride left.  So I continue to jog for another minute before telling Becky we need to walk.  And that is how it goes for 30 minutes.  Jog, walk, jog, walk.  All the way around the trail until we’ve done two miles.  I feel tired.  But good.  For a numb person.

The following week, we go twice.  And then three times.  And soon, it is July, and I am “wogging” 4 times a week.  But something happens in that time period that completely changes my life. Becky invites her sister-in-law to come run with us.  “Milena” is also a friend of mine and so I readily agree.  The three of us start out as usual.  But this time, Milena and Becky are talking about people I don’t know.  And the stories are good.  Really good.  On top of that, Milena doesn’t realize that I’m not that good at running, so she quickens our pace.  And she doesn’t exactly believe in walk breaks.  Within 5 minutes, I am DYING.  Milena and Becky offer to keep running and then come back for me.  “Sure.” I respond.  But then as they keep running, they keep telling all the cool stories!!!  So when they come back for me, I’m out of the loop.  I start running with them again.  This time, they’re on a new person’s issues.  I love this!  Someone has issues and I’m totally not responsible for them, don’t have to solve them, and have no idea who they’re talking about!  In fact, half the time, Becky and Milena don’t know who the other one is talking about, but they’ve “heard thru the grapevine”.  So I’m listening to the stories.  I want to stop.  But I want to listen too!  So I press on.  And keep going.  After about 10 minutes, Becky turns to me.  “Shelly!!!  You ran a mile without stopping!”  I freeze.  …. Yes!  I DID just run a mile without stopping!!!  I am excited!!! I am now officially a runner. Kind of.

Two weeks later, Becky does something else to change my life.  She invites me to this “silly” little 5K they hold on these trails on Monday nights during the summer.  She can’t go every Monday because of work.  But she wants to do a race this week and is nervous to go by herself.  She invites me to come.  Convinced that I am now invincible and can run for hours on end as long as there is a good story involved, I agree to go.   We sign up (it’s a whopping $5) and I position myself at the back of this small crowd of people.  There were maybe 75 of us.  The bell sounds and I realize around mile 1, that I actually have to repeat this whole running a mile thing 2 more times!!! On top of that, Becky has left me in the dust.  But as  I slow to a walk, another runner comes alongside me.  “Come on, girl!  You can go a little bit longer!”  And so I do.  Although I take walk breaks, I finish my first 5K in 38 minutes.  But the whole atmosphere of camaraderie and happiness is forever etched in my mind.  As I hand in my bib number, Mike Wade, the race director smiles at me.  “You did better than I thought.  You should come back next week.”  And so, even though my friend Becky can’t make it.  I show up.  BY. MY. SELF.  Now, I am officially a runner.  Almost.

Over the winter, I keep up running here and there on the treadmill.  I notice it helps me “feel” again.   As if all of the anxiety that the Citalopram had suppressed were suddenly spilling to the surface on my runs.  And I like having emotions. Even if they aren’t always the best.  I begin positioning myself on a treadmill away from others at the gym because during my dreadmill runs, I start talking to myself.  Venting.  Spit-whispering.  Coaching myself to keep going.   And let’s face it.  When a girl is red-faced, panting, and talking meanly to herself thru her teeth, that’s just weird.  But I was feeling!  And I liked feeling.  Even if what I was feeling were emotions long locked inside. Now, I was finally strong enough to free them from their prison. I began to realize that running or basically any exercise that was “too” hard for me was not only a physical exercise, but a mental.  Running was helping me to become emotionally stronger.

By the time the following summer arrives, I am ready to start training for a Half Marathon.  I am also completely off any medications.  I sign up for the Trail Race Series again.  And start making more running friends.  I never break the 10 minute mile speed.  But it is not about pride anymore.  Now, it is about how running makes me FEEL.  Now it is about how the fellow runners make me FEEL.  And what I FEEL is invincible.  Meaning, I now know that I can do almost anything I put my mind to.  Because a year ago, I hated running and could barely go for 2 minutes without walking.  And now I pay $5 to run in the woods with a bunch of crazy people for fun.  Yes.  NOW I am a runner.

