Monday, February 16, 2009

it's never too late to start

I strongly believe that almost anyone has the potential to successfully complete a marathon. Unless you suffer from a debilitating illness that prevents you from participating in physical activities, I believe that you can run a marathon if: a) you want to, b) you set your mind to it, and c) you commit to stick with training and not give up during the frustrating time it takes to build a solid running base. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes complete marathons. Survivors of many serious illnesses who never expected to live to see another birthday complete marathons. The 26.2 mile adventure really just serves as a mental test of endurance.

Today, Brad and I celebrate our fourth anniversary of when we officially started running. Four years ago today, we rolled out of bed at 5 a.m., determined to make running our new healthy hobby. We dreamed of being able to run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler the following year and we sought to explore and enjoy our city in new ways. At that time, we never considered running a marathon. It wasn't even on our radar.

Keep in mind that I had never run a long distance in my life. In 6th grade, my track coach forced me to run the 800 meter race once (two laps around the high school track, about half of a mile) because the girl who normally ran it was sick. After nearly throwing up from the painful side stitches, I was THRILLED to come in 3rd out of four runners. (At least I didn't come in last!) Over the years, friends have guilted me into going to the gym with them, but I consistently failed to make it a habit. And walking, while enjoyable, took too much time if I wanted to get significant exercise.

Fast forward 19 years. I met my friend Susannah in 2004 and she intrigued me with her running stories. At the time, she planned to run a half marathon later in 2005, and I always enjoyed hearing about her long weekend runs when we both met up at work on Mondays. Most importantly, she assured me that extra supportive sports bras DO exist, a deal breaker for me. So Brad and I decided to give it a shot. On February 16, 2005, I couldn't even run two city blocks without stopping because of severe side pains and shortness of breath. I spent weeks running one block and walking one block to improve my stamina. Finally, I ran two blocks, and then three, without stopping. The first time I ran one mile without a break, I celebrated like a lottery winner! Keep in mind that I was also a doctoral student at the time, so being able to see weekly tangible accomplishments really motivated me. I am amazed at how many doctoral students take up running during graduate school. The dissertation looms large, so gradually increasing your weekly running goal seems easy in comparison.

I can totally understand when people tell me that they "hate running". I expect that most people hate it until they are able to build a base of running three or four miles without walk breaks. Until your body reaches that point, you will ache from side and leg cramps. You will feel nauseous and light headed from being so out of breath. And mentally, you're defeated. Establishing that base is one of the hardest tasks for every runner. It took me nearly six months to gain the confidence and physical stamina to run five miles. Those six months felt like the longest period of my life. But let me tell you. Once I ran five miles, I never looked back. Soon after I completed my inaugural run to the Washington Monument and back, I quickly graduated to 6.5 mile runs, then 7.5, then 10, and eventually, 26.2. I expended more mental and physical energy in the six months it took me to successfully run fives miles than I have in the 3.5 years since then. Once you have a base, I firmly believe that running is a mental game. And once you establish that base, the indescribable runner's high will keep you hooked.

Admit that you hate running because you haven't conquered the difficult beginning miles yet. But refrain from telling me that you don't run because you can't. I know better. If I can do it, anyone can. I fully understand and respect the fact that not everyone wants to. But be encouraged that if you have even the slightest desire to cross that finish line and wear a finisher's medal, you can make that dream a reality. Start tomorrow. Take one block at a time. And call me when you need a pep talk.


Katie said...
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Katie said...

I had a typo in the last comment! I was just thinking this morning about how I used to run/jog around the UGA indoor track and it was something I should get back into doing. Maybe as the weather gets warmer I will.

Susannah said...

Aww, thanks for the shout out! I'm happy to have been the "supportive" one, speaking in terms of bras, of course :)

Organized Living by Amy said...

I cant to have this baby and start running again..especially in the Spring!