work out

There’s a First for Everything

When it comes to running, I talk a big game. For the most part, I’ve been unnaturally successful on this journey—I have yet to hit the breaking point, to face the painful reality of quitting. Well, until today.

On Monday I started the first big week of running with Couch to 5K—25 minutes without breaks all week long. But after a few good Fridays with 20 and 22 minutes under my belt, I thought I was prepared. To keep my concentration away from the slow downfall of my lungs and heart, I put on an audiobook. Which was all well and good until the halfway point, when I wanted to scream at Margaret Atwood for not writing more action packed scenes. The mental battle shouted through the prose. “You’re halfway, which means you will be TWICE as tired when you’re done. Face it, you’re not really a runner, you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life, so let’s just bail.” I took a few seconds to change to music, but screwed up the Couch to 5K timer, losing all of the data I’d gotten for the first half of the run. I decided to run to where I’m usually allowed to quit, and hope for the best.

Today I finally had to face the full 25 minutes. And my subconscious chose to sabotage me. “You’re not actually going to be a runner. Once you’re done with this, you’ll probably stop running altogether. You don’t enjoy this that much, and you never stick to anything, so why are you doing this at all? Just, stop running for a second.” And that’s when I did it. For the first time on this whole adventure, I stopped running before the app told me I was allowed. I walked for half a block, mentally screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU BROKE????” I started to run again, but the damage had been done. For the next mile I stopped on and off, feeling the seconds stack up on my average time. I was a mix of dread and shame. “Am I a runner? If I can quit this easily, if I can talk myself out of it so quickly, maybe this is all in vain. I haven’t found the runner’s high, I am miserable the whole time I’m running. Is this all just a prelude to one giant failure?”

For the last five blocks I ran without stopping, vowing to reach the end of the song to prove that I wasn’t a complete failure. And, thankfully, the 25 minute mark came first. I genuinely almost threw up when I stopped. I got so far as to plan out where I would do it, should the opportunity strike. Those bushes? That trash bin? The street? Which place would cause the least amount of stress to the neighborhood?

I hated feeling like a failure, so I pushed myself a bit in the cool down, running a short half block, and sprinting a half block to my apartment. These don’t change my running average, but to get over the mental hurdles, I needed to prove that I could do more.

I dreaded looking at my pace. I imagined something in the 11-minute range. I walked, which immediately adds minutes to my average, right?

To my utter surprise, today I averaged 9:51 over 2.54 miles. This is my best pace for straight running.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the questions still hang in the air, and now that I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of negative thought, it’s pretty difficult to close. I’m proud of myself for getting such a great pace, but I worry that the damage has been done. I know, objectively, that running will get easier with each day, but in the moment, as my stomach cramps, and my lungs feel like they’re going through a paper shredder, success doesn’t feel real. I guess I’m not done with the mental battle yet.


Will My Legs Ever Stop Hurting?

I am not a physically fit individual. When asked to run the mile in high school, I’d finish the process near the end of the group with the asthma kids, and I don’t have asthma. I’d also cheat by skipping laps. The sports kids were running circles around me anyway, so bailing in the final lap prevented all of us from waiting out in the cold while I meandered around the track loop.

Suffice to say, I never had a strong desire to be a runner. When people would mention cross country running I’d get nauseous for them by association. You guys did a five miles run after school for practice, or worse for fun? I’d rather have each of my teeth removed with pliers.

Imagine my surprise, ten years later, when my mind started whining about running. We should start running, it posed, rather suddenly, it seems kind of fun. Wouldn’t you love to be a runner? Not only would you survive longer in a hypothetical apocalyptic situation, but you’d be a runner. Runners are cool. They are happier. You want to be happier, don’t you? We should go for a run. Right now. Who cares if it’s midnight–let’s go running!

My mind didn’t ever really stop bugging me about how cool runners were. And, as years before with vegetarianism, it had be convinced that if I picked up this new habit, I’d somehow be magically cooler. (Vegetarianism did not make me any cooler, for the record.) Ever since reading A Separate Peace in ninth grade I’d always been fascinated by the runner’s high. You mean there was a magical time when you were running when you stopped hating everything and running seemed fun? I’d never gotten anywhere near a runner’s high, and I wanted to see what it was like.

Finally, after humming and hawing for years, I’ve taken the running plunge.

On Sunday night I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and vowed to start it the next day. And I got my butt out of bed, put on a pair of old sneakers and never-used workout gear, and headed out the door.

I’ve only completed two workouts, but I’m finding the app extremely useful. Other attempts at running have left me near retching on my front lawn, but the Couch to 5K program recognizes how weak I am at the start. After the first trip I certainly didn’t feel great (in fact, I kind of felt like I’d been hit by a train), but the feeling didn’t stop me from going out again today. And, to my great surprise, today’s run was much easier. I didn’t feel great about my form and speed, but when my darling Constance (the app’s automated trainer) told me I could stop running, my feet weren’t slowing down. I’m not saying I could keep running for long, but I could feel the progress, and it felt incredible.

I’ve often thought that Future Me was a runner. But the thing about Future Me is that she’ll never be Present Me if I don’t do something about it. I’m not going to just suddenly be the person I want to be one day after a miraculous night of sleep–I have to go get her. Run, even.

Now will someone please tell me, when comes the part where my legs stop hurting when I stand up? Soon? Yes?