Today is the day that I fell in love with running.
Ok, actually it was yesterday – today is the day I’m writing about it.
I’ve had a long courtship with running. I remember my first real run; my dad used to run the long road that led from our house out to the country and would always leave an open invitation for any of us kids (I’m the eldest of five!) to join him. I was probably around sixteen years old when I actually accepted the invitation, my oldest younger brother was often going, and I was tired of the boys club making girls seem weak. That was my way of thinking at the time – “I’ll show them, I can do it too!”. And I did. And it was the hardest thing I had physically done ever in my life up to that point. I refused to let myself ask for a walking break, I kept pace and kept the burning feeling in my lungs to myself – I was proving a point. I’m pretty sure my dad and brother were significantly impressed that I kept up and actually schooled them a little; Dad actually confessed he was shocked he was the first one to call a brief breath catching break. Looking back – I wonder if he only did it because my breath was rasping so hard he decided to grant my pride a little mercy. Dad’s can be like that.
That run gave me a sense of accomplishment, but it didn’t make me love running. Quite the opposite, it confirmed all my beliefs that running was hard and painful a no fun at all. I never did that run with them again. Which is sad, because running is so much more than hard and painful, and it can definitely be fun if you do it right.
It took me a few years before I started to get that itch again –the started thingink that if so many other people can do it (run) then maybe I could too. It was the summer after my second year of university and I was living just off campus in Sandy Hill. It was a great little residential area downtown Ottawa, bracketed between the Rideau river and the Rideau canal, both of which have highly popular scenic running paths. I’d often go out in the evening or even later at night, not the safest choice especially along the darker bits of strathcona park, but running was something I was doing as a personal challenge – it was ME time. Time to think about myself as a runner, and as a young adult; what it felt like to be out there alone challenging myself, who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be. Maybe I was also a tad embarrassed to be seen huffing and puffing around the blocks.
This time around I stuck to it a little longer. I liked the peace and quiet the night brought to the usually busy daytime streets and paths. I loved the anonymity of being just another lone jogger out for a trot. However I didn’t love the blisters I would continually get, nor the feeling of being inferior to the other ‘better’ runners I would come across in my night time travels while I didn’t seem to be improving fast enough. By the end of the summer I had come to the conclusion that running is just not for me. Some people are naturally runners, and I was simply not one of those elite people.
And then today happened. Well, more like this last year has built up to today in tiny increments of steps, kilometers, trial and error, dedication and success, (better shoes!), perseverance, and some really powerful motivation from someone I look up to. Today was the day that I broke the double digit marker on a run. I crushed it. I told myself “today is the day I will prove my younger self wrong. I AM a runner, and today I will overcome that hurdle that keeps me from confidently saying it out loud. I can and will.”. And I did. In fact, I tacked on a few victory laps and clocked an even 12 kilometers. Ok, the last two were kinda accidental, but I did intentionally choose the longer lap back home because there was NO WAY I was going to come in under my 10k goal. I remember clearly the 8km point when I began to truly believe in myself, that nothing could stop me now, my legs were feeling stronger – not weaker, and I was a running machine. I felt invincible at that moment, and it was magical. I didn’t realize it right then, but that was the moment I discovered I love running!
Was it hard? Heck yeah, there were minutes when I thought to myself that maybe I had taken on more than I could handle. When the automated lap clock chirped the 4k mark I distinctly remember thinking “that’s it?? I have more than double this left to go??”. The steep triple staircase at Strathcona park winded me hard, and I was worried for a few minutes that I just wouldn’t get my breath back. But I didn’t stop. I kept going. And that’s key – don’t focus so much on what’s going wrong, focus on what’s going right. Focus on how great the fresh breeze feels on your face, how strong your legs feel and how much more in tune with your body you are becoming, how lovely your surroundings are – sun on water, buds on trees, birds and squirrels and dogs playing at the park, how great that line is in the song you’re listening to but never really paid attention to, how free it feels to have this time to yourself to let your mind wander and observe, how proud you are that you (yes YOU) are currently out running.
My advice to new runners – take it slow. I still remember the days last summer when just the four block run to the Rideau canal required a walking break to catch my breath, let alone the 2.5k loop I was pushing through. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my epic (to me) 12k. If you want something – go after it. It may take some time before you get there, but the sooner you start the sooner you’ll be living the dream that previously seemed impossible.