About this time last year I looked at the calendar and I realized I only had about six months to get in shape for my wedding. I promptly panicked. Six months wasn’t that much time and I, um, had some work to do. So I did two things. I all but completely cut out beer (sad) and I started running. That’s how it all began.
Now six months married I find myself drinking beer again (yay!) and completely in love with running. It wasn’t a conscious decision to become a runner. At the time, running served a very specific purpose in my life and that was to get in shape. Not that I planned to let myself go after the wedding or anything, but I figured I’d naturally transition back to what I was used to: weights. I was a big fan of lifting. Weight training had been my workout bread and butter since junior high and at the end of the day I just liked picking up heavy stuff. I guess it’s the caveman in me.
Naturally, transitioning from an almost exclusively weight-based workout regime to running 4-5 times a week wasn’t easy. In fact, it was hell. I’m a firm believer that getting into “running shape” is one of the Top 10 worst things in life – right up there with not drinking beer. It’s a good thing that I had my marriage to keep me motivated. Without it, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. (Chalk up another reason Reina being in my life is a good thing.) But, the desire to look and feel good at the wedding was enough to keep me accountable.
So I ran. For the first week or two I hated it. I hated everything in life. My whole body was sore. Hunger was a constant (I don’t do well when I’m hungry). I was regularly informed I was cranky. And good god I was slow.
I was beginning to think Wesley from The Princess Bride had it right all along. Life is pain.
Looking back on it, I might have been a little melodramatic about the whole thing. Maybe.
As it always does when you stick to a new workout plan, it got better. My body started working out the kinks as it got used to a new type of workout. I learned what foods to eat that were healthy but would also keep my energy up. Eventually I got adopted by the office running group. That was a real game changer.
The first thing I’ll tell someone who wants to get into running is this: find a running buddy.
Running with other people makes all the difference in the world. Listening to the conversation happening in the group was a welcome distraction and helped make the miles go by faster. Eventually, I even gained the lung capacity needed to speak and run at the same time and got to partake in the conversation. Having a consistent group of people sending emails out every morning asking, “Who’s in today?” was a godsend to my motivation. It just so happens I’m the youngest in the group and there was no way in hell I was going to stay in to rest while “the old guys” went out without me.
After a month or two a weird thing started happening. I began to look forward to our daily runs. It was alarming at first, I’ll admit but I grew to embrace the fact that just maybe I was getting into this whole running thing. It wasn’t long before I was going out on my own. At first it was the occasional weekday when everyone else in the group was busy. At the very least, getting out for a run at lunch was an excuse to get away from my desk for a bit. But then it started happening on the weekends. The sun would be out, Reina would be studying for school, and I’d find myself lacing up my shoes and heading out the door.
Those weekend runs were the first times I started playing with more distance. Due to time restrictions at work, we were capped to runs between 4.5-5 miles. On the weekend however, I had all the time in the world. I was able to slow the pace down and start stretching the distances. I’d always heard you progress as a runner in a series of plateaus. A single mile is obviously the first. Then it’s three. Once you master that five is suddenly no problem. Then it’s seven. Before long I found myself at 10 miles; tired, definitely, but wondering if I had time for just one more mile.
That’s more or less where I find myself now. A solid “long run” for me is about 10 miles. I do those every now and then when I’m feeling spicy. A normal week for me usually looks like 20-30 miles depending on my schedule.
I’m not exactly sure when I first started thinking of myself as a runner. I guess it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I love it. I feel better when I’m running on a consistent basis. My stress level is lower. I find that I’m more in tune with my body, meaning I’m quicker to realize when I’m injured or getting sick. I’ve learned how to listen to it. I’ve now reached the point where I begin to get anxious if I haven’t run in two or three days. Like, actually anxious. Stressed. Fidgety. Cranky. The works.
I was telling one of my running buddies about this realization one day. He laughed and said he and every other runner in our group was the same way. You get to appreciate the head space that running offers. Regardless of whether or not you run to music, or audiobooks, or without headphones at all (something I’ve learned to love) at some point on the run you tune out and aren’t really thinking about anything. My buddy called it meditation in motion.
I can’t think of a better way to describe what running is to me these days.
I’ve never really got the knack of traditional meditation but I imagine it’s kind of the same experience I get when I’m running. Runs are the place where I’m alone with my thoughts. And then, even the thoughts fade and I’m just me.
That kind of thing does a person a lot of good I think. It certainly has been great for me. Plus the calorie burn rate is pretty sweet too!
There’s study after study proving that running is good for you physically. There’s even one that claims for every hour you spend running, you add seven to the end of your life. And I’m sure in running circles there’s tons of talk about how good it is for you mentally, but it was never something I was aware of as someone who didn’t really run. To be honest, I’m not sure if knowing would have made me become a runner. I think that had to happen on its own.
Don’t take this to think I believe everyone should go out and become a runner (though I don’t think it’d hurt). I’ll be the first to recognize it’s not the same experience for everyone. But if you don’t have one already, I’d encourage you to find something that gives you the same sense of piece. I don’t care what it is, as long as it works for you. I’ll leave it at that.
On a final note, if anyone in the Seattle area needs a running buddy just let me know. I’ve got some pretty dope routes and the say Spring and Summer are just around the corner.