Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Story of a Runner

Sometime in late 2006, I sat down on my comfy couch in my Antioch apartment and watched the movie "Chariots of Fire." The movie is based on a true story, of two British men who ran in the 1924 Olympics. In the opening scene, a bunch of British collegiate men run on a gloomy, overcast British beach. The first time I watched this movie, I was not yet a when I saw the happy grin on one runner's face, I groaned softly and said out loud to my TV, "Yeah, right!"

It's an excellent movie; I simply couldn't understand how anyone could possibly look so happy when running.

Let's rewind a year-and-a-half to May 2004. I was living in England, walking everywhere (I could, in theory, have lawfully driven a car in England, I just never did) and dealing with the tremendously stressful question of whether to stay in England for another year, or return to the United States. I went for long walks through dear Burnham-on-Crouch, and one night, while out there, I thought it would be an excellent idea to try running.

I made it approximately two-tenths of a mile before I decided this was a stupid idea, and that was that.

Let's rewind even further, to high school, where on "mile run" days in PE, I would run just enough to keep my time under the required 15 minutes, but walk the rest. Running was not my forte, and it wasn't something I wanted to explore. I was more interested in my musical pursuits.

If you had told 2006 Meg, sitting on her comfy couch, weighing over 200 pounds, and thinking that running was possibly the worst form of torture ever invented, that she'd eventually run a couple of half marathons, she'd have said two things:

  1. "What's a half marathon?" and,
  2. "Ha. Haha." *snicker* "Heehee. Right." *gasp* "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!"
How things change.

It started with Christina--C. the Sweetie, or Trainer #2--telling me I ought to run, and occasionally making me do slow-but-excruciating sprints on the treadmill. I met her advice with a polite smile and a nod of my head, while thinking to myself, ""  She asked a few times, but she never really followed up. Then my training ran out and she left the gym. I remained a non-runner.

Enter Gershom--G. the Meanie--into the picture. One week in early 2010 I did not meet a weight loss goal, and he made me run a mile-and-a-half without stopping, without walking. I was, as you might guess, not a happy camper. But the most amazing thing happened that day--I ran a mile-and-a-half. Without stopping, without walking. I had never done that in my whole life. After I looked Gershom in the eye and said, "I hate you," I started calming down, and the realization of what I'd just done--with Gershom pushing my buttons every step of the way--hit me. 

After that, running became an expectation on Gershom's part and a "Fine. But I don't like it" activity on mine. I complained endlessly, rolled my eyes at his mileage suggestions, and basically gave him enough grief to prompt him to tell me, before a planned three-mile run we did together, "You know, this isn't a lot of fun for me, either."

Oh, yeah. Sorry, dude.

Somewhere along the way, I became determined to "break through the wall" and get better at running. Buying actual running shoes, and not the sale-rack Nike shoes at the mall, was a start. As I ran more, my body adapted to the idea. I wasn't fast, but the shin splints started to go away and my breathing started to develop. I even got to a point where I didn't hate my life every time I strapped on my running shoes. I didn't precisely love it, but I could see the difference it was making in both my physical and mental health, so I did it.

By the end of 2011, I had moved back to Lincoln, and ran as much as I could through the hills of my neighborhood--decidedly harder than the flat streets of Stockton I'd started running on. Trainer #4, Matt (M. the Reasonable), had entered the picture by now, and he had a different approach to running. Instead of worrying about mileage, he wanted me to run for a set amount of time--thirty minutes. 

I started with intervals of ten minutes. Run ten, walk a bit, run ten minutes more, walk a bit, run the last ten. It worked, but Matt encouraged me to take fewer breaks. I worked on it. By Christmas, I achieved what I had once thought impossible--I ran thirty minutes without stopping, without walking. 

Spurred on by my gains, I signed up for my first 5K, in January 2012. Before I quite knew what was happening, I was running races fairly regularly, improving my time, and calling myself a "real runner." 

Then, lo and behold, the most amazing thing happened. One cool, overcast morning, I found myself running the hilly streets of my neighborhood with a huge grin on my face. I felt good--no pain, no discomfort, just a rush of endorphins as I moved along. I think that's the day I truly broke through the wall--when running went from something I needed to do to lose weight to something I wanted to do. 

In 2013, I set a goal to run one 5K race every month, and I met that goal. I set the same goal in 2014, but then plans changed--at Matt's suggestion, I started training for a 10K in April. Running this 10K led to the thought that maybe a half marathon wouldn't be out of the question. I registered for my first half, October's Urban Cow, in June, and I was off. The woman who had pitifully whimpered her way through a mile-and-a-half in January 2010 was now adding mileage every week. Eight miles. Nine miles, ten miles. 

I finished my first half--exhausted, sore, but so happy and proud--in just under three hours (2 hours, 57 minutes), and a few months later, I ran across the finish line of the Shamrock'n Half in 2:58:35. 

Plans for a marathon? Ha! Not likely. 

The half distance is pretty tough on me. I like the challenge, but my legs take days to recover. I'm training for my third race now, and while I love my long weekend runs, the training can wear on me, and of course, I have to plan my life around it, sometimes opting out of doing fun things with friends because my training has become that important to me.

There's nothing quite like that feeling of euphoria that washes over me when a run is going well, or when I finish with a great time--like this morning, when I finished a 13.1-mile (half marathon distance) training run in 2:50:46, about seven minutes faster than my Urban Cow time. I'm getting stronger and faster all the time, and it feels great.

I'll just add here that I was thirty-one years old when I did that first mile-and-a-half with Gershom. I am 37 now, and training for my third half marathon. While I'm not old by any stretch of the imagination, I'm also not on the "very young" end of the spectrum, either. That doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm enjoying the process, enjoying the gains, and feeling better (sore legs aside) than I have in all of my adult life. It's certainly not easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. 

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