I am a RUNNER!

Call me Tortoise.

Three and a half weeks ago, I decided it was time to re-acquaint myself with my almost-forgotten goal of becoming a runner. I looked up the Couch to 5k plan (5k = 5 kilometers = 3.1 miles) on the Internet and reminded myself that I bought those bright pink shoes because they are RUNNING shoes.

My running shoes
My running shoes

The first week of the Couch to 5k (C25K) plan calls for a five minute warm-up walk then intervals of 1 minute of running and 1.5 minutes of walking. Repeat the intervals for twenty minutes, or until you need to call 911—whichever comes first.

No, no… that’s not it! The bit about calling 911 isn’t written in the C25K plans that I found. Maybe it’s just implied…

Well, I just about croaked merely reading that I was supposed to do something that approximated running on the VERY FIRST WORKOUT! I put out a call on Twitter for smelling salts. Metaphorical salts sniffed, I looked for a 5k event in my local area and found one taking place five weeks in the future. Then I pulled up my big girl panties and headed out the door.

Oh, my! Was my heart ever out of shape! Somehow I survived that first walk-run-walk-run-walk. I kept myself amused by calculating how many intervals of one minute running plus one and a half minutes walking could be accomplished in twenty minutes. 20 minutes/(1 minute run + 1.5 minute walk) = 20/2.5 = 8 intervals.

What I was really distracting myself from was the fact that my heart rate felt like it was redlining each time I ran for a minute. *pant*pant*pant* However, I did complete all eight intervals. Yay! *victory flop on couch*

For the next couple of run/walks, I downloaded a Christian music file that had the walk/run intervals voiced over the music. Since I don’t like being outside with ear buds blocking my hearing, and I didn’t like adhering to a program that took no account of my actual fitness level, I soon abandoned the C25K plan. I decided to run-walk-run based on my heart rate, breathing, and desire to call 911. Okay, just kidding on that last point. Really.

Near our home is a multi-use bike path, which has mile markers. By the beginning of week two on my mission to complete—hopefully running—a 5k, I decided to walk/run between two mile markers. I complete a warm up walk by the time I get to the first mile marker, walk/run up to the next mile marker and then back again. I finish with a cool down walk back to our home. The progress has been slow, and for a time I amended my goal from running the entire 5k on May 17th, to simply completing the 5k mostly running.

But through persistence—get your booty out there, girl!—, I have actually seen improvement. Last week, my son came running with me—I had to inform him that he was not there as my mini-coach—and I noticeably ran more of my training miles than I ever had before. My muscles noticed too. They complained at me for the next two days. However, in spite of aching thighs, I got out there again two days later and ran MOST of the two miles. AMAZING!

As of this past Saturday, for three weeks I have been walking and (reeeeally slooooowly) running.

Part of what is truly amazing—to me anyway—is that I have chosen to take up running in spite of the fact that for most of my life I have HATED running. I learned young the axiom: Running is Punishment. Not through direct this hurts experience; this lesson was taught to me by my elementary school physical education (PE) teachers.

Living in Southern California, PE was always outside unless it was raining, a rare event. We students sat in rows on the … asphalt playground … while roll was taken. During the tedium, often someone would talk and the consequence was always the same: go run a lap. Now, I never had to run a lap for talking during roll call, but I learned the lesson just the same: Running is Punishment.

So how is it that, having learned this lesson young and having clasped it gladly to my heart for more than three decades, I am now willfully, purposely taking up running?

