I was making my way down the trail the other day during a short, comfortable recovery run. Nothing too fancy, and certainly nothing too fast. My main goal was to get the blood flowing & head off any soreness from the previous day’s 17-miler. I passed a woman who was walking & recognized her as the mother to one of my daughter’s classmates. I said hello. “I sure wish I could be doing what you’re doing,” she said as I made my way past. I wanted to say “So start running!” but I didn’t. Instead I smiled and said as encouragingly as I could, “Baby steps. You’ll get there!”
This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. “Wish I had the knees for that,” or “I used to do that before kids,” or “Must be nice to have time.” I’ve heard excuses about work, or family, or buying a house, or illness, or injury. There are so, so many reasons why people don’t run or have stopped running. And let me tell you, once you stop it can be very hard to get going again. But for every excuse I hear, I also hear a longing in people’s voices. A longing to be active, healthy, fit. A longing to revisit their prime.
Above: Running for scholarship money in college & 6 months pregnant with #2
I’ve been a runner since I joined the cross country team in middle school. But, as with a lot of things in life, my enthusiasm waxed and waned for the sport over the years. At first I ran because I was good at it. Then in college I ran because it was my job. But after a fairly serious car accident, I was forced to take a bit of time off, which quickly turned into a lot of time off. For the next two years I hardly ran at all. And then came family. I ran through my first two pregnancies off & on, though I was slow & unfocused. I ran just to keep moving. I ran out of boredom. But then came pregnancy number 3 – the Big Doozy. I fell during a five mile jaunt around the reservoir and tore a ligament in my pelvis. I had to stop running. In fact, I had to stop moving at all. The last 3 months of that pregnancy were spent in absolute pain. After my daughter was born I felt compelled to run again. I felt that I was losing my identity in the shuffle of motherhood; nursing, diapers, potty training toddlers, homeschooling, laundry (so much laundry). I was craving exercise and felt that running was a part of who I was. I felt compelled to try and be me again, so I hit the road.
I set out slow. Very slow. I tried to stay optimistic. My post-partum body had lost the weight, but also the drive. I just couldn’t get my body moving. I was feeling frustrated. This was the one thing that was ME and I just couldn’t do it. Each week that I failed to meet my goal felt like a huge step back, instead of the baby step forward that it really was. I gave up that Fall. I discovered, suddenly, that I was a Has Been. My running prime had come & gone, so I sought out other avenues for exercise. I spent the Winter with a Bowflex, free weights, and Jillian Michaels videos. And just like that, I had quit.
Getting frustrated. Couldn’t even clear 10 miles in a week.
I watched other runners with envy. I simply assumed that because I was hurt and a mom and busy that I was just done with it. I was too young and dumb to know that my body needed time to repair it’s self. My pelvis was injured, but that didn’t mean it would be forever. Bodies heal. I was trying to do too much too soon and I became overwhelmed by it. I had stopped believing I could do it. But time off was necessary for some introspection. I needed to think long and hard about why I wanted to run and what it meant for me to be a runner. I also realized that all of these things were excuses for me to stop trying. The only way for me to be a runner again was to suck it up and run!
That Spring a magical thing happened. Somehow all the stars lined up and I WON a pair of Mizuno WaveRiders!! It was fantastic!! A fierce pair of yellow-gold shoes arrived and I just knew that they would be my good luck charm. Besides, I needed to put them to good use. I decided, once again, that I would be a Runner, nay, a Marathoner! I knew it was going to be a long way, and that it would hurt like hell, but I was committed. I was going to run a whole marathon in less than six months. In May of 2013 I began by walking one mile. When I could handle that, I ran it. I upped it by half a mile each week. In June I could run 3 whole miles and by July I had begun training for my first marathon, which I ran in October of the same year.
I did it — my 1st marathon!
I wanted to be more than a Has Been. I didn’t want to be someone who used to do something. And I certainly didn’t want the fact that I was a mom, or had an injury, or a job, or a house, or any number of responsibilities to take away this one very important defining characteristic. I am a runner because I am strong, determined, focused, and confident. I am a runner because I want to be one.
I have put thousands of miles behind me since then, yet it’s still amazes me to think that only 5 years ago I was struggling to complete 10 miles a week. Now I run twice a day and consider a 10-miler a “mid-distance”. I am not a runner because I wished it, I am one because I laced up my shoes and did it. But I had to start at zero and go slow. I had to admit my limits, step away from the sport for a bit, and reassess myself. If you haven’t run in awhile, or even if you’ve never run before, know that the only thing stopping you is you. Start with baby steps, but do start. Go that first mile. When you get to the end of it, do another. Before you know it, you’ll be flying.