Those of Us Who Were Not Born To Run

Last St. Patrick's day weekend, I ran an 8K race in Virginia Beach with some of the finest ladies around. This was A Big Deal. I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. I did not enjoy running. During the yearly mile runs in gym class (my least favorite day of each year), I consistently finished in the bottom 10 percent. In college, one of my RA staff gave me a fridge memo pad--a woman splayed across an easy chair declares, "If God had meant for me to run, there would be a giant squid chasing me." (Sarah knows me well.) Last winter, there was a giant squid chasing me, and it took the form of the fluff I'd put on during a few months in an air cast after a tennis-related teeny tiny broken boneBecause a girl can only wear empire-waisted dresses for so long, I knew I needed a tangible fitness goal to work toward. As luck would have it, I already had a very persuasive friend, and that friend had an idea. 

Kay Marie and I signed up for the 8K, and I started training in late October--two weeks after I came out of the cast. It wasn't just physically hard; it was mentally debilitating. I could only run for 90-second intervals, and that was barely enough time to find a stride. I used a podcast based on a couch-to-5K plan to help pace myself for interval runs, and it helped. I worked out about five times a week, which included two or three runs, one or two days of weight training, and one or two days of other cardio--contra dancing, elliptical, or biking, with a sprinkling of Pilates. On January 10, Josh and I ran a glorious 5K at a track in the brutal cold. By March 1--19 days ahead of schedule--I accidentally ran an 8K on a Monday morning. (I was feeling good on the run, and by the time I ran back to my door, "Radar Love" had just come on my iPod. You can't just stop when "Radar Love" is playing.) Race day earned me a shiny medal, a bigger-than-usual ego, and lots of St. Patrick's Day swag, thanks to thoughtful KM.
We did it!

After a hiatus from running for several months, I've been running very infrequently. This morning's weather was particularly tempting, though, so I headed out on a little neighborhood jaunt. I'm not as bad at running as I was last October, but I wasn't ready for even a 5K today. As I plowed (slowly) through two miles, I remembered the things that most helped me--a nonrunner--get to that race day last year:

Start out slowly. I have to remind myself that this isn't a race--yet. Even though I'm doing Zumba, weight training, and the elliptical, my body doesn't naturally stay adjusted to the movement and impact of running. I have to carefully pace myself to gauge how hard I can push without overexertion, injury, or misery--all equal impediments. I increased my running intervals gradually, a week at a time, to keep myself on track but not hating it.

Stretch. I stretch after every run, and not just my legs. I remember a run with Kit on the morning of her wedding--it had been years since I'd run, and the next day I was shocked that my sides were sore. I had no idea I twisted my torso so much. Stretching dramatically decreases my soreness, and keeps me from thinking,  "Clearly, my body is against this running thing. See how it protests! I would be a fool to voluntarily bring this upon myself repeatedly!" 

Smile. (I promise, I'm not trying to get away with some alliteration gimmick. It's just coincidence!) Tomes have been written. Adages have been around. Accentuate the positive. Keep on the sunny side. Fake it until you make it. Smile and the world smiles with you. Smiling's my favorite! When I remembered to notice that I was outside, perhaps even in sunshine, I wasn't walking in a cast, and I was pretty healthy, I remembered that I felt blessed to be able to struggle through a five-minute run. Not only does it make the runs easier, but I actually enjoy them. Shh. Don't tell my high school gym teacher.

Focus on breathing. I do not have a pretty stride. I look nothing like a gazelle. I run absurdly upright, and my feet nearly skim the ground. Thinking about the mechanics vexed me. Focusing on my breath keeps me calm and helps me find my body's tempo. It also helps with, you know, breathing. 

Do what works for you. I bought myself some snazzy running gear. I downloaded motivating (slightly angry) music, including some that had a BPM that I could match or reach toward. (Yes, Golden Earring IS on that list.) I ran with encouraging friends and a supportive boyfriend, all who were patient enough to slow down their pace to run with me.

So there you have it--my best strategies for getting my fluffy, broken-footed self to a five-mile run. Well, I guess there's one more tactic. Tell everyone you know that you're training for a race, and they'll keep tabs on you. Share it on Facebook, on the Twitter, or post it on your blog! .... Hm. I guess I should find my next race, huh?


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