Well, surprise surprise, it all started with a book. No, actually, that isn’t right. It all started with a friend telling me about a book. My friend had read Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall. My friend had such a beautiful, joyful light in his eyes while he told me of reading this book, then running, running some more, and finally running in an ultra-marathon of 50k (31 miles… oof!) that I was intrigued. I was intrigued enough to want to take a look at what he had been imbibing from that book. Maybe I wanted some too. Christopher McDougall’s book all began with a question: “How come my foot hurts?” (Born to Run, p. 8)

The weird thing was, I seemed to be otherwise unbreakable. As a writer for Men’s Health magazine and one of Esquire magazine’s original “Restless Man” columnists, a big part of my job was experimenting with semi-extreme sports. I’d ridden Class IV rapids on a boogie board, surfed giant sand dunes on a snowboard, and mountain biked across the North Dakota Badlands. I’d also reported from three war zones for the Associated Press and spent months in some of the most lawless regions of Africa, all without a nick or a twinge. But jog a few miles down the street, and suddenly I’m rolling on the ground like I’d been gut shot in a drive-by. (Born to Run, pp. 8-9)

His conclusion: it’s the shoes.

I am old enough to remember the advent of the modern running craze in the 1970’s. At the same time that I was learning Running is Punishment, my brother became a member of the High School cross-country running team and Nike was messing around with new running shoes to make a longer, heel-strike running stride possible. Previously, runners habitually landed first on the balls of their feet. In his research, the author discovered:

Take any other sport, and an injury rate like mine would classify me as defective. In running, it makes me normal. The real mutants are the runners who don’t get injured. Up to eight out of every ten runners are hurt every year. (Born to Run, p. 9)

While reading Born to Run, I was happy with my childhood lesson that Running is Punishment, because, according to the research quoted, the shoes and the heel-strike running style that have been sold to runners have made that lesson a reality. I saved myself from a lot of injury by not being a runner for the past 30+ years.

Over the years of buying many, many shoes and enjoying the feeling of good, firm arch support, a thought would niggle the back of my mind: most people today do not, and certainly throughout history have not, had access to such shoes. So one of the parts of the book that most stands out in my mind is the author’s discussion of the design of the foot, specifically its arch.

Twenty-five years ago while on semester abroad in Great Britain, my research project studied church architecture. Arch styles—Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Gothic, Perpendicular—are distinctive features of each building era. What is the purpose of the arch? Answer: to support the rest of the building. Put weight on top of the arch and the arch becomes stronger. Support the arch from underneath and the arch becomes weak and the integrity of the entire building is put in jeopardy.

It is the same with the arch of human foot. It is designed to support the rest of the body. Support that arch from underneath and you’ve done your entire body a disservice.

So, a friend’s obvious joy and pleasure in this sport intrigued me enough to want to investigate it. I read the book he read, which has far more to it than what I’ve briefly outlined above. I began to put what I read into practice more than a year ago, but other life events derailed that plan.

I’ve begun again. I’ve put the shoes back on, headed out the door, and used them for their intended purpose—running—and I’ve seen improvement in my fitness.

Three days ago on Sunday, my husband met me near the beginning of my run. And during that run, I actually ran the entire two miles of my training course! Three weeks before, I could barely run for one minute, on Sunday I ran for 35 minutes straight! So… yeah… that means *ahem* a 17 1/2 minute mile. I still have LOTS of room for improvement! But I RAN for two miles. No, I don’t bother to call it jogging. If jogging is a slow run, then I am running.

Yesterday, I ran again–alone. Did running the two miles happen because of the energy of having my spouse to chat with? It was time to find out. My muscles were giving the “do we have to?” whining at the beginning of the run. And I willed myself to respond, “YES!” It’s amazing how motivating having a 5k event less than two weeks away can be. Also, it’s interesting to note that having done something once makes it easier to push on to do it again. So, while part of me desired to sit on the couch with a cup of tea, another part of me desired to be able to run an entire 5k in less than 2 weeks.

And I did it again. I ran the entire two miles. It again took me 35 minutes, but during no part of it did I think my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I simply kept running, landing on the balls of my feet and then my heels, over and over again. I can run—slowly—for 2 miles. Will I be able to run 3.1 miles in one and a half weeks? We shall see.

Call me Tortoise. Call me Finisher of the Race.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30 NIV