Of Running Shoes and White Houses: One Year Later


On September 3, 2013 (one year ago today), I couldn’t run a mile. I couldn’t even run 25 yards. I know this because I tried. It was my first day running.

What I remember about that day was that I struggled to run for a full minute as the group that I joined for new runners introduced very starter-level intervals. When it was over and I got back to my car, I texted a friend to say that I didn’t think I was going to make it. That day, I felt all but certain I was going to fail at running (yet again). I think I actually whimpered a little bit when I got back to my apartment and stood at the bottom of the long, steep staircase, looking up and wondering how I was going to drag myself up those when it hurt just to walk.

It was embarrassing because I knew that I hadn’t really done that much at all.

This morning, September 3, 2014, I went to the park where I spent all of last fall and all of this past spring working on becoming a runner. I walked a little bit to warm up, and then I ran two miles.

I don’t want to say how long it took me to run those two miles. But I ran them without stopping, and a year ago I couldn’t even hope to come close. That’s all that matters.

***

A lot has changed for me over the past year. A little over a month ago, I celebrated one year living in the Philly area, which is something I’d wanted to do since I finished college in 2005. It took me about three weeks to get settled and start looking for ways to really make some changes. That’s what big moves are good for. They’re good for getting rid of what you don’t need and keeping what you do; for tearing it down to the foundation and building it back up.

And being older and wiser now than I was the last time I made a big move, I was more focused on doing things for me, because I wanted to and because they were good for me and because they would make me happy.

I’d see people running all the time. And all of those “things that will happen when you turn 30” posts that you’ve probably seen on BuzzFeed and HuffPo are somewhat accurate, at least for me: it really DID feel like all of my friends were suddenly runners. So my friends, coupled with the sheer terror of inheriting all of my dad’s heart problems, inspired me to join a running group that started right after Labor Day.

Probably not something I ever would have done in my “old” life.

The interesting thing about running, as I started getting into it, was that, every time I accomplished something new — running a whole lap without stopping, running for 5 minutes, running for 10 minutes, running a whole mile — I went right back to my car and texted my runner friends to tell them. And they kept encouraging me. Running was actually improving my confidence.

Feeling confident as a result of running led me to do something else I probably never would have done before. I reached out to the president of my local Rotary Club (a professional service organization with which I was familiar because, in my teaching career, I had been the faculty advisor for Rotary’s Interact Club). Knowing absolutely no one, I started attending meetings, and became a member about a month later.

Today I’m the membership chair, and very involved with several club committees, which is also not something I would have guessed for myself a few years ago. In a lot of ways, I attribute that to running. If I hadn’t been riding that confidence wave, I may never have had the guts to get involved with something like that on my own.

Benefits of Running That I Expected To Happen That Did Not

1. Weight loss.  This has been a lifetime struggle for me. Literally. When I was really little, I did gymnastics (I was only good at the balance beam). After 2nd grade, I started softball and played for the next 10 years. I played a year of basketball in 5th grade. I joined the track team to throw shot and disc in 8th grade. I was in marching band from 8-12 grade and I will fight anyone who says that’s not a workout. So it’s not like I wasn’t active. Every time I would introduce a fitness routine though, I would just get frustrated because I wasn’t losing weight.

And here we are, years later, and that’s still a problem. Everyone says running will help you lose weight. Welllll. I’ve been running for a year now. I’ve changed my diet. I’m more mindful of what I eat and how active I am.

And I’ve still gained 5 pounds.

Older and wiser, I started asking doctors for help. The problem seems to stem, in part, from a combination of PCOS (which, in addition to making it damn near impossible for anyone to lose weight, also has some other super awesome side effects) and some thyroid issues that are requiring regular monitoring.

2. Being able to eventually run so fast that I fly through the air like every running shoe advertisement. This may have been an unrealistic expectation.

Benefits of Running That I Set as Goals 

1. Being able to complete a 5k. I’ve done two of ’em so far. One in December after a crazy ice storm, and one in June when it was so hot that I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion on the course before I got to the finish line. I was the very last runner to finish that day, and it was a great feeling when I did finally cross the finish line with everyone else standing there cheering for me instead of making fun of me like high school gym class (or this douchebag who called me fat while I was running one day).

Bibs from my 5k runs.

Bibs from my 5k runs.

Benefits of Running That I Did Not Expect

1. Being happier and more content. I’ve written a few times over the years about my struggles with anxiety and depression since being diagnosed in 2004. Between then and 2013, I’d done several runs in therapy, and up through 2007, been on and off of different medications. Once I started running regularly, I started noticing that I was happier and more content. The anxiety wasn’t constantly getting the best of me.

2. Sleeping better. As a night owl and sometimes-insomniac, I’ve never slept well at night… until I started running. Now I’m on a more regular sleep schedule.

3. Other health improvements. Maybe common sense would have told me to expect them, but I needed several reminders that just because I wasn’t losing weight didn’t mean that running wasn’t doing me any good. My overall resting heart rate is down, and though it could drop some more, my cholesterol (another genetic battle) is down as well. My good cholesterol is up.

4. Feeling healthier. Overall, I just feel better. And I notice the difference between running and not running. I didn’t run at all last week because I was busy and stressed out, and I could feel it.

5. Learning that running is a lot like writing (and writing is what I love). It takes practice. You know when you’re in the zone. When you haven’t done it in a while, you can tell that you’re not as on top of your game as you could be. You’ll be at your best if you practice it several days a week and try different exercises to build muscle. (And yes, I mean running and writing muscle.)

6. Improved friendships. This sounds kind of weird, but running has added a new dynamic to several of my friendships because it gives me something else to talk about with and another way to relate to my runner friends. Adding new dynamics is a good way to make sure that old friendships don’t stagnate. That’s super important to me.

***

There’s a house that I drive by every time I leave my apartment. On September 3, 2013, this house was a little white bungalow, sitting empty and waiting for someone to buy it.

The little white house on the corner, via Google Maps.

The little white house on the corner, via Google Maps.

The town where I live is very hilly. That’s an understatement. It’s hellish. Running here is a nightmare. But as my confidence and ability improved late last fall, I started giving it my best shot as I trained for my first 5k. Throughout the winter, I would run by this little house.

Over the weeks, as I ran, I watched as the house was dismantled, stripped completely down until all that remained was the foundation.

Throughout the spring, as I trained for my second 5k, I watched as the house was rebuilt. The same foundation was there, but now, on September 3, 2014, it’s a completely new house.

The little white house on the corner is now a big green house.

The little white house on the corner is now a big green house.

I’ve got two degrees in English and a deep love of metaphors. I don’t think I need to beat you over the head with this one. I think you get it.

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