I am a reluctant runner. That is true at least some of the time and when I first started it was true all of the time. I blame some of this reluctance on my terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad middle school PE teacher. Does anyone remember the President’s Physical Fitness test? I am 32 years old and still I have nightmares. In truth I don’t remember the bulk of the test, but I have a searing, flash bulb perfect memory of the running the damn mile. That’s how I thought of it too. Even as a bookish, 10-year-old good girl who didn’t really cuss, the damn mile loomed year after year after year. Years later my memory of these runs are centered primarily on two things. The first is the dread and fear that preceded them. The second (and certainly more painful) is the voice of Mr. Craft yelling at the top his little-man lungs that “My grandmother in a wheelchair can run faster than that.” I can’t imagine what he must have been thinking to yell that at a kid who was clearly doing the best she could, but he is surely a deeply, deeply unhappy man.
This isn’t the kind of formative experience that makes a person think that running might just be for them. And I was no different. Running and my name didn’t appear in the same sentence until I was in college. During those years I realized that if I wanted to keep eating the way I like to eat (which is alot) and I didn’t want to continue to steadily gain weight (the way I had been since high school graduation), I was going to need to do something. But what should that something be? Team sports were not even remotely attractive and in my mind, that left a small handful of activities you could do by yourself. Swimming (got to find a pool, wear a bathing suit and go back and forth in one place for long periods of time – not attractive), Yoga (appealing but expensive to join a studio – humm….) and Running (cheap, easy to do anywhere, no need to join a gym, but I was sure I wasn’t cut out for it). I talked all of this over with my then girlfriend who impulsively suggested we put on our tennis shoes and run around campus. On a beautiful spring afternoon we ran a loop around the campus (it was maybe a mile) and it felt great. I loved being outside and the feel of pushing my body. We were both so excited by our achievement that we went straight to Baskin Robbins to celebrate. Hey, I’d just run a MILE. I deserved chocolate peanut butter fudge. Clearly, I still had quite a bit to learn about the balance of input and output, but something started that day. I realized that I liked to run. That it felt good and made me feel good about myself.
We left the Baskin Robbins that afternoon and I didn’t run another mile for two years. No magical flip switched into the “on” position, but it did shift out of “off”. Running became something I thought I wanted to do when I could make the time for it. A few years later I made the time. I started running outside in the mornings in my neighborhood. Because I’m me, I bought some books on the subject. I started running 2-3 mile loops every other day. Shockingly when I couldn’t fit in a run on a running day, I missed it. I looked forward to the next run. I didn’t care about being fast, I just cared about getting it done. Covering the distance. Keeping this date with myself.
It has been 10 years since I started running regularly. I run four days a week now and I think that’s right for me. The longest distance I’ve ever gone was 13.1 miles when I ran a half-marathon with my wife last summer. It was a long way and I’m not sure I have any interest in going any farther. What I have realized over these years is that the thing that keeps me at it week after week is running outside. Being a part of the world in such a physical way. Exploring new places, interacting with the weather (it’s surprisingly refreshing to run in the rain), seeing your town from a different perspective. The treadmill has it’s place, but if I believed that running=running on a treadmill, I would not be a runner. I have no question in my mind. It just wouldn’t be worth it.
So, if you think that running is something that only takes place on the treadmill, I’m nudging you to open your front door and step outside. It’s beautiful out there. You might have to go slower or even walk sometimes, but it’s SO worth it and this is the perfect time of year to give it a shot. As a last bit of encouragement, I’ve got a tip. Map My Run is a super easy, FREE website that will allow you to map a run anywhere. Just plug in your address and with a few clicks you can create a route of whatever length you choose. This is a great resource if you’re in a new town as well. You can save runs you like and even review routes that other people have created. See what you think!