Disclaimer: I do not claim to be your running, fitness, and health expert. I am, however, my running, fitness, and health expert, and I’m continuously learning as I progress and plan to keep learning for the rest of my life. I’m an enthusiast. And I love it when my personal expertise can be of help to someone who is trying to learn about theirs.
Below is my rendition of “You’ve got to start somewhere.”
1. Defy others’ perceptions of you
I wasn’t always a runner. I wasn’t always athletic. In fact, much of my childhood, I found myself in a very non-athletic category, reserved by common presumptions for a kid like me. A girl with purple glasses too big for her face, who never played kiddie soccer like most of her friends, and whose inhaler lurked in the bottom of her mother’s purse awaiting those cursed timed miles in P.E. when her “athletic asthma,” as the doctor called it, reared its ugly head.
I’ll never forget the day my 8th grade softball team’s first homerun – mine – made the afternoon announcements. It was doubly exciting seeing as I was the walk-on player who hadn’t even made first cuts. Right after my moment of middle school glory, the boy who sat behind me in seventh period Health (on whom I happened to have an enormous crush) tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re on the softball team?” to which I proudly replied, “Yeah.” “I didn’t know you were athletic,” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked. He shrugged, “I just thought you were, you know, smart.” Who knew the two were mutually exclusive?
2. Jump off the wagon
During my last season of high school softball, even though a few smaller schools tried to recruit me, I decided I did not want to play in college. I had given myself to the sport year round for four years, served as captain for two, and the game did its fair share of lifting me up, and later, burning me out. But it had introduced me to off-season conditioning workouts, which introduced me to fitness. It also made me living proof, to myself and anyone else who ever wondered, that I could own stakes in both of those words: “athletic” and “smart.” I wanted to know what other words I had in me. So, for various reasons, I said no, but thanks.
More than one of my mentors at the time told me I was a quitter. I was throwing away a talent, and it was disappointing. They said my beloved active lifestyle, born from my commitment to leading conditioning workouts, would slip away from me. One person told me I’d “get fat” like they did, that I’d become unhealthy if I weren’t playing softball, that I’d “fall off the wagon.”
I can look back and appreciate that those past mentors were only trying to help me avoid their regrets. And I can happily say I did not listen. I went to college without committing to a team sport. And there, I built my own wagon.
3. Build your own wagon
I owe much to those conditioning workouts, as they provided the foundation of my knowledge and enthusiasm for health and fitness. Short, quick, hard cardio, free weight strength training, body weight training, compound movements, core work – I explored these veins of fitness on my own and adapted my routine. I learned what worked and what didn’t, what made me work harder, and what made me get lazy, and I became the go-to for exercise tips and advice among my friends. By my junior year in college, I plateaued.
It wasn’t challenging for me anymore, and a bored body leads to a bored mind.
I ran four miles outside for the first time in February that year, exposed to the elements and the very non-treadmill-like terrain of the road beyond the gym. At the end of the run, I was hot, sweaty, breathing heavier than I remembered I could, and I had a funky film of hardened saliva around my lips; the run was difficult for me. I don’t know what drove me to do it, other than simply wanting to know if I could.
You see, before, I used running as nothing more than a supplement to my workout: a quick, calorie-busting blast on the treadmill. And up until that day, though endurance running had mystified and intrigued me, it was something I distanced myself from by claiming that I was not a runner. In my head, I simply could not run long – but I was truly impressed by those who could.
After those four miles, I made a training schedule that would get me to 13.1 miles within the next four months; I had my sights set on a half marathon race in June. “I’m not really a runner,” I’d say, almost defensively, when my new goal came up in conversation.
Hesitation about my limits followed me as I made my way through my first training schedule, first injury from overtraining, first revision of that schedule, and the first times people greeted me by saying “Oh, yeah, I saw you running the other day.” I didn’t register for that race until right after my last long run, because at the time, completing that ten mile run was the closest thing I had to knowing I could go three more.
4. Describe yourself in your own words
After I ran my first half marathon, something dawned on me – if I trained my body and my mind, I could run long, and I could even run hard. Almost immediately, I signed up for my first 26.2 mile race, telling myself that when I became a marathoner, I could then call myself a runner.
Months later, I finally saw mile marker 26 for the first time. As I strained to hear the sound of the finish line over the crest of the last of many, many hills, I knew:
It wasn’t just the finish line of that race, or any other, that made me one.
I had become one when it was normal for me to have to wait a couple minutes before I could use my fingers again after coming inside from training in sub-freezing wind chills.
I became one when, after countless trial and error, I learned to dress for a run as if it were ten degrees warmer than the temperature outside; bumping it up a few degrees more if the sun was out, less if the wind was blowing.
It happened somewhere around the time I could tell you that the top of the third, steepest and longest hill on one of my go-to training routes marked exactly one mile from my home, and could similarly spout off numerous other mile-markers about town.
I became a runner each time I spoke with another runner about the “pre-run poop” in hushed, reverent tones, and each time I felt the consequences after properly (or improperly) fueling my body for a workout, and each time tears of joy fled to my eyes when I reached a distance that I’d once deemed impossible for me. And when I wanted to get out there and do it again, but better.
And those times I said “Sorry, I can’t, I have plans,” when plans meant I’d be running for a couple of hours (I mean, it’s long run day, people!).
I was a runner each time I stayed out there, through miles of fighting to scale the wall of mental and physical instincts that told me to stop, and even those times I let fear win for the day, but went back out the next day to argue my limitations.
I am a runner each time I relish at the wind at my back, but silently thank it later for being in my face sometimes, too.
And each time someone asks me to help them create a training schedule for a new goal, or begins to tell me about their last run, and I hear that echo: “But, I’m not a runner like you,” I smile, because neither was I.
Molly is a friend and fitness colleague that I can always trust to give sound programming advice when I have to think about training my resident runners. I know they’ll enjoy reading this.
If you’d like to reach out to Molly about her fitness journey, feel free to leave a comment below!