Wednesday, 23 June 2004
While I was at work anticipating last night's trail run, I suddenly realized that if I can run five miles on trails in 75 minutes, I should be able to finish a flat 10K (6.2 miles) in less than an hour and a half. When did that happen?
Changes. This is all the fruition of changes I began in 1997 (when I really started running), and again in 2001 (after the surgery), and again last March (Self Challenge 2003, which resulted in a loss of 30 lbs), and again in February when I worked out 17 days in a row and became someone who just does it instead of someone who makes herself do it. Maybe a subtle distinction, but it works for me.
I've been working towards living like this for eight years, and it's really nice to realize that I am finally here. I'm not done yet, but it is now just the way I do things instead of what I'm reaching for.
Someone asked me about my running, and when I started running, and I thought I'd tell that story here. I've talked before about being athletic, and the various endeavors I've done over the years. And I've talked about the Danskin and how I got involved in triathlons. My running story really begins with the triathlons, but I'm going back a little bit further to set up the story.
I believe it was in 1990 that my old roommate moved in. I'll call her Mac. Mac was (and I think still is) a runner. She's done the Danskin too, although several years after me and not because of me. She was a swimmer, she had three bicycles, but her main form of exercise was running. She was the first person I knew who ran regularly, because she enjoyed it and I guess because it kept her fit. It was simply part of her lifestyle. She asked me, back in 1994, if I wanted to do the St. Patrick's Day fun run. It was one of those that most people walk, it's a huge race and they have different waves for the people who want to seriously run and the people who just want to walk.
I did, and I think I did that race three times. I also went and did a really small 5K up north, where three of us walked together and we came in last. It was fun, but I didn't run.
Running has always hurt. Even when I was really fit from swimming, I still couldn't run. I can tell you now that was because they use different muscles and my aerobic fitness from the pool didn't mean my leg muscles were prepared to carry me quickly over any kind of terrain. I hated running, and I didn't know how to pace myself (which is something I've always been very good at with swimming).
Then in 1997, my boss did the Danskin. I was, at the time, somewhere near 200 pounds, woefully out of shape, and a heavy smoker. I can't even remember what I did with my spare time in those days. I know I didn't watch television, because that was the year I made the German get headphones for the tv so I could read while he watched. So I must have read a lot.
This boss had a baby that year, and she trained for the Danskin as a way to lose the baby weight. I watched her change, and we did my benchmark 5K for the first time that year (the one I did last weekend and took over a minute and a half off my time). I walked it with her sister, who pushed the baby in a jogger. Somewhere I still have the race number from that, and I'm sure I could find my time if I really wanted to. But I know it was slow, and I was wearing my brand new heart rate monitor and quite proud that my heart rate was all the way up in the 170s.
I had no idea, at the time, what that said about my utter lack of fitness. When I ran a mile in 9:38 last weekend (first mile in the 5K), my heart rate was in the 170s and I was pushing fairly hard. It's all about fitness level; the better shape you're in, the harder to raise your heart rate but the easier to sustain it for long periods.
Anyway, I volunteered at the Danskin that year, timing at the finish line, and I stood there and watched 1800 women run across that finish line. Some of them were in excellent shape, but the vast majority were just average women, and some were bigger than I was. I stood there, and I thought, "I can do this."
I joined Weight Watchers and started losing weight. I broke up with the German, moved out on my own, volunteered as a Chute Thug at the Seattle Marathon and saw some more amazing people accomplish something I know not all of them knew they could. And it all came together the following year when I did my first Danskin. Which made me cry, and if you ever want a soul lift where you feel like you can do anything, I recommend the Danskin. That race changed my image of myself forever, and it's not like I wasn't an athlete before then.
Of all the exercise a person can do, I picked running. I like to bike, but not in the rain when it's dangerous. Plus it hurts my back, which has enough problems already. I like to swim, but there's only one public pool in my town and it's not near home, plus I have shoulder injuries so I can't swim competitively anymore. I like Jazzercise, yoga, tae bo, weight lifting, all kinds of stuff, but I have not been able to find a comfortable gym near home (I've written about this before). We joined the swim & tennis club around the corner, so I go use the treadmill there and plan to lift weights, and I've been in the pool once. I have a bunch of exercise videos and I do them fairly regularly, but the main activity I do (particularly in summer) is running.
I run because I can, because all I need it a good sports bra and a pair of shoes. I've just this year started buying running clothes, rather than wearing sweats or the Danskin shorts I got as a gift. I can go running anywhere, on short notice, by myself. And there are plenty of races to sign up for as motivation, which helps. I have a purpose, a reason to train.
When I first started, back in 1997, I couldn't run a quarter of a mile. I was around 200 pounds, in very bad shape, and a smoker. I kept at it, and I still remember the day I first ran a continuous mile. It was on a treadmill at the gym, and I was so proud of myself! I had to learn to pace myself, rather than just run. I have a metronomic pace with running, I just go at one speed and apparently it's fairly scary how regular my gait is. It wasn't until I went running with someone else and she told me I kept speeding up to the same speed every time we tried to slow it down that I realized I even did that.
I've done some track work to change that, so I can go slower or faster. My running in the woods is very different from my running in a race. In the woods, there's no stopping. I have to go until I come back out, I can't just walk off the course and cut it short. So my pace is a lot slower, generally. I wear a heart rate monitor (chest strap & wrist receiver, like this - I have an older version of the Phase 3) which really helps me to know if I'm pushing too hard or not working as much as I think I am. The electricity of my heart does not lie. (If you want more on how I figure the heart rate stuff, I recommend Heart Zone Training by Sally Edwards.)
I think, really, the main thing that keeps me running is the races. I love the results, and I adore running in the woods, but if I never did a 5K or trained for a half marathon, I'd probably want to move on to something else. Running is a solitary sport with a large community aspect to it, and I like that. I usually go to races with my friend Nan, but she's now an Ironwoman and our schedules have not overlapped so well the past few years. I've gone alone to two races now, and it's not the same but I've been doing races here for so long that I recognize a lot of the other regulars. (I wonder if anyone says that about me?) It's still fun on my own.
Since I quit smoking, my race times have improved rather nicely. I did my annual benchmark 5K last weekend and took a minute and a half off my time. That's rather a lot, especially since I took a minute off it last year as well. Races hurt when you push yourself, but that's what they're for. And I felt great when it was over.
And that is why I run. Because it feels great, it makes me happy, it gives me great leg muscles and works my abs, it gives me time out to think, and it helps me sleep better at night. I never thought, growing up, that I'd be a runner. But I am.
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