The summer of 2009 I lose 10 pounds and literally change my body type.  I go from a size 10 to a size 6 jeans.   My thighs, calves, chest, and waist completely change.  Half my clothes began falling off of me.  My husband throws a funeral for the “girls”.  But more drastically, the inside of me changes.  I go from DESPISING running.  To NEEDING it.  Why?  Because for 10 years, I had taught at the front of an aerobics room and pushed people to their mental and physical limits.  ….while I hid safely behind the choreography and my mic.  But now? Now I was teaching and pushing my own self.  In running, I could no longer “hide” in the front of the classroom.  Now I had to be the student too.  My “student” self would whine. She would tell me to take it easy.  To give up and start walking.  It would tell me that my legs were falling off, my lungs were on fire, and my arms could not stand pumping for one more horrible second.  But my “running” self would refuse to listen.  She would just tell my old self to “shut up!” and keep going.  My running self was a heartless badass.

I tell you all this story not because I want you all to run out, buy shoes, and start running.  But because I want you all to learn the lessons that running taught me.  Three VERY important things.

1) The Importance of Having Friends that Are Fitness Minded.

If my friend “Becky” had asked me to come for drinks with her, I would’ve probably said yes to that too.  After all, what’s a couple of drinks with good friends?  My running “addiction” would probably never have started.  Take a look at the friends that you hang with.  Do they go out drinking every Thirsty Thursday?  Or do they invite you for a spirited round of racquetball?  Do they sit and whine about how the latest action thriller movie stunk?  Or do they ask you to help them as they lift heavy sheet rock for Habitat for Humanity?  I’m not saying that friends who invite you for drinks or the movies are bad.  But I am saying that your friends will help influence your fitness level.  Good or Bad.  So choose wisely.  When Becky ended up moving a year later, I still ran.  But I gave up our morning running ritual.  Which has been hard to get back to by myself ever since.

Your friends will help influence your fitness level.  Good or Bad.  So choose wisely.

2) The Importance of Telling Your Whiny, Baby, Mediocre Self to SHUT. UP.

When I first started running, I was a little too self-sparing.  Let’s face it, my mind had decided that running was “too hard” and had therefore convinced my lungs, legs, and arms that I was going to die pretty soon if I didn’t stop.  By just telling that negative part of myself to “shut up!” I was able to set P.R. after P.R.  (personal record after personal record)  Part of becoming a better anything, is letting the mediocre part of you whither and DIE.  That mediocrity must be squashed, flattened, disposed of quickly.  Or it will consume the greatness inside of you and forever be your boss.  When you feel like giving up, whether it be in an important project, an exercise routine, or even in your marriage, if you feel like giving up in ANYTHING that is worthy of your time, just have the awesome side of you tell your mediocrity to “shove it”.

Mediocrity must be squashed, flattened, disposed of quickly.  Or it will consume the greatness inside of you and forever be your boss.

3) The Importance of Exercising with People Who PUSH YOU TO BE BETTER THAN YOU ARE.

If I had gone on that run with Milena and Becky, and they had both just walked when I walked or if Milena was actually slower than me, I would never have seen the need to go faster.  I would never have experienced the PAIN of being left behind.  This one day of being with someone better than me INSPIRED me to get faster.  Add to that the people I ran with in the 5K and suddenly, I had a whole group of people telling me, “Go faster!”  “Work harder!”  “Don’t give up!”  “You can DO this!”  All of these positive messages were adding to my confidence as a runner and helping me to get stronger from the inside out.  Always find people in life that are better than you at something.  And hang with them until you get even better than them!  Then they will aspire to become as fast as you.  And the cycle of continual self-improvement will never end.

Always find people in life that are better than you at something.

In Conclusion

In my story, it’s running.  But for you, it could be another form of exercise.  It could be kickboxing.  Or basketball.  Or even a “relaxing” form of exercise that you find boring but your body desperately needs.  But find a way to release those negative emotions inside of you.  Find a safe and fulfilling way to make good friends and to become better than you are.  For me, it took a pulled hamstring, physical therapy, a ruptured tendon, surgery, more physical therapy, an *evil running partner, Insanity (the workout by Shaun T) and four years before I finally set my desired PR on the 5K (27:15).  But it was one of the best days of my life.  I have another PR that I aim to set next summer.  But I don’t mind if I spend the rest of my life chasing it.  My life is a fun and awesome run.  And I hope it never ends.

(*Side Note:  the “evil running partner” was a man that had run a half marathon the day before and was using this particular 5K as a cool down.  He kept talking to me and acting as if running up and down the hills on this hilly course were completely normal and a great thing to do after having run a half marathon so I proudly refused to stop running and just kept nodding my head and agreeing to everything he talked about.  After all, I was 35 and this dude was in his 70s.  There was NO WAY I was going to let this Grandpa beat me!)