In the Long Run
I’ve never considered myself a runner. Runners seemed like the kind of people who were thin and muscular and who could just go out and do a marathon anytime they wanted. They were ultra-runners or sprinters, or trail runners. Running was hard. And running for me was definitely not fun.
When you are a kid, running seems like the most natural and one of the most fun things. Kids don’t run because they are trying to get in shape or lose weight, they run because they can. They run to catch other people in games, they run to get stuff, and they run because they can’t wait to get to where they are going.
I certainly ran around when I was young, but the running the mile once a year for gym class was the most dreaded thing. Running in a circle in around a parking lot a certain amount of times and feeling like I was slow and last, made me never want to do running on purpose as a sole activity.
I didn’t realize I was capable of running more than a mile until after college when I joined a gym to try to get in shape. I faced my fear of how to work the treadmill, hoping I wouldn’t trip and embarrass myself by falling off of it. Eventually, I could jog a mile. And then two. My knees ached, my shins hurt, but eventually, they stopped hurting so much. I jogged outside. I could do 3 miles, then on a good day, 4. I understood what I had always heard about how the first mile always hurts and how it gets easier after. Still, I’m not sure I was having fun. I was happy I could do it, and it made me feel stronger and more in shape, but it wasn’t something I looked forward to. It became part of a routine, something I had to do to maintain or lose weight.
When I moved to Portland, Oregon when I was 24 years old, I could barely afford a gym membership so I bought one that I could use only 3 of the 7 days. I could have run outside, but I never really did. I could have started to do 5ks and find a running community, but I didn’t have any money and the idea of meetups and Facebook groups was years away.
I liked the structure of the gym and at the time, there were not Fitbits or IPhones to track runs, pace, or mileage. One of the three days I could use the gym was on Sundays, and since I only went for a short amount of time after work on Tuesdays or Thursdays, I designated Sunday as “3 hour Sunday” and would do a 3 hour workout in the morning at the gym. I would run for 40 minutes on the treadmill, usually doing just over 4 miles, and then proceed with weights and other machines. If for some reason, I just couldn’t do the whole 40 minute treadmill, I felt like a failure that day, and sometimes that feeling stretched into the whole week. Running became this anxiety producing thing, because I wanted to be able to do it well and I didn’t feel that I could. After about a year and a half, I swore off the treadmill, and allowed myself not to feel so anxious about it. I did yoga, dance workouts, hiked on weekends, biked to work every day, walked everywhere I could, and did the Stairmaster and elliptical machines at the gym instead, finally getting a membership that I would use every day that was closer to my house.
Fast forward to many years later, I stopped working out at the gym all together for about 3 years after my diagnosis with an eating disorder. I didn’t trust myself to do it for a long time, worried that I would fall back into my obsessiveness with tracking workouts, calories, and weight. After living Ohio for over a year, I started doing yoga classes, and then joined a gym again, going 6 of the 7 days of the week for only an hour or so, and doing spin classes or fun boot camp workouts. I ran once in a while at the park, and then started doing the treadmill again, working back up to 3 mile runs. Right before I left Ohio to move to Oregon for a great job and new life, I signed up for my first 5k. I was super nervous, but totally rocked the race, ran at 27:56 (a speed I don’t think I will ever replicate) and won 3rd place in my age group. And the race was fun.
In Oregon, running outside was fun when I first moved since there are tons of bike paths and places to run in Corvallis. However, I didn’t do it very often. I ran sometimes on the treadmill or would do 2 mile runs from my apartment on the bike path. I did a few 5ks and felt pretty good about them. But I never would have said I was a runner.
This past year, I’ve tried to focus more on training hikes, (steep hikes with lots of elevation gain) to be in mountain shape. Perhaps this is part of what helped me be able to run or hike up steep stuff without being so out of breath. My legs became much more muscular and I felt proud of my legs not because they were thin, but because they were strong. In late August, I downloaded a Nike Run Club app, thinking that maybe guided workouts would motivate me.
The first run I did was an interval run, and pushed myself much further and longer than I would have done on my own, because it was fun and motivating. Then I did another run the next weekend at the bike path, listening to a story mixed with music, which distracted me from the shin pain and wanting to quit. One day, I ran 4 miles. Then 5 miles. I gave myself a high five after and felt amazing. I had never run 5 miles before! The app helped me to think about how to pace myself, how to work on form, and formulate goals. The best thing I’ve learned, is that not every run is going to be great. And that’s o.k. Because every time you run, you are a better runner than you were before that run. You are stronger. And that matters whether it was only one mile or 15. Running can be more than just exercise. Running more has allowed me to see more of Corvallis, as I explore new routes and has been a great stress relief during the busy fall months. In the future, I could see myself joining the local running group and meeting new people in the running community.
I knew running a 10k was a goal that I wanted to do someday, but I saw one that looked fun and a week and a half before the race I decided on a whim, to sign up for it. I was unsure if I could do it, but why not try? My knee ached the week before on my run, and I worried the whole week if I’d be able to do the run.
Last Saturday, I drove up the Eola Hills Winery, and waited nervously inside. The tasting room was packed with other runners, trying to warm up inside before going out to the 30 degree morning in the valley. I had tried to ask a few friends to join, but it was sort of last minute and no one could. So I was alone and unsure what would happen. I really wanted a win. I wanted to know that I could do this. If I could do a 10k, then to me, I would really feel like a runner.
The first few miles, I took the advice I always hear on the Nike Run Club app, to start slow. I let my body adjust and then slowly go a bit faster. The route was flat and easy to follow with one turn around at mile 3.1. I felt good. I picked up my pace slightly. My shins and knees hurt a little, but not bad. On the last 100 ft. when I knew I had been able to reach my goal of running the entire 6 miles, I was able to run fast to the finish line. I was so incredibly happy and relieved and proud of myself. My pace had been what I hoped it would be, I wouldn’t win any awards with it, but with just over 10 minute miles, for 6.2 miles, I was super pleased.
My reward was wine and pizza, which I savored in victory with a whole group of strangers, who already sort of felt like a community. And as long as my knees and body allow, I hope I will remain a runner. Hiking and mountains and climbing are my top passions but running is so accessible and can make you feel so accomplished if you just put in the effort and the miles. One step, one success, and one run at a time.