“I can’t believe I actually do this for fun now”: how I became the most unlikely runner ever

I’ve never been even remotely athletic. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, this probably comes of no surprise to you, after reading countless rants based around my artistic frustrations with no mention of any sporting pursuits. But throughout my youth, the only athletic endeavors I attempted ended in miserable failure or just plain disinterest. Why would I kick/throw/hit a ball around for no reason when I could be memorizing lines and blocking for a play? Why bother running unless I was late for choir rehearsal? What was the point of learning to do anything less than the required minimum in my P.E. class if my gym teacher, plucked straight out of a 90s sitcom, tracksuit and all, was still going to be biased towards those shining students who participated in extracurricular organized sports? It all seemed like a waste of time. Also, I am clumsy as hell.

When I was in elementary school, I tried out the community youth soccer organization. I lasted one day and then threw a tantrum when I got home about how ridiculous it was that you’re not allowed to use your hands in soccer. In P.E. class, I regularly ended up the last person left standing on my team during “trench” (the less violent version of dodgeball we were allowed to play in public school), not because I was good at the game, but because I was so afraid of being hit by the flying Nerf balls that I would hide and dodge them in the corner until every last one of my teammates got out. I also spent several pathetic years in dance classes, which I only survived because my sense of rhythm turned out to be better than my coordination. Then in middle school, I tried out a community volleyball league with my sisters, and it soon became clear that my coach’s supposedly endearing nickname for me, the “Digging Machine,” really just meant he was aware that digging was the only thing I was physically capable of doing during a game, and that I was mostly useless at everything else.

After the volleyball attempt, I shied away from any other organized sports as an adolescent. The only other remotely athletic thing I participated in was the marching band colorguard, of which I was a member for two years and captain for one of the two. The only reasons I joined in the first place were because A. I had given up on the clarinet because I hated the stupid thing, and B. I still wanted to hang out with my band geek friends on the weekends. Surprisingly, I turned out to be better than average at this specific form of choreographed flag-twirling. Now, I’m as shocked as you probably are that I was able to spin, throw, and catch a flag or rifle while simultaneously moving across a football field, but for some reason, my lack of hand-eye coordination did not translate to this activity. Mind you, this wasn’t enough of a confidence booster for me to try out any other athletic things, but hey, at least I had really strong arm muscles for a couple years in high school (which turned out to be really useful when I was painting/moving sets for theatre, my one true love at the time).

Since then, the only mildly athletic thing I’ve attempted has been yoga, which I enjoy mainly because it’s not competitive or fast-paced. Yoga is my kind of exercise, even though I’m not remotely flexible and sometimes get extremely worried about farting during class. (If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you get it.) So, you can understand why, when I decided to start a couch-to-5K training program at the beginning of last summer, I probably had so little faith in myself sticking with it that it’s shocking I even started it in the first place.

If you’re not familiar with the couch-to-5K type of running plan, it starts you out by alternating brief running intervals with walking. Gradually, the intervals get longer, and you continue until you can actually run for more than 30 seconds without wanting to run yourself right off the edge of a cliff. Each run is about half an hour long and you only need to run three times a week — it is literally designed to take a lazy non-runner and train them to run a 5K by the end of eight weeks. I was skeptical, but after hearing testimonials from multiple people who had successfully done it, I decided to give it a try.

At first, I wanted to die. The intervals were tough, and every time my walking portions ended, I wanted to just keep on walking. After a certain point, though, it stopped feeling like a chore and started feeling like something I wanted to do because it made me feel good. After my first successful 20 minute run, I felt like a million bucks for running that long without stopping, and after that point, I actually itched to be running on my off days. I stopped looking at the training program as something I was just trying out, and started feeling like a runner. I finished the program and started tracking my distance and time each time I went out. I started getting up earlier and earlier to avoid the ridiculous midwest summer humidity. I bought moisture-wicking running clothes and fancy expensive running shoes from a store that videotapes your feet in order to find you the right kind of shoe (not even kidding). I looked forward to my post-run breakfasts of oatmeal and coffee on my parents’ porch. I fell in love with the routine and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I shocked myself.

If you had told me six months ago that, come fall, I would be running four miles every other day, I would have laughed in your face. But now I do that, and it’s part of my daily routine that I actually look forward to. Sure, it’s hard getting up and running on weekdays when I could be sleeping in for an extra hour and a half, but the feeling I get when I finish is worth it. I love the fact that the perfect song on my playlist can convince me to run an extra half mile, or that one simple run can turn an awful day into a great one. I am amazed that, even if the first mile of my run is rough, I can push through and feel energized and inspired by mile four. I like that the only person I have to depend on when I run is myself, and that every time I hit the pavement, I’m proving that more and more. I look forward to stopping next to my “stretching tree” at the end of every run and feeling that weird mix of exhaustion and exhilaration while I let myself finally rest. Mostly, I am so proud of everything that my own body can accomplish that I never thought it could.

Maybe I’ll be a runner for the rest of my life, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll eventually run a marathon, maybe I’ll only ever run 5Ks. I don’t know. But the important thing is that I now know I am capable of doing it, and that all it took was my mind sticking with it for me to get there. And that’s enough for me right now.

these feet were made for running.

obligatory feet pic from my first 5K at the beginning of October.

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