Why Run?

I ran 28.78 miles in July.

I haven’t been a “runner” very long. In fact, I was never an athlete of any sort. The closest I came was trying out for my junior high basketball team. During tryouts, I tripped over the cones and fell during a drill. That was the end of my athletic aspirations.

As part of a better living initiative last year, I decided to try running. So in the hottest, most miserably humid part of July 2009, I gave it a whirl. I laced up my cross training shoes and went outside after a half-hearted stretching routine. I ran really really hard – feet slamming into the pavement, the shock reverberating through my knees – for as long as I could around the block, then came home, exhausted, drained and hurting.

I had been gone 12 minutes. That’s it. 12 stinking minutes, and I felt like I was going to die. The next three or four days, my legs ached in a way I had never experienced before. It wasn’t just the muscles, but the very bones and joints. I felt old and achy, hobbling up and down stairs, propping up my legs whenever I sat down.

I then repeated the drill twice more over the coming weeks, and gave up. This running thing obviously wasn’t for me. I shifted into a strength training program (which I love) and abandoned running.

But I kept thinking about it. During my weekly winter walk with a friend around the Centre’s indoor track, I started adding short sprints – a half lap here, a full lap there – to do a bit of interval training.

Then I stumbled on the Couch to 5k program. The premise was interesting: this program would take you from the couch (ie, a non-runner) to running a full 5k in just two months. It was too cold/icy/snowy to consider starting it outside in January (not to mention dark outside), and I didn’t want to rely on driving over to the Centre thrice a week. So I waited until March, hearing encouragement from others who had done the program.

I followed the guidelines to the letter, tracking my progress. My knees ached for the first few weeks, until I got fitted for “real” running shoes. And I decided to do the Elgin Fox Trot 5k on Memorial Day – a good goal that kept me on track with my training.

And now I just did 28 miles in one of the hottest Julys in memory, including my first 5 mile run last week.

I volunteered yesterday morning at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. It was a very early day (out the door at 4:30 AM on a Sunday? Sacre bleu!) but watching 18,000+ runners come streaming through the water station at mile 10 was incredibly inspiring. From the front runners – sailing along at a pace I couldn’t maintain a block, let alone 13.1 miles – to the walkers grimacing their way to the end, we cheered them all on, handing out water and screaming encouragement. I found myself itching to be out there with them. Maybe not the full distance, but I could have run the last 3 miles.

I still don’t particularly enjoy the act of running. My mind wanders and gets bored, so I start counting cars of a particular color or housecats in windows or foreclosed homes on a given block. I start off strong and usually finish pretty well, but in the middle, when my thoughts start to muddle together and I start processing the things that have been knocking around in my head, I wonder why exactly I’m out there. It hurts, and it’s hard to breathe when the pollen counts and humidity are high. But then I finish, and feel great, and I remember why.

And I’m glad I gave running a second chance.

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