How I found running

Fridays run, 3.25 mi., 29:41

Starting to ease my mileage up in training for the National Half Marathon in March.  Some folks put together fancy training plans for races, but I really don’t.  I don’t have a competitive running bone in me. I run just because I enjoy it.

I didn’t always love running.  In fact, there was a time when I would actually chant the words, “I hate run-ing,” with each step I took. I played sports in high school which, of course, forced me to run.  Clearly traumatized by that experience, I all but abandoned running in college. The only reason I went to the gym in college was to watch hubby workout (this was when we were dating…and totally worth it!).

It really wasn’t until after college when hubby and I moved to North Carolina that I started to run with any regularity. And even then, it still took me a long time to like it. When we moved to North Carolina, we didn’t know a soul.  The lack of a social life left me with lots of free time.  I needed a hobby.  So one day I put on my sneakers and headed out the door.  A few days later I did it again, and so on and so forth.

At the time, running was something to do and I knew it was good for me.  Still, it was a challenge.  I considered it an accomplishment simply putting on my running shoes (notice the progression from “sneakers” to “running shoes”). One day a friend asked if I wanted to run a 5K with her. Up until she asked, racing wasn’t even on my radar.  By  this time though I had been running a while–two years–and had never committed to a race. So, I took the plunge.  Ironically, my friend got stuck in traffic on the way to the race and I ended up running alone (well, except for the other 500 people running in the race).

That was my first race, a 5K, the Cary Road Race in 2004. After that, I was pretty much hooked. I continued to run, but it was another three years before I entered my next race. I started to enjoy running just for the sake of running.  And, I started to invest in my new hobby.  For a runner, investing in your hobby means committing time and buying super cool running gear.

While I’m not competitive, I am highly motivated by rewards.  So, I set up a reward system.  Run five miles consistently for a month, get new shoes. Tough it out through two weeks in winter, get yourself those expensive Under Armour running tights. Develop super toned hips and thighs, flaunt your stuff in some booty shorts!  Okay, so I’m still working on that one.  But you get the point.

My second race was a 10K at the 9th Annual Smoky Streak in Sylva, NC.  By the time I ran my first 10K, I had been running for five years.  I guess time really does fly by when you’re having fun.  It was also around this time, after we moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina for hubby’s graduate school, that I really fell completely and totally in love with running.

I found myself in a new place, again, and alone, again.  So I turned to running–something that was by now as familiar to me as breathing.  Except this time, I was more confident in my running and really cherished the solace of my runs.

It wasn’t long after that I started thinking about running a marathon.  While I had never run further than a 10K, hubby and I were at a point in our lives where we were starting to think about the future.  We had been married for two or so years by this time and could feel the baby fever all around us.  Hubby was in the midst of graduate school, so it wasn’t the right time for us to start a family.  But I knew it might be on the horizon in a couple of years.  While lots of moms run (and prove it to me by passing me in races pushing their little ones in strollers), training for a marathon and being a mom seemed overwhelming to me. I didn’t want to wait. I had about a year to get it together. No time to waste running half marathons.

One day I sat down to look for beginner-friendly marathons and found the Marine Corps Marathon.  I had about six months to train–really the perfect amount of training time, I think, for a beginner. Enough time for me to build up stamina but not so long that I would lose sight of my goal.

So, I came up with a training plan.  But again, not a fancy training plan.  You’ll probably laugh…When I first started training for my marathon, I looked up average race times for beginning marathoners and thought, “Maybe I’ll just see if I can run for four hours.”  This was totally how I started.  Regardless of the distance I covered, I just started running for time.  Can I run for an hour? Two hours?  What about three hours?

And surprisingly, I could. It was amazing.  Since my goal was simply to finish the marathon, I didn’t worry too much about how far I ran during training, I just kept an eye on my time (using a fancy new watch, which was a reward for registering for a marathon!).

Even though I had been running for years, I had never called myself a “runner.” It was like a sort of label I didn’t feel worthy of.  “Runners” were hard core. They ran year round and wore $100+ running shoes.  I wimped out when temperatures dropped below 50 and still cringed at thought of paying more than $50 dollars for any item of clothing, much less running shoes I might wear three times a week.  While training for my marathon, my attitude started to change.

I trained through the summer and fall for the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon.  When you’re running a few hours every other day, you have a lot of time to think.  I thought a lot about my family and friends.  And places I wanted to travel.  I must have memorized hundreds of pop and gangsta rap songs listening to them over and over again on my mp3 player. (There–I’m out of the closet.  I love gangsta rap and I’m proud of it.)

And I prayed, a lot.  There’s something about the mountains of Western North Carolina that make you feel closer to God, and it’s not just because you’re at a higher elevation.  After all that praying during training, I pretty sure He recognized my voice when I prayed  right around mile 21 for the feeling to come back into me feet so I could stay upright for the last five miles of the race, which I manged to finish in 5 hours and one minute. That one minute kills me.  But I finished and I felt I had finally earned the right to call myself a runner (and buy a pair of $80 running shoes, thank you very much).

When I think about it, I don’t know why I ever felt I couldn’t call myself a runner.  When others talked to me about running, I considered them real “runners” regardless of the distance they ran.  I guess I spent so many years hating running I couldn’t believe I’d embraced it enough to run 26 miles–in a row!

It’s a couple years later, and I’m still not competitive.  I’ve run a few more races including a half marathon since then. I still consider it an accomplishment just to put on my running shoes, even if they are a little nicer these days thanks to my excellent reward system.

That’s how I found and fell in love with running.





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