From Running to Runner
Updated: Dec 1, 2019
I have a long-term, love-hate relationship with running.
It started in junior high when I was on the track and field team. Even then I was unable to run any meaningful distance. As a result I ended up competing in the discus throw—definitely not a shining moment!
In college I walked-ran the popular 8K Crazy Legs Classic with my friend, Laura, but that hardly constituted “running,” and I did it mostly for the t-shirt.
When I took up soccer in my late 20s, I figured it was time to give running another go. I tried multiple strategies to increase my distance, pace or duration. I alternated running and walking for one minute each. I picked a certain distance or time to run without stopping. I listened to upbeat music. Nothing really worked. I could play soccer for two hours straight—with its frequent start-stop sprints—but I couldn’t run a mile to save my soul.
When I moved to San Luis in late 2009, I joined a wonderful gym. The trainers there were starting a women’s running group for runners of all levels. With their guidance and the help of my husband, women in the group, and some running books, I finally learned the key to running: you have to slow down your pace to the point you can sustain the run, even if it means you’re practically walking.
For me, that slower pace was, indeed, only slightly faster than a brisk walk (a 13-minute mile vs a 15-minute one walking—sheesh!). To this day, I’m still always the last one to finish in our running group. With the group’s encouragement, I kept at it and eventually enrolled in a couple of 5Ks.
I wish I could say they were a breeze, but the fact is they weren’t. I’m very competitive with myself, so even though I ran the entire distance in these 5K races, I made it through based on sheer stubbornness. There’s no way I was going to sign up for a race only to walk part of it. Buoyed by these small successes, I did allow myself to call myself a “runner” for the first time, as opposed to “someone who runs.”
I asked my running buddies how they do it, how they can just start running and go for 9 miles with seemingly no effort. My friend Karen gave me one of the keys to success. She said the first two miles are always a struggle for her until her breathing becomes regulated. Wow, you mean even “runners” struggle to get going? That little revelation was a turning point for me. My outlook on running slowly started to change. If I could just get past the first mile or two, it might--just might--get easier. And in fact, I did have two runs where I felt a touch of the elusive runner’s high. Pretty cool, I have to say. When I’m in that place, for some reason my heads wants to look skyward, so there I am running with my head looking up towards the sky, lost in my own little happy dream world for five or ten minutes.
The other thing that’s changed is that I now look forward to running. Every step, particularly the first few, is a struggle, but after I’ve found my rhythm, I actually kind of enjoy it. I still intersperse the runs with periods of walking, but I’ve even had a change of heart about that since I learned what I’m actually doing is known as the Galloway Method, a way to increase speed. Who knew?
A few summers ago my then 59-year old sister, Amy, and I ran a 5K beach run together, Stride with the Tide, in Pismo Beach. Like me, she had taken up running late in life and also has a slower pace. This was her first ever 5K, and it was wonderful to experience it together.
I don’t know what it is about this very rainy Sunday, but I’ve been thinking about running all day long. I can’t wait for the weather to clear, put on my running shoes, and give it another go. Maybe this time it’ll be easier.