My Return to Running, Part I

Running

I moved to Boulder, Colorado on September 2, 2012. When I announced the news, my friend and yoga instructor insisted I’d become fitter without even trying. I scoffed. Internally, of course—I didn’t want to be rude.

But the thing is, she turned out to be right. I inadvertently lost at least five pounds within the first few months of moving here. Was it is something in the air? Or something not in the air? Perhaps the oxygen deprivation that comes with high altitude prompted my body to consume more body fat in order to stay energized. Perhaps I was eating slightly smaller portions because, to be honest, food in Boulder kind of sucks, especially compared to the savory indulgences offered up on Chicago’s every corner. I certainly wasn’t exercising more. At least, not at first.

I was somewhat athletic in high school. I played volleyball and soccer, and was mediocre at best. My junior year, weary and demoralized from the pressure and intensity of team sports, I decided to take a cue from my older siblings and try my foot at cross country. Soccer ran me hard, I thought. I can handle a three-mile jog.

What I quickly learned, however, was that no one jogs in cross county. At least, no one who’s serious does. These people sprint for three miles. At least, they run as hard as they can for that duration. Me, I never could get over the intimidation of it. Flashbacking to unsavory moments of run-induced vomiting, I feared running too hard and either vomiting or running out of steam. My plan was to run slow enough that I could run the entire time. If memory serves me correctly, I averaged 10-minute miles, consistently crossing the finish line around the 30-minute mark.

It was a defeating experience. So much so that I decided running wasn’t for me. I swore it off for the better part of nine years, convinced I hated it.

When I moved to Boulder, I met a lot of runners. Not all serious, but still, more ran on a regular basis than the people I interacted with in all my previous residences—Chicago, Milwaukee, and Seattle. And I learned some interesting things—many of them are terrible runners, relatively speaking. And by terrible, I mean slow (which maybe isn’t fair. If you commit yourself to running and build up your endurance, shouldn’t that count for something?). I’ve heard a lot of talk of 10, 11, even 12-minute miles. It made me reflect on my cross country experience and think maybe I wasn’t so bad after all. No, I’m not a star. No, I can’t compete with those who dedicate themselves to competitive running, but compared to the average person, maybe it’s possible that actually, I am a decent runner.

I also learned that a lot of people run crazy distances beyond anything I’d ever imagined. In high school, I was shocked to learn that people sprint three miles. It wasn’t until moving to Boulder that I discovered a little thing called ultra running—races that cover upwards of 100 miles. I couldn’t comprehend how that was even physically possible. On top of that, competitive ultra runners also run all out, i.e. Ann Trason, who ran 6:44 a mile for 62 miles, winning the World Ultra Title. I can’t even sustain that pace for a measly mile.

Perhaps discovering that people run 100 miles inspired me to conquer the 5K—if people can sprint that long, surely I could handle a few miles. Or perhaps meeting so many runners, several of whom appeared to be slower than I ever was, moved me to prove myself. Whatever the reason, Boulder finally got its grip on me and I started running. And I’ve been running regularly for the past six months (further fulfilling my friend’s prediction I’d naturally move toward a fitter lifestyle).

On some level, I think I was determined to conquer my fearsome 16-year-old self and beat my meager 3-mile time. And I have. My best so far is 27 minutes, and I’m improving all the time. Seeing myself continuously get better has undoubtedly helped me stick with it. But that’s not always a good enough motivator. It can make me feel awful on days that I don’t PR, run slower than my average pace, or struggle to cover a distance that I’ve covered before.

For those who aren’t fitness fanatics, finding the right reason to run is essential to dedicating yourself to it. For me, it can’t be about ego, trying to prove I’m better than other people or trying to obtain a certain body. Nor can it be merely about health if I’m going to dread every minute of my run. If running feels obligatory, something that I simply have to “get over with” each day, I’m going to give it up eventually—just like I did before.

I have to find a way to enjoy it. What’s really helped me is viewing running as an opportunity to meditate. A time to get out of my head and push away everything that’s stressful, even push away thoughts of being tired and wanting to stop. Instead, I try to focus on how well I’m actually doing, on how amazing it is I can run at all, on the beautiful Flatirons before me, or ideally, on nothing at all. To learn to focus solely on running and embrace it fully is certainly a challenge, but it’s one I want conquer.

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