When I was young, like maybe age 10 or so, my dad used to run all the time. This was in the Jim Fixx era, for those who remember him. My dad trained to run a marathon, and I used to ride my bike with him when he would go running. It was hard work — he would go on long runs, and we were in Omaha, so there were abundant hills. It was great daddy-daughter bonding time. I got to watch him run his first (and only) marathon. I was agog at his medal. It never occurred to me that I could run with him, but it sure looked like fun, especially when you can get a medal!
I joined the track team when I was s sophomore in high school. That was my “join everything” year. I got involved in all sorts of school activities. I was not at all athletic, so sports like basketball and volleyball were not choices for me. But I figured I could do track. It was running. Short distances. I could do that, easy. My parents bought me kick-ass track spikes. We would practice in the parking lot; we didn’t have a track. One lap around the parking lot was close to a 400. When I ran that parking lot, I ended up getting terrible shin splints. I would have to keep running that parking lot until I made time, which I never seemed to be able to do because my shins hurt so bad. I think I attended only one meet and then I quit the team.
A few years ago I went with my cousin to watch him run his very first half marathon (which turned out to be the first of many he ran). I was in awe of the runners I saw there, including my cousin. I sat on Lake Shore Drive and watched Pete and everyone else run by me and was envious that they could run like that. When I saw my cousin’s medal, I was so inspired I decided I wanted to run a half-marathon. I had a year to prepare for it. I was working out, just not running. So I just needed to change up my exercise routine.
I told people I wanted to run a half marathon. One person flat out told me I couldn’t do it. I was too fat to do it. He didn’t say it in those exact words, but by telling me how taxing it would be on my body, how much stress it would put on my heart, and then saying, “I don’t think you can realistically do it,” told me enough — too fat to run that kind of race. Truth be told, I wasn’t completely unconvinced he wasn’t right. But I tried. I ran on the treadmill and I had terrible shin splints. So I started running on the indoor track at the park district and I started practicing with the track kids I helped coach sometimes, and I often stayed after practice to run on the outdoor track. I got shin splints. I bought new shoes from an experienced running shoe dealer. I tied my shoes in a special way. I went to a podiatrist and paid bingo bucks for custom-made orthotics. I did the stretches my podiatrist gave me. I lived with bags of frozen peas strapped to my legs (or so it seemed). I had frozen Dixie cups of ice in my freezer to ice my shins. My friend Emily ran outside with me to help spur me on. I got shin splints over and over and over again. I tried running through the pain. It got worse. I finally stopped when I was suffering so terribly that I was limping down the hall at work. I was nearly crippling myself to keep running. But the words of my friend, “You can’t do it,” ended up ringing true. I couldn’t do it. So I quit. I kept working out, but I quit running.
I developed a new circle of friends once I started attending Blackhawks games regularly with my husband Jim. Many of them like to run, especially 5Ks. Many of my coworkers are also runners, again mostly 5Ks. Somewhere along the line, Jim became inspired to run a 5K so he started running. I would ask him if he ever had any pain while running. Nope, none beyond the normal strain you would feel from running. He ran inconsistently and in crappy shoes, and he completed the Hot Chocolate 5K this past weekend in less than 45 minutes. Pretty damn good for a guy in his mid-40s, who is overweight like me, and who runs inconsistently and drinks a lot of beer.
And I was jealous. I’ve been jealous since the moment he signed up to run that damn race because I knew he was going to do it. I’ve wanted to be a runner most of my life, and whenever I tried, I ended up saying, “I can’t.” So jealous. Irrationally and childishly jealous. So mature, I know, but I’m being honest here.
So I decided to try this crap again one more time. I started doing little run-walk routines outside. I tried 30 seconds on a treadmill and my shins screamed. But I found that when I was outside, the shins didn’t protest much at all. Well, this was new. No shin pain???? But I discovered that I was having trouble with my calves and my Achilles cramping up. In my head, all I could think was, “Really? Another obstacle?” But I plodded along and plodded along, running much more like a hippo than a gazelle, but I have slowly pushed my way through the pain as long as it didn’t feel like I was injuring myself. I’ve secretly been using the C25K app and alternating run/walk days with cardio/strength training days for a little bit now. Last week on Tuesday I decided to try something I hadn’t done in probably 30 years: I decided to run a mile. And I did it. One mile without stopping to walk. I tried it again on Thursday, and I did it. A mile. No stopping to walk. This made me raise my eyebrows and think, “Maybe?????” Today, I tried it again. And I did it again. And what a mental hurdle that was! Now I believe it’s just a matter of time. Now I believe that running a 5K with my husband is something I can do. I just need to continue to make my slow but steady progress. I need to run through the pain that isn’t injurious pain. I need to constantly remind myself that I have done this already, so when I’m huffing and puffing and wanting to stop, I can give myself a mental kick in the ass.
I’m taking a huge risk by posting this because what if something happens and I fail? There is still a shadow of a doubt in the back corner of my brain. If I don’t accomplish this, I will look like a fool to every person who bothered to read this. I will look like a quitter.
But right now, as I sit here with my Achilles a little achy and my hips a little achy, I am damn determined to be the girl who gets off the bike and runs. Be the girl who ends up being worth the investment in those expensive track spikes. Be the girl who runs like a, well… a gazippo. Be the girl who can run.