About 4 years ago I watched as my husband started running. We’d gone to Fleet Feet and had him fitted for a good pair of running shoes and he started going on runs. I wanted nothing to do with it, since I’m not a big fan of exercise, but when fall came, he signed up for a 5K for Catholic Charities. After that, he looked for other opportunities to train so he’d have goals.
The following spring, he was supposed to go to Boston for a business trip that our whole family could join him on. He would work the first few days, then take a couple of days off to visit his brother and sister-in-law, and his mother would fly in to see us, too. That was the year the Boston Marathon was bombed, and we arrived two days after they captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (The entire trip almost didn’t go off because of the manhunt.) Boston was a little subdued, and when I went to the cathedral, there were photographs of the three victims in one of the chapels.
Thursday of that week, our family was doing the Freedom Trail, walking around the city or taking busses to see various landmarks that are important to the American Revolution. We got downtown, not far from the Prudential Center and the finish line, when we saw a display in a large public square. There were barricades like the ones used near the finish line of the marathon, and people were leaving mementos there: flowers, candles, teddy bears, and more. But the most moving part, and it still brings tears to my eyes today, were the running shoes. Dozens of people had left their running shoes wedged in one of the barricades. Nathan looked at that display, turned to me, and said, “I’m going to run a marathon.”
I still thought he was a little crazy, but he bought Hal Higdon’s book on marathon training and started researching where he could go to run his first marathon. He decided that he would run the Richmond Marathon in November, and he sat down and plugged in his training schedule on the calendar so he could go from his 5K form to being able to finish a marathon. We cheered him on and waited for him to do his long runs and got ready to go to the marathon. As we waited for him to cross the finish line, I watched in amazement at the people who were running the half and full marathons.
I always had it in my head that runners look a certain way. They’re lithe, they’re fit, when they run they look like gazelles. Marathon runners, especially, look this way. But what I learned while I watched the runners go by was that this simply isn’t true. Runners look like everyone.
I saw fit runners. I saw young runners and old ones. I saw runners who were built like me — or even heavier — cross the finish line. I saw friends approach the gate and reach out to hold each other’s hands to cross together. I saw people fall only yards away from the goal and have friends go back for them, or family jumped the barricades to help them up. I saw people limp across the line and I saw people jump up and down as they did it. I saw all kinds of people who ran the marathon. And that’s when it hit me.
There is no one kind of runner.
I started really thinking about it: could I be a runner? I’ve never really liked exercise, so it seems like it’s a bad fit, but I started to go further back in my life, before the embarrassing sprint times during Presidential Fitness Tests. I thought about what it was like when I was a little girl and I was playing in my yard or at the park. I thought about what it felt like to just run across a field and feel the joy of movement and the sun on my face and my legs moving as fast as they could go. And I wanted that back. I wanted to be a runner.
On May 31, 2014, I started my first Couch to 5K (C25K) workout. If there is a molecular opposite to feeling like the little girl I once was who ran across the yard with joy, I was it on that day. I was unable to run the last 1:00 running interval. I wheezed like an asthmatic cat. My legs hated me with the heat of a thousand suns. But I kept at it until I finished the program nine weeks or so later. And when I did, I cried tears of joy.
I fell off the running wagon that winter, though, and have struggled to get back to it consistently — and to feel the joy I felt after finishing C25K. This summer, I have decided to re-up and do C25K again. I started, interestingly enough, on the exact day I originally started it. And I finished Week 4, Day 1 this morning. But in addition, I’ve decided that I will run every day this month, even if it’s only a mile on the treadmill at the Y. I don’t count dog walks as a run, though I am counting them on Nike+ because it’s usually 1.5 miles or more when we take him around the block.
I’ve realized that I’m a Real Runner now. And, really, I have been for a while, even if I was a Runner on Hiatus for a while. You don’t have to be fast or run marathons to be a runner. You just have to go out and run. And that’s what I do. (Every day for 20 days now, even!)
I’ve also been talking about my running on Snapchat (I’m @CatholicMomVA there), where Jennifer Fulwiler picked it up. She’s asked me to be on her show this afternoon to talk about my running motivation on Snapchat, too. You can listen in at about 3:00 Eastern on SiriusXM channel 129. Tune in to hear me talk (and hopefully not nervously babble) about motivation and running and being a Real Runner who doesn’t look like that mental image most people have of runners.
PS: Just for fun, I read about my last run streak (#FiveDaysRunning) and laughed a little at the total miles on Nike+ back then. I’ve got 713.6 now. I’ve run (or walked the dog) 69.1 miles in June alone so far. (I really want to take him for a walk now to get over 70. Me from three years ago would read this and want to send help.)
PPS: I do not jog, I run. I linked to a two-part series on The Curse of the Jogger at this Seven Quick Takes post. The links are in the fifth take, and the post was written not long before I actually started running. I highly encourage reading the hilarious stories about the Curse. And never, ever call me a jogger. I can’t live with that kind of danger.