I never thought running was for me. Ever since grade school I've always been one of the slowest runners, and in high school I inevitably received a D in gym class whenever the mile was involved. Every run was painful and an exercise in humiliation. So I've never really thought I was capable of running, never mind enjoying it. It's definitely been at the bottom of my priority list when it comes to "fun things to do" or even "tedious things that are necessary to stay healthy". And in the past, the few times I did agree to go for a run, it felt like a huge chore and a struggle.
My attitude towards running has evolved into something different over the past few months. Wayne has been training very steadily with the aim of running the marathon and I couldn't help but be curious. I also read the Murakami Book on running and thought to myself, this actually sounds like something worth exploring. And I wanted an activity that would complement my karate training, especially when it came to building my stamina for fighting. So I decided to approach running with an empty slate and to let go of the baggage I've been dragging around for years. So I set up some parameters:
- Run as slowly as you need but don't stop.
- Set a distance goal but don't pay attention to a time limit.
- Don't compare yourself to others, just focus on reaching the next goal.
- When my mind wanders focus on the breath.
- Enjoy what's going on around - Don't run on treadmills!
- Run only as many times a week as I feel I want and don't feel obligated otherwise.
- Give it at least six weeks of steady training before making any decisions about "liking" or "hating" running.
And I headed out.
As with anything, the first few runs were tough. Just as tough as in the past. I was dying for air and completely sore after a little more than 1 1/2 miles. But I stuck to my guns - I ran really slowly, but I still completed the goal I had set at the beginning. I ran the same course multiple times and I started to notice things. Like how I didn't have to run up a hill with everything I had. To breathe a little differently so I didn't have to struggle for breath. I changed up my stride, tried various paces to see what was comfortable.
And I could really see these improvements through Runkeeper. It was in the stats - my average pace decreased a little, my route got a little longer, I maintained a steady pace more consistently. Seeing these data points helped me keep my motivation up - especially when I thought I had had a really tough run, but in looking at the numbers I had actually run a faster time.
The encouragement that I got from Wayne and many of my friends who enjoy running is an enormous help too. Getting positive feedback no matter my pace was such a welcome relief. I was even motivated to run a race, which I never would have thought of doing six months ago. Even though I run alone, running started feeling like a social activity.
With that encouragement and by sticking to those parameters, I've run distances that I never even considered possible for myself. The other day I ran the Central Park Loop - more than 6 miles - and I had a good time! I'm still not a fast runner by any means and I still struggle (I've only experienced that "runner's high" once for about five seconds) but I'm seeing other aspects that I hadn't before.
I love spending the time outside no matter what the weather is, and I honestly like running in winter more because I tend to overheat quickly when it's warm. I enjoy the time I have to focus on my breath and my body moving through space, it almost becomes a meditation. And the challenge of reaching a goal and not giving in to feeling "tired" or out of breath is daunting yet satisfying. I've realized that I don't have to fit into labels like "runner" or "athletic", rather running can be a continual process of improvement and understanding.
These days I look forward to the weekend ritual of putting my shoes on and heading out the door with only my phone and subway pass and the wind at my back.